Ralph Goodale Weighs In On Tory "Boondoggle"

May 4th, 2012 - R. Rados 

Boon-dog-gle noun

An unnecessary, wasteful, or fraudulent project.

                 -The Oxford Dictionary  


Just as Ottawa's parliamentary watchdog, Kevin Page, reveals his allegations about the Conservative government's deliberate attempt to lowball the costs of future F-35 purchases, Ralph Goodale has responded to a question asked by Poletical on April 8th about his recent use of the term "boondoggle" and the opposition's attempts to spin the F-35 debacle into a full fledged "scandal".

Liberal MP, Ralph Goodale weighs in below.

Poletical: Recently, you were quoted as saying that the Conservatives now have a boondoggle on their hands. Since no money has yet been spent or wasted, how does your definition of "boondoggle" resonate as a relevant description of the recent F-35 issue? Also, do you believe it's fair or accurate to refer to the F-35 issue as a "scandal"?

Goodale: While the Auditor-General’s recent report on the F-35 issue confirms that decisions taken by the Harper government have exposed Canada to multi-billion-dollar future expenditures, risks and over-runs, the dictionary definition of “boondoggle” actually has little to do with money or costs. A boondoggle relates primarily to behaviour that is disingenuous or dishonest.

The Auditor-General praised the way in which the previous Liberal government handled Canada’s participation (1997-2006) in a multi-national, public-private industrial partnership to develop and build (not buy) a new fighter-jet aircraft.  But he leaves no doubt that starting in 2006, the Harper government’s management of the subsequent F-35 procurement process has been incompetent and deceitful.  The Auditor-General also confirmed that the “executive” of the government (i.e., the Cabinet) would have known about the critical cost issues at stake – i.e., they cannot claim their bureaucrats left them in the dark.

Among many contentious issues described by the Auditor-General, there are two in particular that need emphasis:

1.  Sole-sourcing – Starting in 2006, the Harper government began skewing the whole procurement process toward the F-35 as the sole option for replacing Canada’s ageing fleet of CF-18s, meaning there would be no open competitive bidding process – despite the fact that as many as four other planes/suppliers had the potential to meet Canada’s needs, and despite the rules of Treasury Board and Public Works that explicitly require competitive tendering.  Apparently no one in the Harper Cabinet asked the hard questions about whether this was the right plane for Canada’s future, what the total all-in costs would be, and whether the government’s own procurement rules were being followed. And there was no accountability to the public.  Indeed, as time went by and internal problems began to leak into the public domain, anyone who asked a question in the House of Commons was attacked by Mr. Harper and his Ministers as disloyal, unpatriotic and hostile to the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces. The government provided no substantive answers.

2. True total costs – This became a hot topic when the Parliamentary Budget Officer calculated the full lifecycle costs of acquiring the F-35s at some $29 billion (in line with calculations done by several other countries, including the US).  The government responded by ridiculing the PBO and saying the real figure was only half that amount, at some $14.7 billion.  The Auditor-General graphically exposes the government’s duplicitous arithmetic – at page 27 of his report.  He demonstrates that while the government was trumpeting their lower figure ($14.7B) to discredit the PBO and evade a contempt citation in Parliament, the Conservatives knew full well the real number was something over $25 billion.  To contrive their lower figure, they deliberately omitted certain normally-included cost factors and used a “lifecycle” that was artificially short.  In effect, as several journalists have noted, the Conservatives were keeping two sets of books!  And the discrepancy between the two was at least $10 billion. The Auditor-General also suggests that other real costs – like the cost to acquire replacement aircraft and technology upgrades over a 36 year lifecycle, not to mention production delays and further cost overruns – have not been properly provided for. So even the government’s $25 billion figure is probably stale and low.

When the Auditor-General finds such a gross lack of due diligence that he questions the integrity of the government’s process, and when he makes a specific finding that certain costs were not fully reported to Parliament, and when there’s something in excess of $10 billion in question – the words “boondoggle” and “scandal” seem appropriate, perhaps even an understatement.

This government has proceeded in a manner that violated their own rules. They have repeatedly refused to be candid with Parliament and Canadians. And the chief “witnesses” against them are not Opposition politicians, but their own Officers of Parliament (the Auditor-General of Canada and the Parliamentary Budget Officer) whom they themselves selected and appointed.