Emails: Diplomats, Military Officials told to downplay F-35 fiasco
Emails show Canadian diplomats and military officials were instructed to downplay the scathing report from the Auditor General which outlined the Government’s waste in the F-35 project when speaking with foreign officials. At one point, they were told to blame it on “bureaucratic” issues.
The Department of Defense’s damage-control effort instructed officials to spread the blame, rather than accept or address their responsibilities.
Canada is among nine other countries who were purchasing the F-35 and given how tightly knit the project was, any change in order from one country would impact the order of the others, explaining a $40,000 meeting in February 2012 at the Embassy in Washington among the countries.
On March 13, 2012, Canada sent the first shock-wave down the partnership when then-associate defense minister Julian Fantino said, “We have not yet discounted the possibility of backing out of the program.”
The following day, National Defense director general Andre Fillion wrote in an email to procurement chief Dan Ross, “Dan, those are pretty specific words (from Fantino) and are not going unnoticed within the partnership.”
When Fantino’s remark made international headlines, the Department of Defense was forced to issue a statement, affirming Canada’s “position has not changed,” that Canada remained “committed to the Joint Strike Fighter Program,” and that “a budget has been allocated.”
As the price tag ballooned, the next shock-wave struck, and struck hard. On April 3, 2012, Auditor General Michael Ferguson revealed the Defense Department was purposely misleading Parliamentarians and taxpayers by whitewashing reports that showed cost over-runs to ensure the purchase was made.
Diplomats responded to the department that the story made international headlines, including “a lot of articles on the subject in Norwegian and Dutch papers these days!”
Answers were demanded from foreign diplomats, the Dutch emailed the Canadian embassy saying, “In the Netherlands this report is already used by the factions which are against the F-35.”
The department’s Director General Wendy Gilmor responded by emailing the partners telling that she must “emphasize” the issue was “tied primarily to internal Canadian bureaucratic processes.”
Officials were instructed to assure partners “we remain part of the JSF Partnership,” even though “specific decisions related to the timetable for the acquisition of Canada’s next generation fighter aircraft will be deferred.”
Whether the order was made at the political or departmental level remains unclear, but while the Defense Department accepted Ferguson’s report, the Public Works department rejected the report claiming they managed the project with due diligence.
Canada’s top military officer, Rear-Admiral Richard Greenwood focused the attention of foreign counterparts to specific lines in media releases.
“Canada remains committed to ensuring that the Royal Canadian Air Force has the aircraft it needs to do the jobs we ask of them,”one of the lines read, another stated $435 million in contracts created contracts for Canadian companies participating in the F-35 program.
A separate departmental document reveals a “counter-narrative” was ready for when the AG report was released. “The reputation of how DND conducts acquisitions is at stake,” and the counter-narrative was supposed “to bring balance and context to misrepresented and/or misinterpreted information.”
When the auditor general revealed the operation and maintenance cost of the planes being pegged at $45 billion, significantly higher than what was previously said, the Conservatives canceled the contract to purchase 65 F-35 stealth fighters.
The Conservative government then went to competitors and asked them to come up with better offers – something that should have been done in the first place.
The re-assessment process has brought companies like Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Saab Gripen, the Boeing Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin’s F-35 to the table. Their assessments should be complete by the end of the summer. Saab, however, has opted out of the assessment. From this point, the government will decide to either move ahead with the F-35 project, open a competition or kill the project.
Killing the project would drive up the cost and/or potentially create complications for the other countries in the F-35 program. Sources told CTV in December that Conservative officials were trying to bury the current proposal.
The emails show a desperate cover-up on the part of the Department of National Defense on the issue of procurement. Another contract that is likely to follow the same, out of control, route as the F-35 is the Arctic patrol ice breakers which has already cost taxpayers ten times more than in any other country just for the design. Will the Conservatives try to sweep the mismanagement of this contract under the rug as they did with the F-35 contract for the past several years?