MacKay, Libya, and “political truth”

In May of 2012, Ceasefire.ca showed that Defence Minister Peter MacKay had dramatically underestimated the costs of the Libya mission. The story was reported by Postmedia news, forcing Major General Jonathan Vance, Director of the Strategic Joint Staff, to confirm the figures discovered. In addition, the General said that he had told Minister MacKay early on about the true cost of the war.

In the aftermath, the general learned that there’s a difference between “truth” and “political truth” (Lee Berthiaume, “‘Political truth’: MacKay’s denial on Libya mission costs had Forces brass scrambling,” Postmedia News, 25 July 2012):

The issue dates back to October 2011 when MacKay told the CBC the Libyan mission costs had come in under $50 million.

He warned there could be more costs “that come in after the fact” but the $50-million tally continued to be re-broadcast to other media outlets by MacKay’s office.

Then in May, Postmedia News revealed Defence Department figures that stated the mission’s costs were actually more than $100 million.

In response, Vance held a hastily-arranged news conference to defend MacKay’s comments — but instead found himself saying the military had told MacKay before the CBC interview that the mission’s costs were expected to top $106 million.

A few days later, MacKay contradicted Vance when he said he didn’t think the $106-million estimate had been presented to him.

According to the emails, that sent Vance and other officers into a tizzy and scrambling for answers.

“Unfortunately, the MND (minister of national defence) is now saying he did NOT know the cost estimates ($106M) when he did the CBC interview in October,” reads an email from senior public affairs adviser Lt.-Col. Norbert Cyr to Vance on May 15.

“This is not good because media are now asking who is saying the truth, the Minister or General Vance?”

“Wonderful,” Vance replied, adding: “Do we have an opinion on what MND knew or ought to have known?”

Cyr said finance officials were working to confirm what MacKay knew, but “bottom line is that if MND says he did not know, then he did not know.”

“If I was wrong I’ll certainly own up to it,” Vance replied.

“Not suggesting you are or were wrong,” Cyr answered in the last email of the chain. “A political truth can sometimes be different.”

The Defence Department would not explain what Cyr meant by his last comment, saying only that it was a personal opinion.

MacKay’s office has continually asserted the minister provided the most accurate information available — though it has refused to say whether Vance was wrong when he said MacKay would have known the costs.

Liberal defence critic John McKay said that, reading between the lines, Cyr was telling Vance he was right — but because of the politics involved, they couldn’t contradict what MacKay said.

“The inconvenient truth is the minister did know,” McKay said. “But they’re not going to out and out call the minister a liar. They can’t.”(emphasis added)

Photo credit: DND

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