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The F-35 "Scandal" that Never Took Off

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Now, I enjoy a good scandal as much as the next man, but as a general rule I find it's hard to get overly outraged when the scandalousness in question is the result of a) politicians lying, b) politicians wasting money, or c) politicians lying about wasting money. It's a bit like high schoolers having sex, or violence in the Middle East -- the details may bother you in theory, but only the most sheltered and naive among us are delicate enough to be genuinely shocked.

Thus, while the Canadian media has sprayed no shortage of spittle over the Conservative government's scandal de jour -- a systemic effort on the part of the defence establishment to mislead the nation about the exorbitant cost of buying 65 F-35 fighter jets -- it's quite telling how little effort has been devoted to examining why all the alleged lying took place, as opposed to merely documenting the size and scope of the latest whoppers.

The mundanity is only compounded by the fact that the government didn't even get to spend the ungodly $25 billion airplane budget they were so busily concealing. Following the subsequent embarrassment and butt-covering reforms, they probably never will. So at best, we have a scandal where politicians attempted to dupe the public about the price tag for a promise they may never deliver.

In other words, a typical Thursday.

It only gets drearier. Whistle-blowers are usually fun characters, but unfortunately the head snitch of the F-35 saga -- Auditor General Michael Ferguson -- is about as exciting as, well, a professional auditor.

Though his now infamous report on the F-35s is always described with vigorous adjectives like "scathing" or "damning," it actually points few fingers and names no names, blaming only the faceless entireties of the National Defence and Public Works departments, both of which are kind of hard to chase down in the House of Commons parking lot.

"We didn't do the work in terms of who knew what when," the AG said during a Saturday appearance on one of Evan Solomon's many CBC shows, thereby foiling Solomon's vigilant attempts to make his guest say something interesting. Between that and Fergo's disinterest in investigating whether Canada actually needs $25 billion worth of fighter jets ("we did not audit the merits of the F-35 aircraft" his report monotones) this means that two of the most vital components of scandal drama -- characters and motive -- are missing from the F-35 story. Lucky we have lots of pundits who are great at filling holes!

For starters, what can we reasonably generalize about the sorts of people who work at the Defence department?

"National Defence has a long history of pulling the wool over the eyes of the taxpayer," says John Ivison at the Post, who blames those greedy jerks in the military for always coveting "the shiniest car in the showroom." His colleague Wayne Spear agrees, but says F-35s are more like "the most dazzling toy on the shelf." Either way, what spoiled brats! That crooked Peter MacKay was even hornswoggled into believing "fifth- generation" warplanes are a thing, says Wayne, who's pretty sure they're not.

Pundits who actually know stuff about the military have been a tad more measured.

"It really isn't about shiny new toys for the boys," writes famed army historian J.L. Granatstein in the Globe and Mail, noting that costs aside, F-35s are "potentially the best fighter available anywhere for the next quarter-century," so there's no point browsing the bargain bin. Matthew Fisher at the Edmonton Journal agrees, and argues that fifth-generation jets are not only a real thing, but the best thing, noting that Chinese are already "rushing to catch up with fifth-generation warplanes of their own." This fits nicely into Ivison's pet theory that buying F-35s helps fulfill the Harper administration's dream of becoming "willing supplicants in a grand Pacific Pax Americana," and frankly I can't wait until we start squabbling about that.

Of course, what burgeoning political scandal is complete without apocalyptic predictions of consequence? Michael Den Tandt at the Montreal Gazette says"the Tories have driven the bus into a concrete wall" and predicts "cabinet level resignations" (plural!) "as a starting point," followed by some darker process whereby the government is "discredited," and presumably loses the widespread public adulation it enjoys today.

Thomas Walkom at the Star warns that big liars always face consequences in Canadian politics, and raises the ominous spectre of the PC party's collapse in 1993. The Tories only won two seats in that election, which means if the Harper crew doesn't ratchet down its present rate of scandals-per-hour, they might wind up with negative representation in the Commons come 2015.

No one goes further than the CBC's ace reporter Kady O'Malley, however, who warned a CBC chat room yesterday that if the Conservatives "deliberately misled the House," there are "sanctions that can be imposed, with the ultimate penalty being the loss of the confidence of a majority of members."

It is important that we all take a moment and ponder the notion that a majority government voting no-confidence in itself is something our top Ottawa correspondents are seriously suggesting is a plausible endgame to a controversy over politicians lying.

But I suppose a few weeks ago the idea that the 2011 election would be reversed sounded plausible enough, too. Throw these people a bone, folks -- they work with what they're given.