Ceasefire.ca challenges Harper and MacKay

Dear Ceasefire.ca supporter,

Today we issued another challenge to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his pro-war lobby. Using the government’s own report, we showed that Harper’s Defence Minister, Peter MacKay, dramatically understated the true costs of the war in Libya.

Below is a story that appeared on the front page of the newspapers this morning. The story is now running on the major TV networks and CBC Radio, and has already been raised in Parliament.

I want to thank you for all of your support for Ceasefire.ca. Your participation and donations make this work possible.

In peace,

Steven Staples

Libya mission cost seven times what the government said it would: documents

By Lee Berthiaume, Postmedia News  |  May 11, 2012 – 11:50 AM ET

Canada’s Libya mission cost seven-times what Defence Minister Peter Mackay said it would, documents show.

OTTAWA — Amid allegations the Conservative government intentionally lowballed the price of the F-35 stealth fighter project, newly released National Defence documents indicate the full cost of last year’s Libya mission was nearly $350 million — seven times what Defence Minister Peter MacKay told Canadians it cost.

The revelation is likely to raise further accusations of a systemic effort to hide the true cost of Canadian military operations and equipment purchases, and lead to fresh demands for accountability.

Last October, with Moammar Gadhafi dead and NATO wrapping up its seven-month air-and-sea campaign in Libya, MacKay said the mission had cost taxpayers $50 million — or about $10 million less than the Defence Department had predicted.

“As of Oct. 13, the figures that I’ve received have us well below ($60 million), somewhere under $50 million,” MacKay told the CBC on Oct. 28, three days before the mission officially ended. “And that’s the all-up costs of the equipment that we have in the theatre, the transportation to get there, those that have been carrying out this critical mission.”

But buried in a report tabled in the House of Commons this week are Defence Department figures pegging the full cost of the mission at more than $347.5  million.

Even taking into account the Defence Department’s controversial practice of only reporting “incremental costs” — those deemed to be above and beyond normal operating expenses — the mission still came in at $100 million, or almost twice what MacKay claimed.

The minister’s office did not respond to questions by time of press.

The Conservative government and Defence Department have been under fire in the past few weeks for using incremental costs instead of full costs when reporting the price Canada will pay for the F-35 stealth fighter — a difference of $10 billion.

By the same token, some observers were questioning the true cost of the Libya mission last year.

The Defence Department has admitted it dropped $25 million in bombs during the mission, and some found it difficult to understand how deploying 11 planes and a frigate to the Mediterranean for seven months cost roughly the same amount.

Steve Staples, president of the Rideau Institute, the Ottawa-based think tank that discovered the Defence Department figures, alleged that the discrepancy is yet another example of MacKay and the military trying to hide the truth.

“Just like the F-35, Minister MacKay has been caught lowballing costs and minimizing overspending in his department, to the point now where I think a lot of Canadians are questioning his credibility and whether we can continue to believe his funny numbers,” Staples said.

The Rideau Institute actually had projected in June 2011 that the Libya mission would cost tens of millions more than the Defence Department was saying. MacKay publicly declared at the time that “the Rideau Institute, as so often is the case, is wrong.” As it turns out, the Rideau Institute’s prediction was much more closer.

MacKay also described Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page’s report in March 2011 — which said the F-35 would cost $30 billion — as “flawed,” though many observers now believe that estimate was much more accurate than the figures provided to Parliament by National Defence.

University of Ottawa defence expert Philippe Lagasse said there is an underlying culture within the Defence Department of hiding full costs to
Parliament and the public.

“This has been an ongoing problem,” he said. “It’s linked to departmental culture. We’ve seen this for a number of years and on a number of files. And it’s linked up in the nature of what they do.”

But Lagasse indicated MacKay and the government are not in the clear, and an explanation is required for why the real cost was hidden.

“The question becomes how come the defence minister has a clear, secure number, but that clear, secure number doesn’t end up in the documents,” he said. “Something doesn’t match up there.”

Further news coverage:

Tom Perry, “Libya mission’s final costs reach $347M: Mission’s incremental cost nearly $100M, double MacKay’s update in October,” CBC News, 11 May 2012

Murray Brewster, “Military defends MacKay over Libya bombing campaign cost confusion,” Canadian Press, 11 May 2012

Lee Berthiaume, “Military brass says MacKay knew full estimated cost of Libya mission,” Postmedia News, 11 May 2012

Campbell Clark, “Military defends MacKay as bill for Libya mission more than doubles,” Globe and Mail, 11 May 2012

Earlier Ceasefire coverage of the issue.

Tags: Canadian military spending, Canadian mission in Libya, Libya, Peter MacKay, Rideau Institute, Stephen Harper