2010 F-35 photo op cost taxpayers over $47,000
Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway Peter MacKay makes an announcement infront of a F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in Ottawa, Friday July 16, 2010. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Tuesday, June 5, 2012 10:02PM EDT
OTTAWA - An oft-maligned 2010 news conference to announce a plan to buy 65 stealth fighters cost taxpayers more than $47,000, say documents tabled in Parliament.
The figure was revealed by Defence Minister Peter MacKay in a written response to an opposition question.
Liberal defence critic John McKay wanted details about the event, which saw MacKay, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose and Treasury Board President Tony Clement pose with an F-35 mock-up built by manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
The response shows Lockheed Martin offered the model and transported it "to Ottawa via flatbed transport truck" at no charge.
Jay Paxton, a spokesman for the defence minister, says almost half of the $47,313 spent by National Defence went to an audio-visual company that helped stage the event.
He says the expense was necessary because the news conference involved a number of national media outlets, as well as more than 100 invited guests.
Ambrose turned aside questions on Monday, saying her department wasn't involved.
"I'm not aware of the cost of the actual announcement, but I would ask the Department of National Defence," Ambrose said.
"I'm not sure what went into the announcements in terms of technical requirements for that day or if there were stakeholders that participated."
MacKay is out of the country at a defence conference in the Far East and it was left to Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino to defend the photo-op in the House of Commons.
"The announcement to replace Canada's aging fleet of CF-18s was considered significant and necessary to ensure public, media and industry awareness," he said. "The cost of this announcement has been reported in many ways, including previous responses to written questions."
Since coming to power in 2006, the Conservatives have used Parliament's summer recesses to focus the spotlight on one -- sometimes two -- "announceables" related to the military.
Critics have dismissed them as a publicity stunts designed to limit opposition and public questions.
The news from the July 16, 2010, event was only that the government intended to pursue a deal to purchase the advanced fighter-bomber, not that a contract had been reached. The Liberal critic said he wondered how such news could justify the expense.
The resulting photos and news footage, which showed the MacKay sitting in the cockpit of the plane, have been resurrected virtually every time the F-35 makes news.
That's one expensive photo, the Liberals say.
"I think in the military they call it the hero shot," McKay said. "This was 47 grand for the minister to park his posterior in the airplane and smile for cameras."
It came at the same time the Conservatives were taking heat for spending $2 million on a fake lake to serve as a backdrop at the G8-G20 Summit media centre in Toronto.
"If you can go with fake lakes and fake airplanes, then the (communications) message becomes everything and in this case with the F-35 the photo-op was the message," McKay said.
"It speaks to the larger issue of the absolute cynicism and contempt that this government has for the Parliament of Canada, members of Parliament and the people of Canada."
Before coming to power, the Conservatives habitually criticized the Liberals under Paul Martin for their "government by photo-op" style.
New Democrats seized on the revelation and used it to accuse the government of being more interested in political optics than actually delivering equipment to the military.
"We've got billions in procurement mismanagement, tens of thousands squandered on a photo-op and the whole defence plan now back to the drawing board," said NDP defence critic Jack Harris, referring to news earlier this week that the Conservatives are re-drafting a list of planned military purchases.
News of the cost comes as the government takes fire for attempting to shut down a Commons committee investigation into the auditor general's criticism of the stealth fighter arrangement.
The public accounts committee has heard from auditor Michael Ferguson, parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page and a parade of senior officials, including the deputy defence minister and the head of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
In his April 3 report, Ferguson accused National Defence and Public Works of hiding the full cost of the multibillion-dollar plan and not following proper procedures.
Behind closed doors, Conservative members of the committee have apparently put forward a motion to begin writing a report, even though MacKay, Ambrose and Fantino have yet to testify.