The Minister who wasn't there

Columnist  Andrew Coyne lays out a devastating critique of the Parliamentary Spokesman of the Department of National Defence for the government’s failure to present honest cost estimates for the planned F-35 purchase (Andrew Coyne, “Auditor-General’s F-35 accounting complaints are déjà vu for Peter MacKay,” National Post, 11 April 2012):

The government knowingly misrepresented the true costs of the F-35 in its public statements. It knew how it was supposed to account for these, under Treasury Board rules, under the Auditor-General’s recommendation, and by its own publicly stated agreement with both. And it knew how it was doing so in its own internal documents, going back to 2010. It simply chose to tell a different story to Parliament and the public.

This isn’t some campaign slip of the lip, or the usual political weasel words, of a kind we have sadly learned to mistrust. This isn’t even a case of ministers misleading Parliament, which used to be a resigning offence. This is a government document, on a straightforward question of fact: the kind we expect we can believe. And not on some minor matter, but on an issue of the highest controversy, just before an election — an election that was in part triggered by the government’s refusal to provide documentation for these figures.

This isn’t about the planes, in other words, or costs, or accounting. This is about accountability. This is is about whether departments are answerable to their ministers, and whether ministers are answerable to Parliament — or whether billions of public dollars can be appropriated without the informed consent of either Parliament or the public. It is about whether ministers speak for their departments, or can disown them when it suits them. And it is about whether we, as citizens, are prepared to pay attention, and hold people in power to account when they lie to us.

Which is to say, it is about whether we live in a functioning Parliamentary democracy, or want to.

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