The Province

Watchdog says Ottawa skewed costs of F-35s


OTTAWA — Parliament­ary Budget Officer Kevin Page said the government withheld key informatio­n about the full cost of the F-35 stealth fighter last year in an effort to present a lower price tag to Canadians.

The comment was made to reporters after Page told MPS that the Defence Department did not provide him with important estimates associated with operating the F-35 despite being ordered to do so by a Commons committee.

“Over the past few weeks, it has become clear that the Department of National Defence provided the PBO with figures that did not include all operating costs,” Page told members of the public accounts committee.

“The PBO understood that it had been provided with full life-cycle costs from DND as required.”

Those operating costs — which have been estimated at around $10 billion over 20 years — have become central to the question of whether Canadians were misled in the weeks before the last federal election.

At that time, Page released a report which estimated that acquiring, maintainin­g and operating 65f-35s would cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion.

The defence department responded by telling Parliament that the stealth fighter would cost $14.7 billion.

It was only last month that AuditorGen­eral Michael Ferguson revealed that the Defence Department had excluded the operating costs, which meant the full cost was closer to $25 billion.

Defence Department officials have said they did not include operating expenses in reports to the public, such as pilot salaries, fuel and replacemen­t parts, because many of those costs are already associated with Canada’s fleet of CF-18S.

They have also indicated they did not know Page’s report included operating costs.

Page reconfirme­d that his report did just that, adding that “it seems difficult to understand how there could have been any confusion as to whether or not the PBO included operating costs within its estimate.”

Page was asked whether he believed the government had with held informatio­n so Canadians would not know the full cost of the aircraft. “Yes,” he replied. A little later, a senior Defence Department official admitted to the committee that the F-35 is now expected to cost more to operate than the CF-18S. “We expect that it will cost more,” National Defence assistant deputy minister for materiel Dan Ross said.

Ross and the defence department’ stop civilian, Robert Fonberg, did not respond to opposition questions as to why those additional costs weren’t included in public statements about the F-35 price.

Air force head Lt.-gen. Andre Deschamps said stealth technology for aircraft is becoming vitally important as countries are developing missiles that are a threat to non-stealth aircraft.

 ?? — REUTERS ?? Parliament­ary Budget Officer Kevin Page at the public accounts committee on Thursday.
— REUTERS Parliament­ary Budget Officer Kevin Page at the public accounts committee on Thursday.

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