Parliamentary Budget Officer criticizes Department of National Defence for withholding cost of Iraq combat mission

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Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Fréchette has criticized the government’s decision to withhold its estimate of the cost of the Canadian military’s participation in the six-month air campaign in Iraq (Dylan Robertson, “Budget watchdog rips DND for keeping cost of Iraq mission secret“, Ottawa Citizen, 28 November 2014):

In a succinct letter, Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Fréchette took aim at the deputy defence minister, Richard Fadden, for saying the military’s cost estimate for the six-month airstrike [campaign] is a cabinet confidence.

“As you will be aware, cabinet confidence exists to allow for free and frank discussion of problems that come before Cabinet,” wrote Fréchette. “It does not, in this case, apply to the data provided to Cabinet.”

Fréchette’s letter goes on to say that if the cost was included in a discussion paper weighing whether to join the combat mission, “the decision to engage in military operations has been made and, therefore, the data can no longer receive protection under” access to information laws.

Fréchette said he needs the estimate so he can be sure the department has enough funding for the mission. His letter reminds the government that it passed a motion to join in on air strikes over Iraq on Oct. 3 – meaning one-quarter of the six-month mission has already passed. He made his request for estimated costs on Oct. 15.

The military said earlier this month that it had provided the government with an estimated cost for the mission. But Defence Minister Rob Nicholson told the House of Commons defence committee Tuesday there would be no figures disclosed until the mission is over.”

Read the full article here.

There is little reason to believe that the Harper government learned anything from the outcome of the Libya campaign in 2011, but Nicholson’s comments last week do indicate that the government took away at least one lesson—never provide cost estimates to the public.

Photo credit: Department of National Defence

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