The Auditor-General’s scathing censure of a badly mismanaged F-35 fighter jet procurement process is necessarily focused on the manifold failures of bureaucrats. That is what the Auditor-General does – audit the actions of public servants. But where is the accountability for their political masters, the ministers who presided over this fiasco?
Auditor-General Michael Ferguson’s report outlines the suppression of information and the absence of due diligence by bureaucrats. But the failures of the Conservative government, and particularly Peter MacKay, the minister on whose watch much of this transpired, were serious ones, and yesterday, Mr. Ferguson said the cabinet knew more than it let on publicly. The government needs to accept responsibility for its failings, and explain the discrepancy in figures.
When Mr. Ferguson writes, “Briefing materials did not inform senior decision makers, central agencies, and the Minister of the problems and associated risks of relying on the F-35 to replace the CF-18. Nor did National Defence provide complete cost information to parliamentarians,” it is as much an indictment of the Minister of National Defence as it is of public servants. Where was the due diligence at the ministerial level? The duties of a minister on the most costly military acquisition in Canadian history extended beyond cockpit photo-ops.
The Conservatives have restarted the process for acquiring new fighter jets, but there can be no certainty here. The consequences of what is either incompetence, or recklessness, from nameless minions in National Defence right to the Minister and cabinet, seriously harm the prospects that the Air Force will ever receive the next-generation fighter aircraft.
Even those who have defended the need for this capability, and who have accepted government assurances about the process and cost, have been embarrassed. The reputation of the Conservative government as careful minders of the public purse has also been harmed.
There has been so little leadership through the F-35 procurement process. The public could benefit from a demonstration of some now.