Mike on Margaret

From my friend Mike (a pseudonym), as an example of a less than reasoned argument:

Also from my friend Mike, another example from the comments in relation to this column by Margaret Wente:

Fighter jets for dummies

Margaret Wente
Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Apr. 12, 2012 2:00AM EDT

Are you confused about the flap over the F-35? Me, too. Frankly, anyone’s head would spin. So I found some experts and asked them to explain it in terms that even I could understand. Here’s what I found out.

What’s so great about F-35s, anyway?

The F-35 is the next generation of fighter jets. It’s supposed to last for 30 years, and will make our aging planes look like Sopwith Camels. The technology is so advanced, it’s still being invented. Many of its features are so secret, we have no idea what they are.

What are these planes good for?

They’re especially good for fighting wars. If we ever wind up fighting Russia or China, these are the planes to have. But our government doesn’t want to mention that. It knows Canadians are squeamish about aggression. What we really want is to be peacekeepers. Back in 2010, Peter MacKay, the Defence Minister, avoided the word “war” altogether when he justified the F-35 by saying it’d be an excellent recruiting tool for pilots.

How did we get mixed up in this mess in the first place?

We wanted to ride the Americans’ coattails. As U.S. defence writer Loren Thompson has explained, “The F-35 fighter was conceived as the cheapest way of modernizing the tactical air fleets of three U.S. military services and eight foreign allies.” By buying the same plane, we’d get all the latest stuff much cheaper than we could get on our own. Plus we’d be able to talk to the people on our side. Plus we could punch above our weight. It all looked so good on paper.

So the Americans are really driving the development of this plane?

Of course. But our government doesn’t like to mention that, either.

Are all defence-procurement programs as screwed up as this one?

Pretty much. They’re like kitchen renovations – always late and over budget – only more so. New technologies are hugely expensive and hard to get right. Defence companies underbid to get the contracts. Defence departments lowball the costs to get the equipment they want. The government goes along so as not to scare the public. The only thing that’s different about this program is the size. It’s the biggest in history.

Was it any better under the previous regime?

No. The Liberals brought us the EH101 helicopters and the leaky submarines from Britain.

Who’s in charge of defence procurement in Canada?

Everyone and no one. This is not such a bad thing (except for the taxpayer) because, when things go wrong, they can point fingers at each other. People generally agree that one minister should be responsible. But no one wants the job.

Is it possible Peter MacKay didn’t know the costs were going up?

Maybe he forgot to read the U.S. newspapers. Senior American military officers and politicians have talked openly about the F-35’s escalating costs. More than a year ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated that the per plane cost had risen to $127-million.

If we haven’t signed anything yet, why not just drop out?

Our aerospace industry has a huge amount at stake. Canadian firms stand to land billions in contracts for their participation. Even the Bloc Québécois went along with the F-35, because lucrative contracts would be going to Quebec. Besides, Britain and Australia and all the other countries that agreed to buy these planes are still on side. We’ll look like bad team players if we quit. This project has been designed to be too big to fail.

Does anyone know how much these planes will really cost?


Do defence ministers ever have any fun?

Oh, absolutely. They get to pose for photos in the cockpits of new jets and pretend they’re fighter pilots. They can get helicopters to pick them up on vacation. And they have lots of opportunities to meet gorgeous women.

What does “stealth” mean?

No one’s really sure. It’s top secret.

This article had been brought to my attention by my friend, Neil Remington Abramson. I thought it was sharp and to the point, and forwarded it to Mike. Here is his response (e-mail correspondence reproduced with permission):


Peggy is being puckish, as always.

But have a look at the comments to the article. If you sort them by “Highest Score”, currently at the top is something from “KevinBrown2011”:

2:45 AM on April 12, 2012

Is it possible Peter MacKay didn’t know the costs were going up?

Maybe he forgot to read the U.S. newspapers. Senior American military officers and politicians have talked openly about the F-35’s escalating costs. More than a year ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated that the per plane cost had risen to $127-million.

Good point! The same thing can be said about Stephen Harper. Over a year ago before the election Harper insisted that the price was $75 Million per copy when from all publicly available information the price had nearly doubled!

Harper lied to us.

Mike: Then expand the replies:

8:02 AM on April 12, 2012

MacKay’s doctor has given his explanation to Peter’s habitual lying.

He claims that MacKay has been standing too close to the spinning blades of his personal use helicopter and that has made his brain oxygen deficient.

8:24 AM on April 12, 2012

Is that the same doctor Rob Anders got the note from excusing his continual sleeping in class as being due to the results of a car accident.

The only car wreck he has been involved involves the elections when whiplashed Calgary West votes him in.

8:28 AM on April 12, 2012

R and D procurement projects like the F-35 is not a standard procurement and applying the standard Treasury Board or PWGSC procurement process makes no sense. How can you process something that has not been fully built? This is part of research and development. The F-35 is projected over 30 years but I suspect like all good canadian military purchases it will be stretch to 40, 45 and maybe even longer. This means the annual cost is manageable but the up front cost is …. burdensome.

The Last Truthbender
8:40 AM on April 12, 2012

Let’s not kid ourselves – its called a JOINT strike fighter because none of the US military branches can afford it on their own.

Our contribution to any air war would be a token effort at best (as it has been) – maybe a half dozen aircraft would see actual action.

What Wente does not discuss is the real reason we latched on to the US model.

The industry spin offs, the consulting, the gravy trains for retired military and the big fat maintenance contracts.

That’s why we chose the F35 over the other models – the gripen, the eurofighter etc.

It’s all about the very large trough that keeps the pigs satisfied.

The Wet One
9:04 AM on April 12, 2012

Lying is a politician’s job. It’s what they do best. Do you really think people can handle the truth?

Earth and Heaven
9:30 AM on April 12, 2012

If you’re interested in a commentary that’s not for dummies:


10:11 AM on April 12, 2012

While Wente’s piece provides a simple overview of the background issues surrounding the F-35 purchase, the real issue is the cover-up by the Harper government and how they refused to disclose the true costs to Parliament and the Canadian taxpayer. For some real reporting on this issue, readers will need to go to the National Post.

For whatever reason, the Globe has been sleeping on the job when it comes to holding our current government accountable for anything. This is no longer the Globe that I grew up with and respected.

Here is an excellent article written by Andrew Coyne on just how little respect the Harper government has shown Canadians on this issue.


10:23 AM on April 12, 2012

It’s worth noting that both the Americans and the Australians have backed up the potential failure of this white elephant by immediately purchasing super hornets. Reserving the purchase of the f35 to the future. Smart.

Gavin Neil
10:47 AM on April 12, 2012

“Is it possible Peter MacKay didn’t know the costs were going up?

Maybe he forgot to read the U.S. newspapers. ”

Maybe he also didn’t read Australian newspapers: two years ago their government announced it would be pulling out of this arrangement because they couldn’t justify paying ever increasing estimates for aircraft that don’t even exist.

All of this has been public knowledge literally for YEARS. It is NOT POSSIBLE that he didn’t know, period.

James Corbett

12:01 PM on April 12, 2012

KevinBrown2011 – “Over a year ago before the election Harper insisted that the price was $75 Million per copy when from all publicly available information the price had nearly doubled!”

This is my single greatest frustration with the Canadian media reporting on the F-35. Despite the DND’s consistent explanation of the $75 million cost, the media have consistently refused to acknowledge or relay that explanation to the public.

There are 4 basic classifications of costs: Research and Development (Canada agreed to a guaranteed fixed $500 million in 2006), Acquisition (the initial capital costs), Sustainment (future upgrades or design fixes) and Operating (fuel, personnel common to any jet fighter).

Regarding Acquisition, there are two terms used:
“Unit Recurring Flyaway Cost” (URF) which is just the cost of the aircraft alone off the end of the production line.

“Procurement Cost” which is the URF plus everything else needed to use it (weapons, spares, training, infrastructure, etc.)

Since 2010, the DND has consistently maintained a projected $75 million for the URF cost and a total of $9 billion as the Procurement Cost for 65 F-35A’s (or $138 million each) for our projected acquisition window of 2016 to 2022.

The current official U.S. projections are from the General Accounting Office (GAO) for an AVERAGE URF of $84 million for the F-35A and an AVERAGE Procurement Cost (APC) of $133 million for all three F-35 variants. I stress AVERAGE because that is over the full production run of 3,000 aircraft, including the very high cost of the initial production.

Now, given the January, 2012 announcement of the Pentagon to delay initial production by 48%, the $75 million URF is NOW in jeopardy for our 2016 to 2022 window. But, the DND has not yet been informed by the U.S. government, the Pentagon or Lockheed Martin that the $75 million is off the table.

So, the DND did not “lie” then or now about the $75 million.

You should also note the DND Procurement Cost of $138 million per F-35A is still well above the GAO projected Average Procurement Cost of $133 million for all three variants.

So, the DND did not “lie” then or now about the F-35 still being within the $9 billion Acquisition budget.

This is not rocket science, and it is very frustrating that the sensationalist Canadian media has absolutely refused to explain the difference between URF and Procurement Cost.

12:43 PM on April 12, 2012

Is it possible that Wente hasn’t been reading CANADIAN newspapers? For her to write this drivel as another weak attempt to distract from another BIG LIE from Harper and his henchmen, or the attempt by Harper to discredit MacKay and rid himself of any ties to the old conservative party which he abhors as much as he does the Liberals. Just ask Mulroney.

Wente should realize by the responses to her feeble efforts to downplay this government’s active destruction of Canada’s status as a great place has destroyed any credibility she had mustered over the years. She should just give it up and stick to her Christie Blanchard style life musings which aren’t that amusing, either.

The Last Truthbender
1:36 PM on April 12, 2012

Good backpedalling, Mr Corbett – where were you and the other conbot shills when the government vilified Treasury Board?

They did lie about the F35 being the best and most viable option for Canada, no matter how you spin it, because there was no formal open competition to make the claim viable

K B 2:33 PM on April 12, 2012

Too funny, yet so sad.

James Corbett
4:46 PM on April 12, 2012

The Last Truthbender – First, it’s hardly “back pedalling” to point out what has always been in the public record, to correct an error in a post that reflects the media’s constant and continued statement of that error.

Second, my post was specifically about this media reporting error regarding acquisition costs. You will need to explain what you mean about “vilified Treasury Board” as the Treasury Board’s only role until April 3, 2012 was to approve payments made towards Research and Development costs.

Third, the DND did not “lie” about the F-35 “being the best and most viable option”. In Paragraphs 2.47 to 2.60 of Auditor General Ferguson’s report presents his review of the procurement process. AG Ferguson notes that the DND followed all the appropriate steps and secured the necessary approval for one of four conditions that allow a non-competitive (sole-source) purchase.

AG Ferguson did conclude that the DND did not “exercise due diligence” in these steps but he does not, in any way, accuse them of “lying”, and he does not, in any way, suggest that the F-35 is the wrong choice. Further, in Paragraph 2.82, he notes that the DND disagrees and believes “that the level of due diligence was appropriate within the time frame covered by this audit”.

If you wish to disagree then please provide some factual or reasoned rebuttal instead of opinionated invective.

The Last Truthbender
9:43 PM on April 12, 2012

Listen Corbett – if you are one of the 100 overpaid staffers at the PMO, why don’t you just come clean and say so?

We all know that the sole sourced means nothing:

– it was cooked from the outset

– it was a noncompetitive bid – there is plenty of evidence the amount of time and effort spent evaluating the competitors was minuscule in comparison – deliberately so

Worse, as more countries either reduce their orders, or simply bail on the programme altogether, the per unit price will rise – the cons have no idea how much this this thing will cost eventually.

Mackay failed to take DND to task for not holding a competitive bid and he failed in providing accurate budget figures.

James Corbett
5:14 AM on April 13, 2012

The Last Truthbender – The only valid point you make is that if production rates decrease, the unit price will go up. But, this is true of every fighter aircraft the government might plan to purchase and every passenger jet an airline might plan to purchase. So, trying to make it an accusation of the “cons have no idea how much this this thing will cost eventually”, specific to a plan to purchase the F-35, is absurd.

And the rest of your post is just unsubstantiated, opinionated invective.

Sole source purchasing always occurs in both the public and private sectors, when there is only one source for what you wish to purchase. For the last 15 years, the DND and the RCAF have maintained that the replacement for the CF-18 must meet two primary criteria: multi-role capability and 5th generation capability. The F-35 is the only aircraft available that provides both.

No credible source has accused the DND of providing “inaccurate” figures in that they provided false information. The current debate is whether or not Operating costs that are common to any fighter purchased should have been included in the DND’s forecasts specific to F-35 costs.

Finally, I have nothing but utter disdain for you in employing this increasingly common tactic of accusing anyone with opposing views of being a paid operative. I am just a private citizen, and a real name poster in this forum, for years now.

The difference between you and me is that I take the time to research and inform myself before reaching conclusions. Because you do not do this, you are incapable of reasoned and factual debate and fall back on the despicable ploy of making up accusations to attack the personal credibility of those who oppose you.

Der Bingle
9:24 AM on April 13, 2012


You speak with disdain, but you are an apologist for a process that has come off its tracks

James Corbett
11:16 AM on April 13, 2012

Der Bingle – How is introducing facts into a discussion being an “apologist”?

I see Government and Parliament as a process that should always be subject to scrutiny for continual improvement. But unsubstantiated, dogmatic accusations of fraud and malfeasance are entirely counterproductive.

It is obvious that both the DND and the RCAF have long been completely convinced that the F-35 is the best aircraft for them, and, without doubt, they have steered the process as best they can to give that result. As a consequence, AG Ferguson has concluded that they did not “exercise due diligence”, although the DND disagrees.

But, it is an absurd extreme to just conclude that a lack of “due diligence” can only mean that the “process that has come off its tracks”, resulting in a completely wrong conclusion.

And no credible source has identified any “lie” being told, because that requires someone to have deliberately and knowingly made a false statement.

The government has frozen the Acquisition costs at $9 billion and will appoint a PWGSC F-35 Secretariat that the DND must report to. Any final purchase approvals will be given by a Treasury Board Secretariat after its independent review. All of this, of course, has no other purpose than to document “due diligence” to the satisfaction of the AG and Parliament.

Everything really just lies with the U.S. government and Lockheed Martin. If the F-35 meets its technological, production and cost goals, then we will buy it. And if all of that is satisfactory in 2015, then the F-35 won’t even be an election issue, because neither the Liberals nor the NDP will want the nightmare of cancelling it.

1:05 PM on April 13, 2012

BS! No one can know the final price of this thing, including the Americans, the British and the Australians.

Der Bingle
1:47 PM on April 13, 2012

DND says the F-35 is best for Canada’s needs, but others strongly disagree, and have been for some time

Without due diligence in place and, more importantly, without Mackay holding DND accountable, we can never really know where the truth lies, and what really is the best option for canada

Here are some alternative expert opinions from respected analysts:



After all the usual invective and idiocy from the Globe readers (so glad I bailed from that paper years ago), there is a reasoned comment from “James Corbett”.

The response to his points is exactly what I find infuriating. These are people for whom the starting point is simply “I hate Harper”. Their arguments proceed from there.

To me, at issue is an elementary distinction between capital costs, operating costs, and total program costs. Those in the media either don’t understand, or if they do, claim the Government is trying to confuse the amounts. (It is the media who are confused.)

As long as whatever costs described are clearly categorized, people should be able to figure out what aspect of the total program is being discussed.

Yet I’ve never seen anyone provide a quote from MacKay or others claiming along the lines of “total program costs will be $9b”. In anything I’ve seen, $9b was clearly the estimated acquisition costs. Sustainment (capitalized or not) and operating costs were separate. Even the Office of The Auditor General points that out:

See Exhibit 2.6.

It seems that the complaint is always “the Government lied about the F-35 during the election”, but I’ve never seen “the lie” quoted. I’ll nonetheless be spending more time searching for it, just in case.

About brucelarochelle

This entry was posted in National Defence, Politics - Canada - Federal. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Mike on Margaret

  1. On April 16, 2012, Lorne commented as follows (e-mail correspondence reproduced with permission):

    How come nobody asks why we’re settling for less than we did last time? We chose the F-18 over the cheaper F-16, because we wanted a two-engine jet. There were concerns about engine flameouts over the Arctic and pilot safety. Nobody mentions that now. I can only presume that engines no longer fail.

    At that price tag, we should be taking a serious look at how much it would cost to revive the CF-105, which is probably a better plane than the F-35, even if it doesn’t do stealth.

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