F-35 Costing Comes under Microscope

April 26, 2012 Updated: April 26, 2012

PARLIAMENT HILL—The Tories continue to face heavy fire over low-balled cost estimates for the F-35 fighter jets but say they’ve made changes to address the problem.

A parliamentary committee is now looking into a report by Auditor General Michael Ferguson earlier this month that detailed serious problems with the procurement process for the jets, including estimates that were known to be billions below the true cost.

Ferguson will appear before the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday to testify on the issue while Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is also set to re-examine the cost of the jets.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris says Page has to reopen the file because of a lack of explanation for the $10 billion shortfall in the cost.

That’s the approximate difference between a $25 billion price tag for the 65 jets the Department of National Defence (DND) published internally in 2010 and the $16 billion DND publicly claimed they would cost.

Page estimated the jets would cost close to $30 billion over 30 years, while DND’s published $16 billion cost was over 20 years.

In April, Ferguson backed up Page’s report.

The Conservatives say they agree there are problems with the costing of the jet and want the matter resolved.

“We have agreed with all [Ferguson’s] recommendations and his conclusions,” Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose told the House of Commons on Wednesday.

“We have put in place a seven-point plan to ensure full transparency and accountability. The number one recommendation [from Ferguson] is that the Department of National Defence update its cost estimates for the F-35 and table those in Parliament.”

However, Harris is doubtful about a more accurate costing for the jets coming out.

He noted Wednesday that Page had difficulty getting information from DND for his report and said it would take a major push for the department to open up on the true costing.

“They’re going to need some pretty strong direction from the Minister of Defence in order for that to happen. It hasn’t happened before. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has complained about that,” said Harris.

Buying the jet at all is just too risky, retired Royal Canadian Air Force colonel Paul Maillet, once senior air force flight engineer, told Parliament Hill reporters Wednesday.

Because the jets are still under development, there is no telling what the final cost will be or when they will be ready, Maillet said.