As Canada approaches the sixth year of a tenure with Stephen Harper as Prime Minister, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the platform he and his Conservative Party put forward six years ago when they won their first election.
Six must be the lucky number because it was six bolded words at the top of a message from then candidate for Prime Minister Stephen Harper that caught my eye: "The time for accountability has arrived."
The Oxford Online Dictionary defines "accountability" as follows:
the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility:
When I searched again for the meaning of accountable, I found this:
(of a person, organization, or institution) required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible.
Ironically (or perhaps not) the example used by the online dictionary is "government must be accountable to its citizens." It's almost as if the CPC and Oxford dictionary are in cahoots.
Except they aren't, obviously. The dictionary definition has stayed the same over the years, while the government's definition, and more importantly their inclination to actually be accountable, are at odds with each other.
Take for example the F-35 program. There has been a flurry of cost figures for the F-35, ranging from the government's unwavering figure of $9 billion all the way to this past week when a paid report by KPGM ($750,000 by the government, read: taxpayers) put the total costs for the program at $45.8 billion dollars. Quite the jump in just a few years.
Are we any closer to knowing the truth behind these numbers? No. Is the government any closer to telling us the truth? The way they fight tooth and nail to stop facts from escaping into the public realm so often, one can't help but say no.
Don't forget that the 2011 Election resulted from a contempt of Parliament motion that passed in the House of Commons because the government wasn't being transparent or accountable about the costs of the programs, a clear question of accountability that has continued to plague this government. Would it have been this bad if they had released their numbers immediately? Likely not.
A fact one shouldn't forget either is that the Conservatives went into the 2011 election giving us assurances that their numbers were correct. Nine billion dollars for the planes, $7 billion for maintenance and support. They hold true to this today, even though they agree they haven't been transparent and now admit to needing to hit "reset" on the program.
The accountability question comes down to this simple fact: when in April of this year NDP leader Thomas Mulcair stood in the House of Commons and asked "Can the Prime Minister tell us who in his Cabinet is responsible for the F-35s?" no clear answer was given. It's one example of many that all the promise of accountability that this government came to power on in 2006 is gone.
It's also ironic that a month before the Auditor General tore through the governments F-35 procurement program (also April of 2012) the government reversed its long held course that the F-35 was not it's plane of choice. If it wasn't the plane of choice then, why not submit to a full on competition for a fighter plane that Canada actually needs?
What plane does Canada need? Who is ultimately responsible for the procurement program? How much will taxpayers be billed for it? Why has this program been pushed on the Canadian public with little accountability from the government? These kinds of questions would not need to be asked repeatedly if accountability was in fact the watchword of the Harper crew.
Prime Minister Paul Martin was called Mr. Dithers for a reason: he dithered. In abstract, you felt bad for the guy. It was like watching a kid in a candy store choose between one chocolate bar or several five cent candies. Almost cute (almost).
I think Andrew Coyne may have alluded to this in a recent article when he called the government's management of the F-35 program not "charming ineptitude, but culpable incompetence, mixed with deliberate misrepresentation." Martin was inept, no doubt about it. That charge can hardly be leveled at this current government, which seems for all intents and purposes to have run screaming from its call for more accountability.
When we ask for government accountability, we are asking the government to act in the best interests of our pocket books. Yes, we are willing to pay taxes to support a system that might need to be there for us one day and that can help raise up the disadvantaged but fiscal prudency requires diligence, which has clearly been absent on this file.
Even now, a promise of an open competition for a CF-18 replacement isn't forthcoming. On the CBC current events show The Current, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defense Chris Alexander stumbled when asked by host Anna Maria Tremonti if there was going to be an open competition. Instead, he seemed to suggest that not only was the F-35 still on the table, but was still the fighter jet of choice.
Have we come full circle so quickly? First the government wants this plane, then they didn't, and now they do again. Canadians are being played for suckers in this little game of procurement bingo that the Harper Cabinet is playing.
In a review of the pipeline explosion in Kalamazoo, Enbridge was called the "keystone cops." A case can be made that the entire Defense Ministry, the Department of Public Works and even the Prime Minister can fit the same label.