Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Auditor and Budget Officer's F-35 Critiques Watered Down in Commons Report

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Auditor and Budget Officer's F-35 Critiques Watered Down in Commons Report

Article excerpt

Commons F-35 report watered down last fall

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OTTAWA - Stinging criticism of the political and bureaucratic fiasco surrounding the F-35 by the country's budget officer and even the auditor general was edited out of the final version of a parliamentary investigation, a draft copy of the report shows.

The Conservative-dominated all-party House of Commons public accounts committee held seven hours of hearings and spent much more time arguing with Opposition members behind closed doors last spring and fall over the handling of the stealth fighter program.

A Nov. 1, 2012 copy of the draft report, obtained by The Canadian Press, shows some of the most pointed critiques of Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page and Auditor General Michael Ferguson -- both of whom testified before the committee -- were removed or softened in the report's final version.

MP Andrew Saxton, the Conservative who led the government charge during public hearings, did not return calls for comment Monday.

The leaked draft, which is supposed to remain secret under parliamentary rules, clearly demonstrates an attempt to "whitewash" the report, opposition members say.

The committee's final report was released last November.

The auditor set off a political firestorm last spring by declaring National Defence and Public Works lowballed the cost of the multibillion-dollar program and did not follow proper procedures in giving it the green light.

One of the most damning redactions involves Ferguson's observation that the governing Conservatives had seen the full cost of the plan, including the stealth fighter's estimated $10 billion operating cost -- a figure that was never revealed until his audit.

The edited paragraph in the final version of the report focuses the blame for the missing figures on National Defence, while the draft copy noted that "this information was included in estimates provided to decision-makers" -- meaning the Conservative cabinet.

The subtle but significant omission in the committee's public report shifts the blame for the lack of disclosure away from the politicians and on to the shoulders of the military. …

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