The renovation of the former Nortel campus for the Department of National Defence has become the subject of controversy following the discovery that senior officials hid the price of the project from not only the public, but also the media and parliamentarians (David Pugliese, “Defence officials hid cost of Nortel campus renos,” Ottawa Citizen, 28 November 2011).
It is estimated that the cost of the renovations will be $600 million, in addition to the $208 million the government spent on buying the campus. DND officials claimed that they didn’t know how much the renovations were going to cost, but the Ottawa Citizen managed to find documents showing that senior officials directed that the figures be removed from public documents.
This is not the first time that DND has hidden costs from the public, the Citizen notes. DND recently tried to stay mum about the almost $500 million dollars to be spent to buy Canadian access to a new U.S. military satellite communications system.
The Department of National Defence claims to embrace transparency. But reporter David Pugliese doesn’t buy it:
Those claims of openness, however, can be limited. On Friday, DND informed the Citizen that if it wanted to find out how much taxpayers spent for the military personnel and other services provided to the Halifax International Security Forum for 2009 and 2010, it would have to obtain those through the Access to Information law. That process can take between six months and two years. […]
While it is common for governments to want to control some information, Liberal Sen. Colin Kenny says the situation at DND under the Conservatives has spiralled out of control. He says DND and Canadian Forces officials have lost sight of the fact they are spending the public’s money. “Why shouldn’t the public know how much is being spent on the Nortel campus?,” said Kenny, the former chairman of the senate committee. […]
Stephen Staples, a vocal critic of what he argues is excessive military spending, says DND’s bureaucracy views its job as protecting MacKay, not looking out for taxpayers. “I don’t know what’s worse — the minister using a government jet to fly to a lobster dinner or the Chief of the Defence Staff trying to justify it,” said Staples, president of the Rideau Institute. “Don’t these people know thousands of Canadians have lost their jobs and are in no mood for this type of extravagance?’
Staples said Canadians should be concerned with the growing secrecy since DND spends $20 billion annually.
Photo credit: DND