Defence Minister Peter MacKay faced more opposition questions about the final costs of Canada's mission in Libya on Monday and why his own estimate of the mission's cost last October was at least $50 million lower.
Final numbers released by the Department of National Defence last week showed incremental costs for the mission (beyond the normal cost of operations such as salaries) of more than $100 million and a total cost including operations of $347 million.
Last October, MacKay told Evan Solomon, host of CBC Radio's The House, that figures he had seen to date put the mission costs under $50 million, though there "could be more costs that come in after the fact."
Maj.-Gen. Jon Vance, director of staff for the Strategic Joint Staff, said Friday MacKay did not mislead the public, but he conceded the minister would have known the higher estimated final cost at the time. Vance did not speculate on why MacKay chose to go with the lower figures.
In the House of Commons Monday, MacKay responded to more opposition questions by referring to the fuller interview on CBC Radio last October.
For the record, here is a transcript of the defence minister's appearance on The House, Oct. 29, 2011.
Q: The mission in Libya is wrapping up. The Secretary General of NATO announced that there would be no extension, as the Libyan government has asked, until the end of the year. NATO wraps up its mission on October 31st. Can you tell Canadians what the cost of the Libyan mission was to Canadians?
Mackay: Sure, the initial projection, as you know, going back some six months or more, would have us in the range of about $60 million . As of October 13th, the figures that I've received have us well below that, somewhere under $50 million. 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.
And make no mistake about it, this was very successful by anyone's standards. This saw NATO make an intervention, Canada among the countries there, saving civilian life and doing so in concert with the National Transitional Council, but doing so with the United Nations backing under the Security Council's resolutions. This has been an investment in helping to bring about a country that is peaceful, that is stable, and they have a long way to go. And we've invested additional funds in helping to locate and take out of use other weapons that could destablize the country. We've opened our embasssy, as you know our minister of foreign affairs has been there. And we're working very closely with the Libyan people in what will be a challenging time ahead as they attempt to democratize a country that has been under an iron fist and a tyrant for many decades.
Q: Well it certainly will be a long process ahead, but you're just confirming that the mission that Canada partook in, the seven-month mission, will cost Canadians all-in $50 million now.
Mackay: That's the figure I was given, so I'm giving you that number with the proviso that there could be more costs that come in after the fact. The fact that we are now ramping down the mission, bringing back significant equipment and personnel, some 650 who were there, we have a ship in the area, we have aircrafts, fighter aircrafts, patrol aircrafts, refuelers. This was an expenditure but it was one that saved lives and [was] in keeping with our international obligations, and the sense that Canada is a country that is compassionate and cares and will not be on the sidelines when there is a call, a clarion call, from the international community to step in and save lives.