Ottawa communications firm linked to federal departments and F-35 manufacturer
A Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is shown in this undated Lockheed Martin photo.
Published Saturday, September 22, 2012 6:00PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, September 22, 2012 9:20PM EDT
In early August, W5 contacted Lockheed Martin with a request for interviews and filming F-35 production facilities in Forth Worth, Texas.
Everything was going fine: Lockheed Martin promptly provided biographies for two executives and Canadian F-35 test pilot Billie Flynn for the interviews. The defense contractor invited W5 to its corporate chalet at the Abbotsford Air Show in BC where we would have been able to tape the interviews. Alas, there would be no F-35 at that show, and how could we do a program without one? No worries: “You’ll be able to see one for sure in Fort Worth,” Lockheed Martin assured us.
Several days after the air show, W5 received an email from Lockheed written in a very different tone. We were asked to provide background on the program (questioning if we actually do produce documentaries), our reporter’s biography and detailed story angle. We were informed that our request would now be subject to review. Copied on that email was the president of Thornley Fallis, an Ottawa-based PR firm.
We provided the requested information, but Lockheed stopped responding to phone calls and emails. The Ottawa firm took over all communications and, after several exchanges, told us “Lockheed Martin” doesn’t want to talk to W5.
We were snubbed, but if Lockheed and their PR people thought that would discourage W5, they were wrong.
It was easy enough to find critics of the F-35 program, but who’d explain its merits?
With Lockheed Martin refusing, the logical choices for F-35 advocates were Canadian government and air force officials. An interview request to the Minister of Defence had already been submitted in mid-August. Surely Peter MacKay would respond and defend the plane he had so fiercely endorsed…
Silence from the Minister of Defence. So we requested interviews with the outgoing and incoming Commanders of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the newly-announced Chief of Defence Staff. No dice. Fine, can we please talk to someone – anyone – at DND about the F-35? Sorry, nobody is available. Please accept formulaic stand-by statement instead.
Meanwhile, the defence minister’s communications director responded that that the F-35 program and the future of Canada’s air force are two very different things, so W5 should contact the Minister of Public Works and the Associate Minister of Defence responsible for procurement. We did. One by one, everyone passed the buck leading us down the dead-end street of refusals and stand-by statements.
As luck would have it, W5 had a crew was in Wolfville, NS working on another story, when we learned the Defence Minister was scheduled to speak at an event in the Maritime town of 5,000 people. W5 could not pass up the opportunity to ask Peter MacKay for an interview in person.
“These types of tactics are always disappointing and, I believe, below the standards of your program and network,” wrote the minister’s communications director after his boss refused to talk to W5.
Still searching for someone in government unafraid to speak about the F-35, we reached out to the National Fighter Procurement Secretariat (NFPS), the body created by the Harper government last spring in the aftermath of the Auditor General’s report that slammed DND’s handling of F-35 cost estimates.
The Secretariat’s core is comprised of deputy ministers from Public Works, DND and Industry Canada. It too declined on-camera interviews.
A clear pattern was emerging, with everybody from the F-35 manufacturer to the government officials who would buy the aircraft on Canada’s behalf, saying “no” to interviews.
But there was something else that Lockheed Martin, the Department of National Defence, the Ministry of Public Works and Government Services and Industry Canada all shared in common: they have, at different times since 2007, been clients of the same Ottawa PR firm that told W5 “no” on Lockheed’s behalf.
Thornley Fallis Communications Inc. makes no secret of who its clients are.
F-35 manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, and the government agencies involved in its procurement are listed as the communication firm’s clients on its Industry Canada profile.
A review of contracts proactively disclosed by Department of National Defence, the Ministry of Public Works and Government Service and Industry Canada indicate that Thornley Fallis has earned a little over $700,000 in 15 contracts from these three agencies since 2007 (including a $246,100 contract between DND and “Thornley Falls” – a mistake often made in spelling the firm’s name).
Thornley Fallis represented Lockheed Martin in 2005 and continues to do so today.
We do not know if any of the government agencies involved in procuring the F-35 are current clients of Thornley Fallis, but have submitted Access to Information requests to find out.
One thing is clear: the entities making and buying the F-35s have all had dealings with Thornley Fallis in the past.
But one can only wonder if the “no interviews to W5” policy shared by Lockheed Martin and the Canadian government was not developed in the same Ottawa boardroom, six floors below the federal government’s Privy Council Office* on Metcalfe St. where Thornley Fallis’ offices can be found.
* also listed as a Thornley Fallis client (linkto: http://www.ic.gc.ca/app/ccc/srch/nvgt.do?lang=eng&prtl=1&sbPrtl=&estblmntNo=234567092759&profile=cmpltPrfl&profileId=2059&app=sold)