Opposition demands MacKay step down over F-35 debacle
Published Wednesday, April 4, 2012 10:37PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 7:56AM EDT
One day after the auditor general 's damning report into the F-35 procurement process -- the second biggest purchase in Canadian military history – the question being asked on Parliament Hill was, "Who is responsible?"
During question period Wednesday, the answer from the government to that question was a tight script that didn't find anyone to blame.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair called for the resignation of Defence Minister Peter MacKay, while interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said the prime minister should step down.
"Even if we were to believe that the chief of defence staff and the generals were plotting behind the minister's back to lie to Parliament, to lie to Canadians -- highly unlikely -- it would only prove that the defence minister is not in control of his own department," Mulcair said during question period Wednesday.
Rae said the government is accepting the recommendations in Auditor General Michael Ferguson's report but "not the responsibility.
"A $10-billion piece of misinformation does not happen by immaculate conception . . . when is the prime minister of Canada going to take responsibility for what took place," Rae asked.
To both opposition leaders, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's response was similar: The government is accepting the auditor general's recommendations and will follow them moving forward on the F-35 purchase.
"The reality is that the government has not yet purchased any planes. The auditor general has given a recommendation of re-examining the cost estimates and the government will do that," he told Mulcair.
Harper never mentioned his beleaguered defence minister despite repeated calls for his resignation.
MacKay was in the House of Commons Wednesday and rose for a muted defence on the issue.
"The auditor general has provided conclusions, made recommendations, (and) we've accepted those as was outlined already by the prime minister," he said. "We've put in place a process that is comprehensive and responds to those concerns."
"We will move forward with a proper acquisition process to replace the aging CF-18s. We are injecting more accountability in the process moving forward."
In his report, the auditor general said the Department of National Defence kept politicians and other branches of government in the dark about key details of the F-35 stealth fighter project and underestimated cost overruns and the price of upgrades.
"Briefing material did not inform senior decision makers, central agencies, and the Minister of the problems and associated risks of relying on the F-35 to replace the CF-18," Ferguson said in his report. "Nor did National Defence provide complete cost information to parliamentarians."
The government responded by saying it was putting the fighter jet project on hold until it can improve the procurement process.
Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page issued a statement Tuesday, noting the auditor general agreed with the F-35 budgetary concerns that the PBO issued last year. He noted the project would cost about $25 billion, not the $15 billion being trumpeted by DND.
Page's March 2011 report on the F-35 was heavily criticized by the Conservative government.
"It's unbelievable that the government is attacking the PBO when they knew he was right," NDP MP Peggy Nash said during question period Wednesday.