Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The rumbling and shaking at 101 Colonel By Drive

I was all prepared to post exactly what I thought about the Auditor General's report with respect to the the procurement of ... any number ... of F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters. And I was going to conclude that all the fault with the total cluster-fuck that this procurement has become lies in the lap of one person: Peter MacKay.

Then the editorial board of the Ottawa Citizen released a salvo fit for a major newspaper. All except for one little problem, but we'll get to that shortly.
It is the Department of National Defence that failed, in the auditor general’s estimation, to exercise due diligence and properly inform Parliament. But it is the minister’s duty to make sure that department does its job, especially when billions are on the line. It’s the minister’s job to ask questions, to be sure of his ground before he stands up and invokes the protection of Canadian troops in the service of his opinion.

It is the minister who is, oh, what’s that old-fashioned word … responsible.

Peter MacKay either didn’t know what his department was up to, or he was complicit in keeping the whole truth from his fellow parliamentarians and from Canadians.

To be fair to MacKay, there are others who ought to be ashamed of themselves. The auditor general’s latest report says the year 2006 “represented the most critical period concerning Canada’s participation in the (Joint Strike Fighter) Program and future acquisition of the F-35.” Gordon O’Connor was the defence minister at that time. That’s when Canada accepted the procurement regime and signed memorandums of understanding with manufacturers Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney and GE Rolls-Royce.

The next year, MacKay took over the portfolio, and he has been a staunch defender of the F-35 process since. In 2010, the government announced it was buying the F-35. It was after this announcement that the defence department went through the required process to justify its decision to buy the planes without holding a competition.
And it goes on. This part is particularly delightful. (Empasis mine)
Both MacKay and Prime Minister Stephen Harper were stubbornly insisting, in 2010 and 2011, that this was a done deal and that there was no other good way to replace the CF-18s. They insisted that the costs of the F-35s were known and transparent, and they repeatedly used phrases such as “rip up the contract” or “cancel the contract” to characterize the opposition position.

There was no contract, as Harper and his cabinet — especially beleaguered junior defence minister Julian Fantino, who is taking all the heat off MacKay on this issue — are now eager to emphasize.
The big lie. And, the big tell.

Both MacKay and Harper knew, when they were attempting to smear the opposition as attempting to "deny the troops" necessary equipment, that there was something wrong with their numbers. They had long been alerted to it by both the parliamentary budget officer and by their own technical advisers. Their refusal to provide a comprehensive cost estimate to parliament was unprecedented and telling. The Harper government was held in contempt of parliament because of Harper's propensity to childish temper tantrums whenever the high court of the people held him to account.
And the whole time they knew that there was something wrong with their numbers. Had they been in any way confident in the numbers they were spouting publicly, they would have tossed the details on the bar and gloated while the opposition choked on them.

But they didn't do that. They kept hiding behind "contracts" which did not exist, peppered with "we are the only ones who support the troops".

Anybody who has been anywhere near the military procurement game saw this whole process as a little odd. For one thing, this was an unknown platform. Most of us thought this whole thing required a closer look and a huge amount of "requirements" work, and we said so.

That got some hackles up.

The Harper spin machine was hard at work, (because we had questioned His decision), and before we knew it, self-styled "military analysts", (most of whom don't know whether they are punched, bored or blown out with a twin 3 inch 70 naval gun mount), were telling us that this air weapons platform was the neatest thing since the invention of sex.

And, it's what the air force wanted.

Bully for them. Even the adults in the RCAF know that they have to fly and fight what the government provides, whether they want it or not.

Most Canadians can be excused for their erroneous belief that the uniformed Canadian Armed Forces and the civilian Department of National Defence are the same thing. Despite the obvious close relationship, they are separate, as required by law. So take this breakout of responsibilities seriously:
[T]he Department is headed by a Deputy Minister of National Defence, the Department’s senior civil servant, while the Canadian Forces are headed by the Chief of the Defence Staff, Canada’s senior serving officer.  Both are responsible to the Minister.

  • The Deputy Minister has responsibility for policy, resources, interdepartmental coordination and international defence relations; and
  • The Chief of the Defence Staff has responsibility for command, control and administration of the Canadian Forces and military strategy, plans and requirements.
Once, a long time ago, a Chief of the Defence Staff went to the Minister of National Defence and told him that the armed services were in desperate need of more people to meet the requirements of the government's stated defence policy. The MND went to the DM who told him that the budget would not allow any increase in pay, training and support of anything higher than the cabinet approved established strength. The CDS then told the minister that he could no longer generate the forces needed to meet a contingency operation, but thanks for hearing me. The CDS, one of the most highly decorated Canadian combat veterans to have held the position, responded to media, (hoping to be able to report on a pig-fight), "I am a soldier. I salute, turn about and do my best."

I, personally, was young, pissed-off and demoralized by that statement. But I also learned something that day. We in uniform do not decide such things. We use what we are provided. We don't make the final decisions on ships, tanks, aircraft, rifles, ammunition, uniforms, underwear or the quality of issue nylon stockings. All of that is decided by The Department. And The Department is subject to the will of those higher in the food chain.

There has been a generally loud response to the Auditor General's report, much of which aims at unnamed people in the RCAF and the uniformed Canadian Forces. It is suggested that they lied, covered up, fudged numbers and misled an otherwise hapless, albeit incompetent minister.

That would be a great story. Except that they couldn't do it. The lines, as described above, are very clear. The air force can get on their knees and beg for F-35s until the cows come home. They can tell The Department, right up to the minister, that no other airplane will meet their needs. It is not, as I have pointed out, their decision. That rests with the civilian policy and resources shop of The Department.

I was present, way back in time, when the lords of the navy were briefing the Minister of National Defence on the requirement to replace the Oberon-class submarines. The admirals had several options, all of which involved conventionally-powered boats: two off-the-shelf types and one cooperative build-in-Canada model. The minister asked why there was not a nuclear-propelled option. The admirals were shocked but answered that current defence policy did not include the demand for that type of boat, and the uniformed navy felt that nuclear-powered submarines would be politically unacceptable.

The minister answered with, "The politics are not your problem. Come back with a nuclear option."

The admirals were uncomfortable since nuclear propulsion involved a massive shift in focus and, as they pointed out, was outside the limits of the stated defence policy.

I'll let you look up the history but it was a Conservative minister and it sheds a light on the F-35 issue.

The type of equipment the armed services employ is decided by the politicians. The Canadian taxpayer is buying it all. The armed services makes the best use of it, preserves it, become experts with it and hopes for a new model - soon. They don't pick it. They only get to say what they would really, really like.

Remember the Harper line after he formed his first minority government? He was going to streamline military procurement. After his 2nd minority he decided to make it a part of his agenda. The 2008 Speech from the Throne contained this:
Fixing procurement will be a top priority. Simpler and streamlined processes will make it easier for businesses to provide products and services to the government and will deliver better results for Canadians. Military procurement in particular is critical: Canada cannot afford to have cumbersome processes delay the purchase and delivery of equipment needed by our men and women in uniform.
That seems to be a Conservative goddamned mantra.

What Harper pumped out of the mouth of the Governor General can easily be summarized as this: We don't need to put every purchase under a microscope when the answer is obvious. We spend too much time analysing expensive capital military equipment. We already know what we want. We're just going to go out and buy the stuff we want. A competition is a waste of time.

And that is exactly what they did. Harper and MacKay. Who needs a cumbersome competition and assessment process when we have THEM. They are all wise.

The Auditor General did point a finger. He pointed it at the civilian-led policy shop. The policy shop led by Harper and MacKay.

Both should depart without their heads. That, however, is unlikely to happen.

I reckon some poor unsuspecting corporal will have her or his life ruined to preserve the image of Harper infallibility.


Edstock said...

As to nuke subs, AECL has had a variant of their Slowpoke reactor tech ready for decades, for a nuclear sub propulsion system that's a lot cheaper and simpler than the US sodium-cooled tech. But Stevie gutted AECL. So we bought subs from the people that brought you Lucas electrical parts that made sure your British car wouldn't start in the cold.

Steve said...

The only place you will see any mention of Harper lying about the contract is on the progressive blogs. Now contrast that to what would be headlines should Justin Trudeau lie about how many years of boxing he has taken.

Scotian said...


Very well written and said. Like you I actually understood how the lines of command actually work in our system, unfortunately most people don't, and I don't see the modern national press being in any hurry nor even vague interest in doing so, this despite the concept of the military being a civilian controlled setup is a mantra of faith when we talk about democratic governments in general. There is no way this mess belongs on any uniformed plate in terms of actual responsibility, they can as you said say what they want forever but they lack the AUTHORITY to do anything about it, that AUTHORITY lies solely within the civilian government chain of command, not the uniformed one.

This yet underscores again why I kept saying Harper & co was so dangerous to the Canadian way of life and governing, why process issues are at least as important as any policy or ideological ones (indeed I would still argue they are even more important since they actually define the infrastructure/tools of government itself with which you get to create/implement policy and such as well as its limitations) when looking at leadership. Now the taxpayer gets screwed, and no doubt we are about to see some uniformed flunkies take the heat that rightly belongs to the CPC government alone, and get away with it because too many people don't know the truth, don't care about the truth, and can't be bothered to find out what the truth might actually be.

We live in very bad times these days, and I fear it gets worse before it gets better (which I have to believe it eventually does, even if for the moment I find it hard to see how/when). Thankfully there are still people like you out there Dave trying to make sure that truth and factual reality still has a voice to be heard by those willing to try and find out. Again Dave, excellent work here, not to mention something that is impossible for anyone not totally blinded by their own partisanship to dispute in terms of factual honesty and accuracy.

Boris said...

"The Harper spin machine was hard at work..."

Wasn't just the self-styled analysts, the RCAF itself seemed to join the sales pitch.

ThinkingManNeil said...

Excellent post, Dave. Thanks.

Boris said...

I should add to my last point that I don't know whether the air force enthusiastically joined the discussion or this was something that the DND people thought was something they ought to do.

It also strikes me that regardless of the wishes of the govt or the RCAF, both actually benefit from holding fast to a competitive and rigorous procurement process. They get to haggle over features and price, and see how the propaganda matches up to reality.

I mean who wins here? No one. The government creates a huge mess for itself, the air force doesn't get their plane and potentially faces bigger problems if they can't get a replacement in time.

After this mess the RCAF itself ought to be championing the competitive selection process. No one seems to have done their homework here and they're all now failing test.