It was the NDP’s turn to talk about the F-35 process, and their defence critic, David Christopherson, and public works critic, Matthew Ravignat, who presented themselves at the National Press Theatre to discuss the situation. Christopherson started off saying that while MacKay had assured the press that the F-35s were the best value, we can never know that since there was never a competitive bid or tendering process. He then veered off to talk about the submarine programme, and decried how MacKay said yesterday that all four subs would be in the water by 2013, and yet responded to an Order Paper question weeks ago saying that the HMCS Cornerbrook will be in drydock until at least 2016, never mind the fact that we don’t have enough trained crews to maintain operational readiness.
Ravignat, however, had somewhat harsher words for MacKay.
“For the past few days, we’ve been witness to a sad spectacle,” Ravignat said of MacKay’s attempts to explain the F-35 costs. “Yesterday we saw the very creative but also desperate diversionary tactics by the Conservatives. Minister MacKay has admitted for that he has knows for the past two years that the F-35s would cost more than had been previously announced, and said that he didn’t talk about it because the additional costs are operating staff and maintenance costs for the F-35s, which in his opinion aren’t usually included in military contracts. The minister has stated that the Auditor General’s report from last week contains new requirements, yet Treasury Board’s public procurement policy clearly states that the government must, in its cost estimates, take into consideration ‘all relevant costs with regard to the life of the acquisition, not just the initial or contractual cost.’”
Ravignat says that the Conservatives have lost all credibility and that their reputation as good managers is just a myth. The NDP want MacKay to assume responsibility, for Harper and MacKay to explain why they misled parliament, and they want a new procurement process.
But unlike the Liberals, the NDP is hedging their criticisms and their calls for blood. Christopherson was more generous with MacKay when it comes to explaining his statement yesterday where he misquoted the numbers in front of him, saying he couldn’t be sure if it was deliberate or a mistake, but that’s a problem with MacKay’s – and indeed the entire government’s – credibility being on the line.
But in amidst a seven-minute rant from Christopherson on the politics of the government sole-sourcing the F-35 contract, the lack of transparency to justify such a process, and their tendency to go on the attack rather than have a rational discussion when it comes to the different figures that have been presented on the costs over the past two years, he continued to hedge on just what kind of response they wanted from the government aside from just getting the government to admit responsibility for bungling the entire process.
“We’re still trying to get the Prime Minister to do the right thing,” Christopherson says. “The first thing to do is to acknowledge that his cabinet is responsible, and that his government is responsible. We’d like to know who is accountable – it’s a huge issue. And that’s what our focus is right now. The day may come when that gets stepped up, but right now we’re keeping the focus on the Prime Minister. We want him to do the right thing, we’re calling on him to do the right thing by Canadians in terms of tradition and on the specifics of this issue.”
But what does that actually mean?
“Let’s get him to acknowledge that it was his file, that there were huge mistakes made, and that they aren’t just bureaucratic, that there are ministers that are responsible,” Christopherson replied.
And when pressed about what the right thing is, they said they’ll wait for the Prime Minister to respond and they’ll go from there. But while Christopherson kept talking about “ministerial accountability” while at the same time saying that they’re being deliberately vague in their calls for consequences, it seems to me that he doesn’t seem to understand just what ministerial accountability actually means.
As for the new secretariat established, Ravignat doesn’t have a lot of faith in it.
“I think it’s a case of more muddying the waters,” Ravignat said. “It’s a case of trying to push the problem somewhere else. Creating an F-35 secretariat isn’t recognising that there was a problem from the beginning, nor does it go back to when Public Works could have been involved in the process and didn’t get involved in the process. A review of the entire procurement process has to be in place, and then an open tendering has to be called, and the pre-supposition can’t be the F-35s, and with the secretariat, that is the supposition.”