Harperites have a chance to do something right, despite themselves.
by Ish Theilheimer
The long night of the Harper majority has many depths and few heights. Among the monsters of the deep, in the closing week of Parliament before its six-week break, the Conservatives rammed through anti-union legislation (C-377). The week before, they passed an omnibus budget implementation bill that threw in far-reaching changes to the environmental protetion of navigable waters.
This week, they're expected to kill hopes of any hope of expanding of the Canada Pension Plan so as to increase monthly payments to a livable amount.
These kinds of "accomplishments" have become routine both for the government and for Canadians. As a result, a shockingly low percentage of the public — about a third according to most recent polls — actually support the governing Conservatives.
The jet purchase was a major election campaign plank last year, and as recently as last spring, defence minister Peter MacKay suggested the purchase’s critics were disloyal to Canada’s soldiers.
Even though Harper's bullying style and his party's vicious ideological vendetta against unions and all things public may not be winning new friends, they go on relentlessly. Well, almost relentlessly.
Progressives experienced a kind of not-hitting-one's-head-against-the-wall-anymore relief at the announcement that the government is scuttling its famous proposal to buy 65 F-35 stealth fighter jets on sole-source contracts. A lot of credit should go to the NDP's opposition, led by first-term MPs Christine Moore and Matthew Kellway, for waging a long and (initially) unpopular battle to stop the purchase.
The jet purchase was a major election campaign plank last year, and as recently as last spring, defence minister Peter MacKay — already shamed by using military search-and-rescue crews to fly him in from a fishing trip — suggested the purchase's critics were disloyal to Canada's soldiers.
More recently, MacKay ran for cover, as criticism mounted, from the Auditor General, from other countries and, finally, from the accounting firm KPMG. Public works minister Rona Ambrose — yes, the one pushed out of Environment and who supported killing the gun registry despite being her party's advocate on women's issues — was handed the hot potato. She promptly took up the mantra that the government has "hit the reset button" on the jet purchase.
So it has. Although the government now says that no money has been spent, that wasn't always their line. Matthew Kellway told SGNews, "As a partner in the joint strike fighter partnership program, they have committed to $710 million to continue to be part of this partnership and to let the Canadian aerospace industry kind of play in the global supply chain for the F-35." He said the partnership would commit the government to another quarter of a billion, beyond that, in liabilities, for a total of a billion dollars already committed to the program.
As jazz songwriter Dave Frishberg once wrote, Canadians are "marooned in a blizzard of lies" from the government on the F-35s. The government swore the F-35s were the only plane that could do the job. They'd cost just $9 billion. Well $15 billion. Well maybe 25… The lies went on and on. KPMG pegged the costs at about $46 billion over 40 years.
Now a new process will start up. In the end, Canada will still probably spend an enormous amount of money on fighter jets at a time when they are being asked to delay retirement, accept cuts in environmental and consumer protection, and swallow the steady erosion of public health care.
This may seem like a lot to ask, but maybe the crash of the F-35 program will offer the opportunity to ask just how many stealth fighters this country really needs, as compared with military investments that might truly bolster Canada's claim to to Arctic sovereignty, such as icebreakers for northern ports and search-and-rescue aircraft that fit the unique needs of Canada's east and west coasts.
It's Christmas time. We can always hope. And thank Santa for what we didn't get — 65 dubious jets, paid for with a blank cheque.© Copyright 2012 Ish Theilheimer, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca