Mr. Speaker, I want to reply to the comments made by the government House leader with respect to the question of the incompatibility between the government saying that it accepted the findings of the Auditor General and accepted his conclusions and the unwillingness of the government to accept any degree of ministerial accountability and any degree of responsibility for providing disinformation, misinformation, inadequate information over a year and a half with respect to the most important procurement that the Government of Canada has ever made, most important in terms of the sums of money involved.
It is a classic case where the government House leader again adopts the same line that was used during the break by the Minister of National Defence, saying that all we have here is a difference of accounting techniques between the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Auditor General and the Government of Canada, that this is simply an accounting issue and has nothing to do at all with respect to ministerial accountability or ministerial responsibility.
To quote the comments that were made by the government House leader:
As we can see, this issue boils down not to whether Parliament was deliberately misled about the costs of the F-35, as the leader of the third party might like us to believe, but to the best way to account for the costs of purchasing replacement equipment.
This is a false statement by the government House leader. It is not what the issue is about. It does not describe the problem. It does not recognize the findings and the conclusions of the Auditor General. It does not in fact refer to the answers that the House has been given since the summer of 2010 with respect to this question of the purchase of the F-35s.
It is a fact that it was a finding of contempt by the House with respect to the refusal to provide adequate information to the finance committee and to the House of Commons that led to the contempt motion which led to the election.
The evidence is overwhelming, and it is overwhelming even today as the government responds to our questions, that in fact the contempt continues. This is a contempt that has still not stopped. The government is still not prepared to come clean. The government is still not prepared to provide us with adequate information. The government is still not prepared to accept responsibility for what has taken place. That is the basis of the question of privilege.
The privilege is very clear. Ministers systematically, since 2010, gave the House information which has proven to be incorrect, inadequate, partial and, in some cases, untrue.
As I am being heckled by members opposite, Mr. Speaker, let me simply refer you, Sir, and the House, once again, to the comments of the Auditor General of Canada, because these comments are very clear and it is very clear that we are not dealing here with an accounting question. We are dealing here with information that has simply not been provided to the House and with this absurd situation where the government says, “We accept the conclusions of the Auditor General”, and I can read out the conclusions of the Auditor General, but then nothing happens as a result.
No minister is held to account. Nobody is responsible for misinformation or disinformation being given to the committees of the House of Commons. No one is held accountable for the fact that Parliament was supposed to get information on this issue, but did not receive information on this issue. The government, to this day, continues to show not just disdain for the questions that are posed and refuses to give answers, but contempt for the House and, indeed, contempt for the entire process in simply not giving us the information which it has, which the Auditor General says its has and which it is not prepared to provide.
Let me refer you, Mr. Speaker, to the report of the Auditor General.
On page 28, paragraph 2.71 states:
We have a number of observations regarding the life-cycle costing for the F-35. First, costs have not been fully presented in relation to the life of the aircraft. The estimated life expectancy of the F-35 is about 8,000 flying hours, or about 36 years based on predicted usage. National Defence plans to operate the fleet for at least that long. It is able to estimate costs over 36 years.
Further on in that paragraph, it is stated:
However, in presenting costs to government decision makers and to Parliament, National Defence estimated life-cycle costs over 20 years. This practice understates operating, personnel, and sustainment costs, as well as some capital costs, because the time period is shorter than the aircraft’s estimated life expectancy. The Joint Strategic Fighter Program Office—
--the office in the United States--
—provided National Defence with projected sustainment costs over 36 years.
That clearly implies that the Minister of National Defence knew what those 36-year costs were. The entire time the House was debating this issue, he refused to come forward.
Paragraph 2.72 states:
Second, the following expected costs were not accounted for:
Replacement aircraft. National Defence considers 65 aircraft the minimum number needed to meet its training and operational requirements. Based on past experience, National Defence expects to lose aircraft in the course of normal usage. Based on National Defence’s assumed attrition rate, in order to maintain the fleet of 65 aircraft, Canada may need to purchase up to 14 additional aircraft over the next 36 years. National Defence did inform the government of the need to consider the requirement for attrition aircraft at a later date. The cost of replacement aircraft is not included in the life-cycle estimate for this project and will be treated as a separate project in the future.
In other words, all of the costs which were presented by the Government of Canada to the Parliament of Canada with respect to this issue did not include the question of replacement costs. In other words, this House was misled. We were not given the full information to which we were entitled. We were given answers by the Minister of National Defence which did not in fact respond to the need for life cycle all-in costs. We repeatedly asked the minister for all-in costs and he repeatedly told us they were $9 billion plus $7 billion, a total of $16 billion. That was the number he gave us. That is a false number. It is an inaccurate number. It is an incorrect number. It does not in any way add up to what the real costs of this are.
In paragraph 2.72, the Auditor General states:
Upgrades. It is expected that over the life of the aircraft, Canada will need to invest in various upgrades to the F-35 fleet, both in software and hardware. These costs were not known when the 2008 and 2010 budgets were established, but have since been estimated to be more than CAN$1.2 billion over 20 years.
We have not been provided with that information.
The Auditor General went on to say in paragraph 2.76 on page 30:
We also have significant concerns about the completeness of cost information provided to parliamentarians. In March 2011, National Defence responded publicly to the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report. This response did not include estimated operating, personnel, or ongoing training costs.... Also, we observed that National Defence told parliamentarians that cost data provided by US authorities had been validated by US experts and partner countries, which was not accurate at the time.
Let me repeat that:
Also, we observed that National Defence told parliamentarians that cost data provided by US authorities had been validated by US experts and partner countries, which was not accurate at the time.
In other words, inaccurate information was given to the committee that was studying this question. It is further stated in that paragraph:
At the time of its response, National Defence knew the costs were likely to increase but did not so inform parliamentarians.
I say to my colleagues who are sitting patiently on the other side of the House that if they were sitting on this side of the House, they would be up on their feet asking, “Where is the accountability?” They are the ones who brought in the Federal Accountability Act. They are the ones who asked, “Where is the accountability?” We are asking a simple question. When Parliament is misled, when Parliament is given inaccurate information, when Parliament is provided with information that the government knew perfectly well was not correct, where are we supposed to go, except to this place and say that a government which persistently gives us inaccurate information is a government that has been in contempt of Parliament.
I do not see how you have any other conclusion to draw, Mr. Speaker, except that the information provided to Parliament was inaccurate. All you have to do is compare the Auditor General's report to the answers that have been given in this House by the Prime Minister of Canada, by the Minister of National Defence, by the Associate Minister of National Defence, and then ask how the answers given compare and compute with the report of the Auditor General of Canada. The answer is that they do not. They do not compare and they do not compute. It is really striking to me that even today the Auditor General said that he got letters from the officials, the deputy ministers in the departments which he was criticizing for their lack of due diligence, saying that they objected to the conclusions in the report.
The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has said there is a difference between what the deputy ministers say and what the Government of Canada says. That is news to me. That is a novel doctrine of constitutional law. It is a novel doctrine of administrative practice. The Prime Minister says it is normal practice for deputy ministers to object. Do they object to something without the approval of the Prime Minister? Do they object to something without the Prime Minister's Office knowing they are objecting? It is inconceivable.
We are in a ridiculous Alice in Wonderland situation. We have deputy ministers who do not agree with the Auditor General because he finds them and their departments responsible for what has gone wrong. We find a Prime Minister who says that he accepts the conclusions but that there are no processes of accountability for what has happened in the past. It is the worst abnegation of ministerial responsibility we have seen. The government and the Prime Minister are refusing to take responsibility for what has taken place. What has taken place is that the government is refusing to admit that it provided to Parliament information which was inaccurate, inadequate and did not in fact deal with the seriousness of the situation.
Hence, the contempt that was found in March 2011 continues today. There is no way we can accept the conclusion of the government and the excuse it has given. Conservatives have gone on talk shows and elsewhere and said that this is simply an accounting issue, that it has to do with other things.
There are so many examples in the Auditor General's report. He refers very explicitly to the fact that the estimates provided by the government with respect to maintenance are based on the notion that somehow the same maintenance costs will be there for the stealth fighter as were there for the CF-18, which is like saying that the maintenance costs for a Maserati will be exactly the same as the maintenance costs for a Ford Fairlane. I say to my friend, the Associate Minister of National Defence, he knows that is not true. I am not suggesting he has a Maserati or a Ford Fairlane. I am just suggesting that the government has to come to grips with telling the truth to Parliament.
The Conservatives have not told the truth to Parliament and they cannot simply turn the page and say, “Oh well, that was then and this is now. We're not going to take any responsibility for what has taken place in the past, we are simply going to talk about the future”. This is a place of reckoning.
The House of Commons is the place where people have to speak the truth. If we cannot believe what ministers, deputy ministers or prime ministers say, if we cannot believe them, the trust that exists in the House will be completely lost.
That is the situation we find ourselves in today. This is why we raised a question of privilege: we do not have truth and accountability. This is the problem, this is the situation, and that is my response to the replies from the government House leader.