OTTAWA --- As Auditor General Michael Ferguson laid out details of how the country’s largest military purchase had become a fantasy featuring rejigged requirements, buried costs and bureaucratic smoke-and-mirrors, one question kept recurring.
Where was Peter MacKay?
It was clear that the brass at national defence didn’t bother to keep their minister in the loop, so blinded were they to that shiny object in the showroom.
Related: Auditor General slams Canada’s planned F-35 purchase
But there is nothing in the cabinet minister handbook preventing a few questions being asked, or some assurances sought.
How about poking your head in the door to check from time to time on the biggest expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars you have ever overseen?
Instead, MacKay looked like a tourist on a magic bus of broken rules and financial sleight-of-hand, getting off just in time to announce the government’s decision to buy the F-35s in July 2010 — before anyone had even formally bothered to make up a phony rationale for sole-sourcing the contract.
MacKay wasn’t alone. Where was his predecessor, Gordon O’Connor, the public works minister, Rona Ambrose and, more recently, MacKay’s sidekick at defence, the daily, droning face of the project, Julian Fantino?
Ferguson painted a picture Tuesday of a bureaucracy run amok, bamboozling their political masters at every step.
The most damning game of fun with figures came from a military determined to counter a damaging report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page.
In ignoring a litany of costs, defence came up with a price tag for the planes of $14.7 billion — about half Page’s more accurate appraisal — in a deliberate bid to mislead Parliament.
Page’s numbers were dismissed at the time by then junior defence minister Lawrie Hawn as “speculative and illogical.”
The ministers either misled or were misled.
On balance, Ferguson’s report points to incompetence — ministers who smiled and accepted whatever their departmental staff in the gleaming towers handed them.
Alan Williams, a former assistant deputy minister at defence and F-35 critic, says it is the bureaucracy’s job to keep their ministers in the loop, something it clearly did not do in this case.
“But that doesn’t obviate a minister from being smart enough to ask questions,’’ he said.
The report is rife with examples of a bureaucracy hoodwinking their political masters. (end of excerpt)
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