Before Parliament was dismissed for the summer, the federal Conservative government was being rocked by the scandal surrounding the government’s purchase of the infamous F-35 fighter jets. At the same time as the federal Tories are crying poor and demanding historic cuts from workers across Canada, the government is trying to hide the fact that they they fabricated the original public costs of the jets, and are prepared to pay nearly $30-billion for the fighter planes. The F-35 scandal not only reveals the incompetence of the Conservatives, but what the genuine priorities are for the ruling class.
The decision to purchase the F-35 jets was made in July 2010 by federal Defence minister Peter MacKay, famous for appropriating a search-and-rescue helicopter and Coast Guard crew to pick him up from a fishing vacation in Newfoundland. Repeatedly, the federal government announced that it was going to cost $9-billion to purchase the 65 jets from Lockheed-Martin. Since that announcement, however, a myriad of revelations have been forced into the open, with zealous resistance on the government's part, which show not only that the F-35 is set to become the single largest cost-overrun in Canadian history, but that the government knew full well this was the case the whole time.
Even if we question the spending priorities of this austerity government, the sheer incompetence of the purchase order is astonishing, especially given the mass amount of money being wasted. Lockheed-Martin's F-35 was the first, and only, warplane the government even considered buying, with no open bidding or competition for the contract. The government merely took the recommendation of the Department of National Defence (DND) at face value with no other research or investigation having taken place. This letter, recently released by the Auditor-General, is hardly a thoroughgoing review of the pros and cons of a purchase worth tens of billions of dollars. In fact, the letter is only 160-words long, and contains such in-depth analysis such as claiming the plane has “very very low observable stealth capabilities.” The no-bid contract makes it impossible to know if the DND could have found a jet possessing very, very, very low observable stealth capabilities, but perhaps it is best the generals’ propensity for adjectives not be tested anymore than it already clearly was.
Despite the federal government publicly claiming that the jets would “only” cost $9-billion, the Auditor-General’s report revealed that internally, the government had been using the figure of $16-billion. MacKay announced that the $7-billion discrepancy was because the internal numbers included the costs of pilots, maintenance, and fuel for the jets. Apparently the Tories thought the public only needed to know how much jets cost if they never have to leave the ground; but jets, much like the Defence minister himself apparently, are built to fly.
The scandal over the true cost of the jets continued to balloon even more. The federal Auditor-General, Michael Ferguson, testified before a parliamentary committee that the true lifetime cost of the F-35s would be around $25-billion; Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page estimated it to be closer to $30-billion. Furthermore, these two men also asserted that the Tories knew these were the real numbers as early as 2008.
Since 2010 there have been literally dozens of enquiries by opposition MPs and budget watchdogs into the true costing of the F-35s. And on every occasion the Tories have completely avoided handing over any information. This eventually led to the fall of the Harper minority government in May, 2011 when the Tory cabinet became the first government in Canadian history to be held in contempt of Parliament.
At present, the projections as to the true cost of the F-35 are continually being adjusted upwards, and the government continues to show a total disregard for democracy (even bourgeois democracy) with its repeated attempts to hide what they knew and when. With ordinary Canadians suffering from a crisis of the capitalist system, and the deep budget cuts that come with it, such an irresponsible and dishonest attitude towards billions of public money, money that could provide jobs, homes, childcare, and a place in eduction to millions, is having an impact of the public consciousness. At a time when the capitalist mouthpieces sing a constant refrain of, “There is no money to pay for social programs,” working Canadians are simultaneously expected to sit by and watch billions upon billions of dollars of public money going to pay for an expanding military budget instead of towards creating jobs and providing a better standard of living for workers. Doling out all this money on fighter jets, to be used to bring fire and death to impoverished countries in the name of Canadian imperialism, exposes the massive hypocrisy of the capitalist class and their Tory hirelings. The money being used for planes and bombs is far more urgently needed for care for children, good pensions for seniors, healthcare for the sick and jobs for all, and the business elite can offer nothing but lies and secrecy to explain why this discrepancy exists.
As Marxists, we have no illusions in bourgeois democracy. It is a system designed and built by the capitalist class to ensure that the use of power remains within certain “respectable” parameters, that is, that the capitalists retain the real power no matter who wins an election. That the Tories have thus far gotten away with playing fast and loose with these very rules is indicative of the time period we find ourselves in. There is a growing mood amongst the Tories that the “niceties” of Parliament are simply a nuisance and a barrier to carrying out the necessary reactionary tasks that the capitalist class needs accomplished in this era of crisis. The capitalists, of course, have no problem with this approach until they see some danger in it. The bourgeois press is actively chiding the Tories for their disrespect of parliamentary norms, not because they are great believers in “democracy” but because they are afraid of the reaction from the working masses. Polls currently show a significant slump for the Conservatives, being outpaced by the NDP in nearly every part of the country including in “traditional” Tory turf.
Though this scandal is no set to have immediate ramifications in the short term, small fissures are opening up within the ruling strata, and the polarization of society is more evident than ever. In normal times, scandals such as this, even despite the current scandal's size, are quickly pushed under the rug. The scandal around the F-35s has caught a mood of deep discontent and mistrust of the government amongst the Canadian working masses that is the direct result of the crisis of capitalism. The arrogance and incompetence of the Tories will prove to be their own undoing.