Defence Minister Peter MacKay is defending the government's accounting of the costs of Canada's military mission in Libya, following the release of new figures by the Department of National Defence that lay out the final cost of the deployment.
The department puts the incremental costs of the mission — costs the military says would not have been incurred if Canadian Forces had not been deployed — at just under $100 million.
And the total cost of the operation — a figure that includes everything from jet fuel to pilot salaries, including the salaries of military personnel — comes in at $347 million.
Last October, MacKay told CBC Radio's The House the Libyan mission had cost taxpayers less than $50 million.
"As of Oct. 13, the figures that I've received have us well below that, somewhere under $50 million," MacKay said.
"And that's the all-up costs of the equipment that we have in the theatre, the transportation to get there, those that have been carrying out this critical mission."
Canada sent six CF-18 fighter jets and a navy frigate to Libya in 2011 to take part in international operations to enforce a United Nations no-fly zone against the forces of Moammar Gadhafi.
MacKay faced tough questions in question period Friday over the discrepancy in costs.
"What is it this time?" demanded NDP Deputy Leader David Christopherson, "That they still can't keep their numbers straight or that they're misleading Canadians?"
Mackay insisted his numbers were accurate.
"What I said was that, as of Oct. 13, the figures that I received from the department were under $50 million," MacKay said in response.
The minister continued, "Of course, the mission went on. There were extensions ... there was, in fact, then the cost of bringing equipment and personnel home. This is incremental costing."
At an event in Edmonston, N.B., on Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted the total figure of $347 million includes the ongoing costs of operating the Canadian military, and he defended the earlier estimates.
"We always give the most up-to-date figures and it's important also to know ... that these figures include normal operations of the Canadian military, of those assets over that period," Harper said.
"All of these numbers, all of the costs of the Libya mission, were accomplished within the budget set by the government for the Department of National Defence, so this is not new money."
The director of the military's strategic joint staff was called on to explain duelling figures at a hastily-assembled news conference at National Defence headquarters on Friday afternoon.
Maj.-Gen. Jon Vance said MacKay did not mislead the public and pointed out senior military leaders referenced the figures publicly during Senate committee hearings.
But he concedes the minister would have known the estimated cost at the time and did not speculate on why MacKay chose to go with the lower figures exclusively.
Opposition parties slammed the Harper government for the confusion and compared it to the controversy surrounding the F-35 stealth fighter purchase, in which the auditor general accused National Defence of deliberately low-balling the multibillion-dollar estimate.
"Peter’s got problems with his math yet again and this government’s got problems with trying to figure out how to cost things," said NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar. "I suppose he just thinks that if he can lowball it, people won’t be concerned about the costs. But, you know, in the end, the costs add up and it caught up to Mr. MacKay."
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (R) and former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak (L) arrive for a group picture ahead of the opening session of the Arab League extraordinary Summit in the Libyan coastal city of Sirte, on October 9, 2010. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, escorted by female bodyguards, arrives at the Ciampino airport on August 29, 2010, in Rome, Italy. (Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, with his suite, reviews an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential office in Kiev on November 4, 2008. (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (L), escorted by a female bodyguard (R), lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow on November 1, 2008. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's female bodyguards are seen while Gaddafi, unseen, visits the Louvre museum, during his controversial six-day visit in France, 13 December 2007 in Paris. (THIBAULT CAMUS/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Libyan soldiers, members of the Revolutionary Guards, stand on guard September 7, 1999, in a military parade in Tripoli to mark the 30th anniversary of the Libyan Revolution that brought Muammar Gaddafi to power. (MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is flanked by his female bodyguard (L) as he arrives for lunch with other African and European leaders at the EU-African summit in Cairo, April 4, 2000. Gaddafi's personal guard, who declined to give her name, told AFP she is 'very proud' to be the only female armed escort for any of the 60-odd leaders at the summit. She has served as Gaddafi's personal bodyguard for 10 years. (MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Libyan female bodyguards of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi walk away from the entrance of the summit after a scuffle broke out between them and Egyptian security. Arab leaders are holding a summit in the Egyptian resort in order to come up with a unified response to the Iraqi crisis. (Norbert Schiller/Getty Images)