By popular -- or, at least, not government-opposed -- demand, the League of Extraordinary F-35 Deputy Ministers -- Robert Fonberg (Defence), Francois Guimont (Public Works), Michelle d'Auray (Treasury Board) and the luckless Simon Kennedy (Industry) -- heads back
to Public Accounts
for the second time this week, where they will face follow-up questions from MPs on last month's less than rosy report on the state of the procurement process released by Auditor General Michael Ferguson last month.
Before the encore performance gets underway, however, the committee will hear from Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, who will get a full hour to defend his conclusions on the F-35 cost projections, which, at last check, were still being roundly dismissed by the government despite the fact that his estimates appear to be remarkably similar to the figures subsequently put forward by the AG, which have been ostensibly accepted by that very same government. (Ferguson, incidentally, is scheduled to make a return appearance of his own next week. Stay tuned!)
To catch up, read the liveblog from the deputy ministers' first appearance here
-- and check back at 8:45am for full coverage of today's meeting!
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 11:47:21 AM
Greetings, fans of fiscal responsibility and the solemn duty of parliamentarians to hold governments -- including deputy ministers -- to account! The gavel hasn't yet fallen, but the room is filling up with MPs, staffers, journalists and, of course, the witnesses and their respective retinues. First up: Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page and company, who are already assembling at the table as the Deputy Minister Brigade looks on from the spectator gallery.
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 12:43:40 PM
Well, this is a surprising twist: Liberal defence critic John McKay appears to be taking the seat usually occupied by the irascible Gerry Byrne, although whether that change is strategic, or simply a result of scheduling, I don't know. On the other side of the table, the Conservative contingent is the same as the last meeting, including the two (2!) Parliamentary Secretaries that have been present throughout the inquiry to date, Laurie Hawn and Chris Alexander.
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 12:48:20 PM
And an even more unexpected turn of attendance-related events: Also sitting serenely in the Liberal corner today is the party's "interim" leader, Bob Rae. This is the second time he's turned up at a committee in recent days, although as far as I know, he's yet to actually pose a question. Maybe he just likes hanging out where the cameras are. Okay, that was a *little* bit mean, but not entirely unlikely.
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 12:50:25 PM
And we are now officially in session, courtesy of the not-cranky-yet-but-seriously-don't-push-him Chairman David "Please Stop" Christopherson, and it appears that the PBO will, indeed, be "reconfirming" his projections, so for anyone out there who was betting on an eleventh hour conversion, feel free to settle your wagers. (I bet you really *can* bet on the outcomes of parliamentary committees in the UK. You can do it on everything else, it seems.)
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 12:52:44 PM
And now, the third parliamentary secretary at the table, the tireless Andrew Saxton, will cross-examine the witness, first on his model -- which Page points out is covered in some detail in his report, and which he assures the committee are "high level" -- and then more specifically on whether he used a parametric model, which is apparently a real thing - and yes, as it turns out, he is - which Saxton questions, given that it is typically employed at an early stage, and not, for instance, in estimating the costs of a plane that is flying right now.
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 12:58:46 PM
And we have our first intervention by the chair in response to Saxton's increasingly aggressive interrogation of the witness, who he demands explain the difference between *his* model and that employed by Defence, a task which, Page tries but fails to convey to his questioner, is made difficult by the fact that the PBO *doesn't know* how, exactly, the department came up with its numbers. (It's hard to fault him for that, really.)
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 1:01:19 PM
Over to the opposition side, and Mathieu Ravignat, who gets Page to confirm that it would be "easy" to adjust the numbers between a 20 and 30 year life cycle, but it's not hard to reverse engineer the results of the shorter projection to figure out what the 30 year price tag would be. He stresses that the numbers that his office used are on the Defence website, and all correspondence related to his report on the PBO site. Ravignat, however, wants to know why he only received partial information in response to his requests, but won't go so far as to agree that there was a "lack of collaboration" with the department. As for what that missing information was, Page points out that the operating costs were produced just a week before the report was due, as well as the departmental methodlogy, which, according to Page, "we did not receive."
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 1:06:17 PM
Back to the government, and Laurie Hawn, who continues what seems, at least on the surface, to be an oddly technocratic line of questioning on the methodology employed by the PBO. He doesn't seem willing to take 'yes' for an answer, at least at first; interestingly, he also wants Page to provide the details of any information or analysis done by "consultants." Is the plan to suggest that the PBO has been hijacked by stealth peaceniks? Because that strikes me as a long shot, but who knows? (Presumably, they wouldn't bring it up unless they had reason to believe there's something there.)
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 1:10:33 PM
Why is it that every discussion of military procurement ultimately descends into Rumsfeldisms? Laurie Hawn brings up the unknowable unknowns that plague the projection racket, but Team Page is ready for it, and namechecks the US estimates to bolster its defence. (No pun intended.)
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 1:12:24 PM
As the committee conch moves to the NDP for another round, Page cedes the floor to assistant PBO Mostafa Askari, who cheerfully goes through the methodology employed -- yes, again -- but confirms that there *has* been a lack of information, at least before the AG report came out - and now that all those numbers have come out, it appears that the PBO's estimate was pretty darned close to on the money.
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 1:15:44 PM
And here's Daryl Kramp, who once again opens by stressing how very, very happy he is that the committee is conducting this inquiry, and how very, very important it is to examine such costs. He then invites Page to share his delight at the many, many industrial benefits that have been received before -- as lauded, Kramp notes, in the AG's report. Page refuses to play that game, and suggests that he ask Industry about that. (Which, for the record, is an entirely fair response, since the PBO was asked to look at the *cost* of the F-35s, not the potential benefits. Kramp seems disappointed by that lack of go-gettery, and then goes on for a time about how one has to balance the cost against the potential revenue, which would make sense if the companies allegedly benefiting from the contract (or at least the MoU) were paying for the F-35s, or the government was getting a cut of the profits, but as that isn't the case, this particular argument is somewhat wobbly. (Also, I don't think Kramp's characterization of the AG's report on those potential benefits is entirely accurate, but I'd have to check to be sure.)
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 1:22:31 PM
After Kramp's final lament over the PBO's non-investigation of the regional riches that the F-35 spinoff contracts will rain down upon the country -- during which he questioned why Page hasn't applied for the necessary security clearance that would have allowed him to hear all about it from the companies involved -- it's over to the Liberals -- McKay, not Rae, although the i-leader is still at the table, rubbing his chin and keeping a close eye on the situation -- for a somewhat rambling query on the plane itself: how much will it cost, and will it really fly at all? Page agrees that the current projections suggest operating costs will be higher than the CF-18s,
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 1:27:49 PM
And there goes Bob Rae. What, he's not sticking around for the deputy brigade? That's where the fireworks are waiting to ignite! Meanwhile, the main line of attack emanating from the government is, it seems, the methodology of the report itself, which does not make for the most dramatic testimony, although assistant PBO Sahir Kahn does his best to slice through the jargon. A giggle goes through the room when Bev Shipley wonders why a *Canadian* budget officer would use American estimates, even if it *is* the same plane. Page stresses that his office used different approaches, and Khan brings it back to the crux of the matter: *all* those models appear to have led to the same ultimate conclusion on costs.
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 1:32:06 PM
I believe Joyce Bateman just left a sizeable chunk of the room mute with disbelief with her cheery hypothesizing on how a *thirty* year cost projection would lead to *lower* costs, since the money would be spread out over an additional ten years. (I'm beginning to appreciate the magnitude of the government's blithe refusal to even acknowledge that operating costs exist.)
Khan, a model -- no pun intended -- of patience and clarity, explains, once again, that *all* the costs are important, and reiterates that these are the same figures that are being put forward by the United States.
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 1:35:31 PM
Page, meanwhile, points out that the US numbers also bear a startling resemblance to those brought to cabinet, to which Malcolm Allen, not unreasonably, responds by noting that those were not, alas, the figures presented to the Canadian public. (By cabinet, that is.) He, too, produces mild, if resigned, chuckles when he wonders whether Page has ever seen these numbers go *down*. "No" would seem to be the answer.
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 1:38:53 PM
And now, Chris Alexander will attempt to use military jargon and the power of his most pointed stare to suggest that the PBO doesn't know what he's talking about, beginning with the low rate initial production period batch of -- and I'm lost, but Team PBO, it seems, is not, which I suspect may have come as a surprise to Alexander. Khan notes that there are difference prices for each batch, and Alexander dares him to give him every LRIP they have. Eventually, it transpires that Alexander believes the answer to be $100 million, although Khan notes that estimates for other batches go as high as $200 million. The NDP grumbles that the government could at least gtable the document from which he is getting those figures, which - as the chair reminds the committee, is not, in fact, a point of order.
Satisfied, it seems, that he has successfully knocked out the underpinnings from the PBO's estimate, Alexander proceeds to chide him for using the *Amercan* tradition of projecting costs on a 30 year basis, rather than the 20 years that generations of proud Canadian defence departments have relied upon. Page expresses bafflement over the accusation, given that the CF-18s have actually been in operation for 30 years. His time having expired, Alexander stalks to the breakfast buffet, a gleam of tentative, but heartfelt triumph in his eye.
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 1:46:17 PM
With that, it's over -- well, the first half of the meeting. The DM Brigade is up next, although they may have some difficulty elbowing their way through the throng of cameras that materialized to chronicle the post-Page scrums. (I don't think the PBO himself will take questions, although then again, in for a penny, in for a pound. I, however, won't be there to witness what goes on in the hall, as I am holding down the media table fort during this brief intermission, as undefended turf all but rolls out the welcome mat for officials whose committee-appearing bosses want them within frantic backwards hand gesturing distance.
by Kady O'Malley 5/3/2012 1:51:39 PM