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NEWS: Auditor General says Harper government knew F-35s would cost $10 billion more

Postmedia News reports, “Canada’s auditor general dropped a bombshell Thursday when he said the Conservative government would have known before the last election that the F-35 fighter jet program would cost at least $10 billion more than what National Defence was telling Parliament and the public.”

“The issue goes back to March 2011, when Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page released a major report weeks before the last federal election that estimated the F-35 would cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion. The Defence Department responded by telling Parliament – and Canadians – that the stealth fighter would actually cost even less than the $16 billion budgeted for the program, putting the figure at $14.7 billion. But the military did not include a number of important costs in its response, and during the course of his own study, Ferguson found the Defence Department had actually estimated as far back as June 2010 that the total cost would be at least $25 billion.”

“Most of the attention since Ferguson’s report was released Tuesday has been on the bureaucrats responsible for the F-35 file. But the auditor general told reporters Thursday that the Conservative government would have known about the $10-billion discrepancy when National Defence put forward the $14.7-billion figure in March 2011 because they were essential for long-term budget planning.”

“The auditor general, who was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in November, could not say exactly who would have known the military’s true cost estimates. But he was clear that by ‘government’, he was referring to the executive, namely cabinet and other members of the Conservative government, not the bureaucracy.”

“The auditor general refused to say whether the government had intentionally withheld information or misled Parliament, only that it missed an opportunity to present its real cost estimates when responding to the parliamentary budget officer’s report in March 2011.”

“Harper and other cabinet ministers refused to answer questions Thursday in the House on when they knew the F-35 cost estimate reached $25 billion. Opposition parties, however, said Ferguson’s assertions were troubling, especially if the government intentionally low-balled the cost before and during the federal election.”

Postmedia News columnist Michael Den Tandt comments, “So that’s it then: They knew and they lied. To Parliament. To all of us. If Auditor-General Michael Ferguson’s word is to be believed – and there is no reason to think that it isn’t – then the federal cabinet and by extension the prime minister, and not just the anonymous gnomes in the Department of National Defence, are directly on the hook for the F-35 boondoggle, in the most egregious sense. They knew before the 2011 federal election that the jets would cost billions more than had been stated by DND – at least $10 billion more, around $25.1 billion. They allowed the department to publicly state they would cost $14.7 billion. …(This is) a matter of whether there was outright deception, deliberate and premeditated, during an election campaign, on an issue of great national import, by the prime minister and members of the cabinet. …(If) the inner cabinet knew, as Ferguson suggests, that DND’s numbers were way low, even as they demonized the parliamentary budget officer, whose pre-election cost estimate of $30 billion now turns out to have been much closer to the truth, and as they taunted the opposition, and as they insisted, week after week, that it was all about doing what’s best for our brave men and women in uniform? ….Cabinet-level resignations yes, as a starting point. But it’s bigger than that. The government itself will be discredited. There is no moving on from a lie this big.”

More at http://www.calgaryherald.com/technology/Cabinet+knew+billion+cost+says+auditor+general/6419940/story.html and http://www.vancouversun.com/Conservatives+lied+about/6420641/story.html.