Don’t expect Stephen Harper to go to his knees and beg forgiveness for the F-35 scandal; he has no knees. However, this might work out for us anyway.
Let’s take a moment to imagine the day that Stephen Harper admits defeat on the F-35 jets. He cancels the order, fires Peter MacKay, and calls an election, saying, “I’m sorry we lied. We purposely misled Canadians on the cost of these jets, knowingly omitting ten billion dollars in operational costs to make this huge expenditure more palatable to a country experiencing massive cuts to every public department. We screwed up, and we want to give you another shot to pick the right party for the job.”
Wouldn’t that be a great day? Sure, if it were even a little bit possible.
First of all, the Harper government will never admit wrongdoing; that would be political suicide. Second, even if by some miracle they did admit having fudged the numbers, there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Paul Martin’s Liberals were brought down by a vote of no confidence in 2006 on a similar (well, not similar – it was only $100m; but that aside, somewhat similar) scandal. But the only way to bring down a government on a vote of no confidence is to have at least as many opposition MPs as there are government MPs. And that is not the case: the Conservatives have a majority. There will be no vote.
The most we can expect in terms of “making it right” is a few rolling, likely innocent, bureaucrat heads. We won’t see Peter MacKay sent out to pasture, nor will we see a solemn apology from the prime minister.
The lies and cost overruns notwithstanding, there is one other thing we can hope for from the government: we can hope that they take this scandal as an opportunity to re-evaluate the F-35 purchase. Once they have a scapegoat on whom to lay all the blame for the clumsy way in which this has been handled, the government will be free to take a second look at the jets and say, publicly, that they might not be our best choice.
Of course we need planes. We have an air force in order to defend our sovereignty, to participate in peacekeeping missions, and to support NATO missions overseas. Are single-engine stealth fighter-bombers the best choice for that? Absolutely not. They are awesome in a little-boy ‘pew pew pew’ sense, but in a boring, cost-benefit ratio sort of way, they are a massive waste of money. One suggestion that has been made is the upgraded model of what we already have, the dual-engine F-18 fighters. They have more range (to better patrol the arctic) and our pilots, mechanics, and other support staff are already trained on them. We already know how to get parts for them, and our equipment is designed around them.
The F-35 scandal will not bring down the government. Just like the Afghan detainees scandal, the robocalls scandal, or the general contempt of parliament, this issue will not cripple the government. They are un-crippleable. However, it might give them, and by extension us, another shot at making a good decision on how to defend our airspace.