Sheila Fraser Gives Harper a Headache

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She started it all. Earlier this month. It’s all her doing.

She said in her annual report that judging from the way the Harper government handled the new helicopter purchases -- which went from $5 billion to $11 billion almost overnight -- the public should be awfully careful about making the same mistakes over again when it comes to buying new fighter jets without holding an open competition.

Harper wants to buy 65 brand-new F-35 war planes from the American arms maker Lockheed Martin, the cost of which has suddenly gone up from $9 billion to $16 billion making it the biggest government contract in Canadian history.

And the jets are still not off the drawing board, but Harper won’t give up, and there was never any open competition or contract tenders, and no written guarantees of jobs in Canada, and the contract is still two years away. And nobody knows how many Canadian jobs are involved.  It’s one big mess.

Now everybody and his brother are getting involved.

Normally ex-public servants don’t get involved in such disputes. They leave it up to the politicians to fight it out. Not this time.

This past week the former assistant deputy minister of national defence, Alan Williams, popped up on CBC television declaring that it’s “dishonest” for a government to make people believe there has been a competition on the fighter jet contract and that Lockheed Martin won it when there has been no such competition.

He knows. He was the assistant deputy minister at the time there would have been such a competition.

Minutes earlier Industry Minister Tony Clement had been on the same CBC news show saying there had been a “procedure” back in 1997 and Lockheed Martin won it.

Maybe Clement was referring to a competition in the U.S. or in some other country thinking of buying the jets. Brazil, recently held open tenders and got the price of their F-35 jets knocked down by $ 2 billion.

Clement didn’t help matters by admitting he didn’t know anything about fighter jets, and trusts the military to tell him what the government should buy.

It hasn’t been a good year for poor Clement.  He was the guy behind the outrageous $53 million G-8 spending in his riding this summer.

And lately he was the minister in charge of the long-form census fiasco. Those were not his finest efforts.

Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff says that if he’s elected prime minister, he’ll put a stop to the fighter jet purchase until a competition is held, then public tenders are called, and he’ll negotiate in writing how many Canadian jobs there’ll be – all that before he signs on the dotted line.

There’s still two years to go before the deadline. So who else is going to jump in on the controversy?

Harper’s mother must have told him there would be days like this.

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