A top Conservative MP responsible for military procurement insists the Conservative government did not mislead Canadians over the costs of F-35s slated to replace Canada's fleet of F-18 military jets.
The comments come after the auditor general said this week that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet would have known the pricetag for the military aircraft was higher than what the public was told.
In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Conservative MP Chris Alexander tells host Evan Solomon he "honestly" doesn't think Canadians were misled on the costs.
When Solomon asked Alexander why the full costs were not disclosed in Parliament, Alexander appeared to point the finger at officials at the Department of National Defence (DND), saying the answer was in the auditor general's report.
"Not all the information that was in the department flowed where it needed to go, upwards and to other departments," said Alexander who serves as parliamentary secretary to National Defence Minister Peter Mackay.
But when pressed on the question of who was responsible for the lack of due diligence, Alexander answered: "We are."
And when asked specifically by Solomon whether any ministers should resign over the matter, Alexander would only say that the government "is assuming its responsibility" by accepting the recommendations of the auditor general.
Among the revelations in Auditor General Michael Ferguson's report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, was the finding that in June 2010, DND estimated that buying and operating the fighter jets for 20 years would cost the government $25-billion.
However, in March 2011, the department responded to a report written by the parliamentary budget officer on the costs of the F-35s, by saying his estimates were wrong and the cost would be closer to $15-billion.
In his only interview since speaking to reporters after his appearance before the public accounts committee on Thursday, Ferguson told the CBC's Solomon that "we know the department [of National Defence] had those numbers, and they could have brought the numbers forward and said here's what we think the full cost is going to be."
Late Thursday, the Prime Minister's Office said the numbers the government presented in March 2011 did not include operating and salary costs, something the PMO now concedes the government should have done.
When asked by Solomon if Mackay was responsible for protecting the integrity of the process, Ferguson replied "I wouldn't expect that the Minister would be the individual that would exercise all of the due diligence."
According to Ferguson, that's why it's important for the bureaucracy overseeing the program that there be a process in place to asks all of those questions.
When asked whether he believed the Conservatives misled the public, Ferguson explained that the audit "was not about who knew what, when."
"It's difficult to say when the ministers were brought in to understand what those numbers are," the auditor general told Solomon.
"It's fundamentally, I think, a question that the ministers need to answer and the department needs to answer."
In 2010, Defence Minister Peter Mackay said the government had signed a $9-billion contract for the acquisition of 65 F-35s to replace Canada's aging fleet of F-18 aircraft.
However, in recent weeks, the government has said it never did sign a contract.
When asked what forced the government to change its tune, Alexander said there have been "lots of contracts along the way" because Canadian companies have gotten involved by participating in the development of this aircraft starting in the late 1990s.
When pressed on it again, Alexander would only say that the government "made a commitment to acquire" the F-35 in 2010.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has accused the Conservatives of misleading Canadians on the true costs of the aircraft.
And on Thursday, after question period, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae raised a question of privilege in the House of Commons, alleging that the government provided two "completely different and contradictory versions of reality."
The Speaker of the House of Commons will have to decide if there is a prima facie case of privilege and report back to MPs.
Parliament adjourned after that for a scheduled two-week break until April 23rd.
FIIn this file photo taken on July 14, 2011 and released by U.S. Air Force, a USAF F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) aircraft soars over Destin, Fla., before landing at its new home at Eglin Air Force Base. Japan selected the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, to replace aging jets in its air force and bolster its defense capability amid regional uncertainty. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago)
A F-35 Lightning II sits on stage during the United Kingdom F-35 Lightning II delivery ceremony on July 19, 2012 at Lockheed Martin Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas. The ceremony marked the first international delivery of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to a partner nation. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Plane models stand outside the Lockheed Martin Corporation during the United Kingdom F-35 Lightning II Delivery Ceremony on July 19, 2012 in Fort Worth, Texas. The ceremony marked the first international delivery of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to a partner nation. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet sits in front the entrance of the Asian Aerospace 2004 show in Singapore 24 February 2004. The Asia Pacific offers one of the world's strongest prospects for defence-related spending, US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin said Tuesday as it expressed confidence in remaining a major supplier to the region's governments (AFP PHOTO/ROSLAN RAHMAN)
(AFP PHOTO/CARL DE SOUZA)
A Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lighning II fighter jet sits on the tarmac for static display at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore on February 12, 2012. Boeing's much-delayed 787 Dreamliner is set to star at the Singapore Airshow this week where companies touting private jets and defence hardware to the Asian market will also be out in force. (ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
(ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
On Feb. 16, 2012, the first external weapons test mission was flown by an F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The F-35A is designed to carry up to 18000 pounds on 10 weapon stations featuring four weapon stations inside two weapon bays, for maximum stealth capability, and an additional three weapon stations on each wing.
IN AIR, NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, MD - FEBRUARY 11: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been received by U.S. Military prior to transmission) In this image released by the U.S. Navy courtesy of Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight February 11, 2011 over the Chesapeake Bay. Lt. Cmdr. Eric 'Magic' Buus flew the F-35C for two hours, checking instruments that will measure structural loads on the airframe during flight maneuvers. The F-35C is distinct from the F-35A and F-35B variants with larger wing surfaces and reinforced landing gear for greater control when operating in the demanding carrier take-off and landing environment. (Photo by U.S. Navy photo courtesy Lockheed Martin via Getty Images)
Courtesy: NAVAIR/JSF Program/Lockheed Martin
Highlights of F-35 flight testing at NAS Patuxent River, Md., NAS Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, and Edwards AFB, Calif.
The first night flight in the history of the Lockheed Martin F-35 program was completed on Jan. 19, 2012 in the skies above Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Piloted by Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Mark Ward, AF-6, an F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, launched at 5:05 pm PST and landed after sunset at 6:22 pm
An F-35 test pilot talks about airstart testing at Edwards AFB, Calif., in early 2012.