Keith Beardsley’s View From the Hill – AG Report on F-35 Whose head should roll?

CFN  – The Auditor–General has released his report on the Defence Department’s handling of the F-35 procurement process. It is not a pretty report and both DND and Public Works get slammed for how they have conducted the process.

Needless to say the headlines are all about how the Tories mishandled things with Bob Rae going so far as to demand the Prime Minister resign.  I guess you say such things when you are the leader of a third party desperate to get into the news cycle and you have Justin Trudeau getting top headlines over the weekend. But let’s not kid ourselves, if the Conservatives were in opposition, you can bet they would be pulling out all of the stops too. Question Period would be like a war zone.

That too is the way it should be as it is up to the opposition parties to thoroughly question the government on behalf of those footing the bill for this aircraft- namely Canadian taxpayers.

Ministers who did due diligence on a file will rarely accept blame for screw-ups in departments.  Nor will a Prime Minister ask for a minister’s resignation simply because the opposition is demanding one. The first question should become how diligent were they? Did they question what they had been told by officials? If they did either verbally or in writing, what answers were they given? It is one thing if they had been given the correct information and refused to use it, quite another if they were briefed with misleading or wrong information.

To be fair, ministers can only report on what they have been told by departmental officials.  It would be rare in any government, never mind this one, to find a minister or staffer who is an expert on the intricacies surrounding the procurement of military equipment. The end result is they are briefed by departmental officials on the need for the equipment, they are briefed on expected costs, and they are briefed on anticipated problems and delays and on potential industrial benefits to Canada.

The second question becomes how well did DND fulfill their obligation to give the minister and the government the most up-to-date and accurate information? Anyone who has been involved in the bureaucracy in Ottawa knows that the preparation of a memo for a minister can be a long and arduous process. The original draft will be amended and signed off by several layers in the chain of command. Numerous individuals will have a say in the approval process and the draft memo will undergo considerable change from its original form. Somewhere there is a sign off sheet for every briefing memo and every written response prepared for a minister or ministerial staffer on the F-35 issue.

For example, the Auditor- General found that some briefing notes that were prepared for ministers were inadequate. He noted that the department failed to adequately provide an accurate range of what to expect from the industrial benefits package and they did not explain how most of the department’s assumptions were based on Canadian companies competing on a worldwide basis with other competitors. The net result was a briefing document that did not give the minister a true picture of the industrial benefits to Canada. Did no one involved in the above departmental approval or sign off process question the accuracy of the briefing notes?

Much the same process is followed when the Privy Council Office (PCO) prepares a briefing note for the Prime Minister. Once again was accurate information put into those notes? Who signed off on the information that went to the Prime Minister?

The department also released information to the Parliamentary Budget Officer on the total cost of the program but failed to include billions of dollars in long term costs, a significant item when costing the program. Who made the decision to release inadequate information? Did no one object internally? When the minister used these released figures, did no one in the department red flag it for the minister to say the number was not completely accurate?

Ministerial talk points and answers for Question Period will be worked on with departmental officials. If a minister provides an incorrect detail in an answer, or gives an incorrect answer to a question or uses an incorrect fact in a speech, the department will red flag it for the minister. Did they this time? If they did, why wasn’t a correction made? If the department chose not to correct the minister then that again is a serious issue and begs the question, why?

The Auditor General’s office would have sent a preliminary copy of the report to the departments some months ago so that they would have time to respond to the criticism. As the department knew in a general way what to expect when this report became public, did they tell the minister they needed to adjust their facts? Is this why we have seen the government recently backing away from their unqualified support for the F-35?

There are lots of questions and few answers and none of them will be answered quickly. This issue will have lots of turns and twists in the days ahead. Tempting as it is, at this moment in time it is too soon to decide whose head should roll. Let the games begin, somewhere out there or buried in departmental sign off sheets is the truth.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

James Moak


  1. Of course, had the government looked at the Eurofighter Typhoon, the European equivalent of the F-35, none of this would likely have happened.
    Costs for the two aircraft are probably much the same, but as the Eurofighter is already in production, its costs are known and are now stable.
    More importantly, the RCAF would have received a plane that has the advantage of both being able to fly, and one which has already proved itself in combat. It is already in service with the RAF and Luftwaffe, among others.
    But of course, given the chronic anti-European bias of Canadian governments of all parties since the Trudeau era, RCAF pilots will have to deal with second best.

  2. Interesting timeline between when the Auditor could have sent the report and the back tracking of possible purchase.

    We would not know if there are grounds for a firing for some time, but a bunch of people better be learning from (suspected ?) mistakes!

  3. So obviously with all this misleading information given by the departments to the Conservative government, this lets the government off the hook now. They were supplied misinformation from the start!

  4. No it doesn’t let the government off the hook. The government has a duty to make sure it gets the right information. Period!

  5. Rae’s silly attention striving rant and rhetoric aside, the more serious question is… where was the due diligence! Harper already micro manages and with tight reign on Ministers…. how much more does he need to oversee!

    There is no excuse regardless if DND lied, deceived, whitewashed, was less than forthcoming, etc. There is no excuse because there was much contrary viewpoint, warning and opinion… numerous expressed warning signs expressed by valid sources. Why did a Minister not more fully research and to more forcibly question? They are with the power and with access to the resources. There was sufficient contrary fact and opinion that should have merited further research and inquiry. In sticking their heads in the sand they have left their asses exposed!

    I can accept a minister being lied to and buying a bill of goods. In this situation however there was much contrary public opinion that seamed of substance. I can understand paying little attention to the partisan braying of the Left, but there were also non-partisan people in the know. That should have warranted greater attention!

    Unfortunately there seems to have been numerous lapses at DND some intentional, some inadvertently. At end of the day I hope some heads do roll and to send a message. The ship building contract went so perfect and the F-35 contract so NOT!

  6. You nailed it Garfield. This F-35 fiasco has been well reported and questioned for a long time. I’m sure Harper/MacKay/Fantino are furiously digging up crap on whoever they can blame their screw-up on.
    Did Peter MacKay really say that anyone who questions the F-35 procurement is against our Canadian military?

  7. Either Harper knew and consistently deceived the Canadian people, or he was played for a fool by the military brass.

    Look at his track record and take your pick.

    Either way, control freak that he is, he’s up to his neck in this and has only himself to blame.

    But, of course, he’ll find someone else to blame. Because, for ‘Generalissimo’ Harper, it’s all about power without responsibility.

  8. More jets at any cost you liberal over-thinkers. WW3 is around the corner. I got my guns and ammo, rations, and bunker. Bring it on.

  9. @ Wow. You really should surrender yourself to The Flying Spaghetti Monster so you will be protected and saved from WW3. No guns or bunkers can match the power that resides in His Noodley Appendage!
    You can go forth with joy and confidence once you have been washed in His Holy Sauce!

  10. I agree with much being said here, other than getting ready for WW3. My questions center around deceitfulness or ineptness. The Auditor General claims that the Harper Government would have/ should have had the dollar figures from the DND reporting a nearly $10 billion increase over the previously stated roughly $16 billion estimate the CONs were reporting before and throughout the election last spring. Remember also that the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, had pegged the true cost at between $25 & $30 billion. A fact the CONs categorically and adamantly denied while ridiculing and trying to discredit Mr. Page.

    So the obvious questions are:

    Did the inner circle of the Harper Government have the information from the DND and actually know that Mr. Page and many other independent sources were correct before the election last spring yet chose intentionally to keep it from the Canadian public anyway? If so that would be deceitful.

    With all the opposition questions and and all legitimate information from so many outside sources being made available didn’t the inner circle of the Harper Government even think it logical to ask the right questions of the DND to verify their estimates? If not, that would be totally inept.

    Either way, it doesn’t really leave a lot of wiggle room for Mr. Harper and government’s credibility on this file.

  11. Wow!? Why don’t you move to Florida? The weather’s better, and you can become a Neighborhood Watch captain.

    Keep up the posts, Wow! There are few people who can describe the Harper/Hudak mentality better than you. We all appreciate it.

    Thank you.

  12. A real wow! Here I was going through life before the thoughts of the comfort of mother’s basement ever blossomed like so many. University done. Start my own business young. Married by thirty. Start another business. Have kids, one business killed by Dalton. Family needs me in Cornwall. Close business two and start right back up in the humidex capital in my book. I love Cornwall. Hunting. Fishing. Skiing. Lift-off. Funny articles in paper about danger of woodsmoke from crackpot relative. No problem starting new businesses sans clique that grew while I was gone for decades. If I would have stayed it wouldn’ta happened.
    Got up every day and washed, shaved, wore decent clothes and non-ironic hipster spectacles. Well shit! I finally relaxed today and realized that I had been taking some of you seriously while you grumbled your grimbles, and snitched at your snatches? I thought it was 25B per plane quit your whining. I’ll take a hundred at 10B each Mr. Chretien.

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