OTTAWA – The federal cabinet approved the full, eye-popping $25 billion cost of the F-35 stealth fighter in two stages during 2008, auditor general Michael Ferguson told a parliamentary committee on Thursday.
Opposition parties said Ferguson’s finding is critical to deciding whether the Harper government was deceived by National Defence and Public Works officials over the full implications of the costly program or if it was a willing participant in what the auditor general said was an effort to hide the full expense from the public.
“The number of $25 billion was established by Defence that included both the purchase and the maintenance cost and the budgets were approved through (the) normal process,” Ferguson said in support of his explosive audit.
He said he couldn’t say “who saw what (and) when” among cabinet — or why in defending against criticism from the parliamentary budget officer in the spring of 2011, government ministers chose to use the lower $14.7 billion figure. Both Treasury Board and National Defence rules require all costs for the lifespan of a major purchase to be included in estimates.
Ferguson said significant costs were left out of the government’s public statements. Defence Minister Peter MacKay has acknowledged he was aware of the differing figures, but both he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have described using the full life-cycle cost as an accounting difference.
Conservative MPs dug in a new line of defence during Thursday’s House of Commons public accounts committee meeting, painting the numbers in the auditor general’s scathing report as mere estimates.
Alberta MP Laurie Hawn, a former air force officer, insisted the only solid figure was the $9 billion purchase price, which the government has promised would not be exceeded.
There’s been considerable debate over the purchase price of the aircraft as well as how much the radar-evading jets will cost
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