A Monty Python Government

Just over a year ago, on April 6th 2011 to be exact, my local MP Peter Braid responded to a query on Twitter from a local constituent regarding the decision to move ahead with the F35 purchase despite the lack of a competition. Braid stated, “I rely on DND estimates.” When further questioned by others, myself included, on the decision to sole source the-then $15 billion purchase, Braid avoided reference to the missing-competition, failed to provide any supporting facts for the purchase, and instead responded with a terse “And what do you suggest instead?”

To be sure, I appreciate his willingness to engage and accept the suggestions of his constituents. However his empty answers to important questions from constituents regarding the proposed F35 process is disconcerting given the information now available.

But this isn’t about Mr Braid, for it was the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense who led visceral attacks on anyone who questioned the F35 process. The Parliamentary Budget Officer’s analysis was deemed illogical and speculative. Opposition demands for information were stonewalled, contributing to the contempt of Parliament finding that brought about our May 2011 election.  As evidence mounted for over 18 months that reality diverged sharply from what the Government was communicating, opposition and citizen demands for information and transparency about the purchase were deemed misplaced and irrelevant.

In retrospect, the whole thing reminds me of Monty Python’s Dead Parrot skit. A customer goes to a store to buy a parrot and returns shortly after having noticed that the parrot is in fact dead. No, says the shop keeper, it couldn’t be, it’s just asleep, perhaps stunned, or resting, but never dead. So goes the dialogue between the customer and shopkeeper until the shop keeper finally relents and admits that the bird might just be dead. What about a refund asks the indignant customer? Not likely stammers the shop keeper as the scene ends.

Today, like the customer in the Dead Parrot scene, we’re being asked to take empty rhetoric in return for lies peddled. In the wake of the Auditor General’s report, what was just months ago tersely defended as a necessary and firm contract has evolved into an ongoing process that was never actually formalized; what was vehemently positioned as a $15 billion purchase is now positioned as always having been $25 billion; and Ministerial responsibility over the affairs of a department has now been replaced by placing blame on the bureaucrats who report to them.

And let’s make one thing clear: the issue at hand isn’t the decision to purchase necessary military upgrades. One might question the make or model of the aircraft being purchased, or maybe even the quantity in these times of restraint, however there’s little doubt that the CF18’s currently in use need replacement.

The issue is how Parliament and elected MPs respond to the people who give them power. When that response is in the form of constant obstruction, avoidance of evidence and worse, as the F35 episode indicates, it’s no wonder that trust in Canada’s political institutions is at an all-time low.  While the story still has to play out, based on what we know so far, it’s far from fiction to imagine that the leaders of this country purposefully misled Canadians about the true cost of the F35 program.

There are little white lies, and there are glaring $10 billion dollar ones. There’s incompetence, and then there’s the abandonment of accountability and of Ministerial responsibility. In this case all of the above are present. It’s embarrassing. But what’s worse is that many seem not to care.