MacKay: It’s the media’s fault!

Ostensible Defence Minister Peter MacKay is taking well-deserved flak as he continues his attempt to dodge responsibility for misleading Canadians about the cost of the Libya intervention.

Marnie Soupcoff lays out the sorry tale in the National Post (“Peter MacKay plays the blame game over Libya mission costs,” National Post, 14 May 2012):

In an October interview, the CBC’s Evan Soloman asked MacKay, “Can you tell Canadians what the cost of the Libyan mission was to Canadians?” MacKay responded, “As of October 13, the figures that I’ve received have us… somewhere under $50-million.”

MacKay and Solomon went on to clarify that they were talking about the cost of the seven-month mission until that point, and MacKay added a hedge that “there could be more costs that come in after the fact.” But the defence minister left out the fact that the mission was expected to cost a total of $106-million — a detail Canadian Forces says MacKay would have known about at the time and reported to Cabinet.

So…. The defense minister gets an F on the interview — he either didn’t remember that the mission was projected to cost roughly 100% more than the figure he was tossing around (perhaps he only memorized that one talking point), or he didn’t care to let the public in on the true cost of the mission and purposely left out the far larger number. Both options are unacceptable. The defense minister has a duty to be on top of his portfolio, which includes being able to recall a projected mission cost with a margin of error significantly less than $50-million; and he also has a duty to be honest with the taxpayers whose money he is spending. Honesty would demand not leaving people with the impression the Libya mission “could” possibly, maybe, potentially cost a bit more than $50-million when you already know the official expectation is that it will cost $106-million.

Whether motivated by a lack of knowledge/bad memory or a purposeful plan to minimize political damage by keeping costs sounding lower than reality, Peter MacKay made a mistake by not using the $106-million number, or alluding to a figure in that range, in his interview with Solomon. What could have mitigated the anger and criticism that have since resulted from the omission? A simple admission that an error was made.

MacKay has made no such admission. He has not even acknowledged that there is any reason for Canadians to be surprised by the true Libya mission cost, or displeased in retrospect by his answer to Solomon. Instead, MacKay is childishly blaming everyone else. “What’s happening here is there’s an effort to confuse by members of the opposition and some members of the media in fact because I’ve been crystal clear,” MacKay said on Global Television’s The West Block. “The cost at that time was under $50-million and I said at that time that there was more costs to be calculated and it would be reported to Parliament and that is exactly what I did.”

He’s the one engaged in an effort to confuse, of course, because he fails to mention that his “more costs to be calculated” statement came at a time when he already knew, or should have known, that those added costs were expected to top $50-million.

Why wasn’t MacKay straight with Canadians?

Maybe he just didn’t know the details that he should have known.

But we here at like to think that maybe he just didn’t want to admit that four months earlier the Rideau Institute had done a much better job of estimating the cost of the operation than he had (Scott Taylor, “MacKay short on accountability,” Halifax Chronicle-Herald, 14 May 2012):

Last June, at the height of the conflict in Libya, when Parliament was debating whether or not to extend Canada’s contribution to the mission by another three months, MacKay was asked to calculate the monetary cost. His estimate was roughly $60 million for a full six-month operation. That same month, the Rideau Institute, an independent Ottawa-based think-tank, released its own estimate of $85 million for the same six-month mission. [$80-85 million to be precise —]

When asked to comment on the projected difference, MacKay smugly retorted, “The Rideau Institute, as so often is the case, is wrong.”

On Oct. 28, eight days after the death of Moammar Gadhafi and three days before Canada officially ended its mission, MacKay gleefully told the CBC that Canada’s effort in the Libyan war had in fact come in under budget.

“As of Oct. 13, the figures have us well below ($60 million); somewhere under $50 million.”

All of that premature gloating might explain why the final tally was quietly buried in a report tabled in the House of Commons last week. It turns out that total expenditure for the Libyan operation cost Canadian taxpayers $347.5 million. If one subtracts the normal operating expenses such as salaries, the incremental cost still amounts to roughly $100 million — or double what MacKay initially boasted to the taxpayers.

Ironically, if one factors in the additional month of combat operations that was required beyond the Rideau Institute’s initial projection, the think-tank’s prediction was only off target by two per cent.

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