The serene statis of Centre Block in summer will be shattered later this morning as the fracas over the F-35 fighter jets resumes, courtesy of the New Democratic Party, which will convene a half-day "information session" to hear from various and sundry "experts" in military and procurement who were initially put forward as potential committee witnesses, but ultimately left unheard after the parliamentary process degenerated into in camera standoffs and related shenanigans.
On the invite list for today's hearing: US national security expert and former Government Administration Office staffer Winslow Wheeler; University of Ottawa professor Philippe Lagasse, former Defence associate deputy minister Alan Williams and Esprit de Corps editor and publisher Scott Taylor.
According to the advisory, the discussion will be moderated by NDP MP Malcolm Allen, and "will include" caucus members Matthew Kellway, Jack Harris, Christine Moore and Lysane
I'll be liveblogging and tweeting the whole thing, so check back at 10am for full coverage!
From twitter: Off to the NDP don't-call-it-a-committee meeting on the #F35 ... uncertainties. (There, that will do nicely.) Whee! Practically parliament!
Worth noting, perhaps: Since this is *not*, in fact, a committee meeting, the usual privileges - including immunity - do not apply. #F35
Not that I'm suggesting such limitations could become an issue, but just wanted to make that clear. #F35
I'm curious to see what approach the government will take to today's #F35 festivities. A rapid response flack on site? Or total ignoring?
Huh. Apparently, today's #F35 rap session is in the basement committee room. The very, very, very cosy basement committee room.
I must say that I'm liking this open horseshow table arrangement: it feels so much more --- well, open, I guess. Transparent, even! Everything, in fact, that the NDP will soon attempt to make the case that the F-35 procurement process is not.
by Kady O'Malley 8/21/2012 2:02:50 PM
RT @ChrisMcCluskey: NDP demonstrates opposition to replacing jet fighters & the #F35 in particular. That's fine. They should have an opinion
RT @ChrisMcCluskey: We will replace our Air Force's aging CF18s. In terms of aircraft purchase, we haven't made that determination yet #F35
And with that, we're off! No gavel, it seems -- not that it's likely that it would have gotten much use, given the format -- but the traditional introductory spiel, courtesy of NDP MP Malcolm Allen, who will serve as moderator, and really ought to remember to speak up -- volume-wise, that is, not with frequent interventions -- since the acoustics in here make it difficult to follow without earpieces.
by Kady O'Malley 8/21/2012 2:09:10 PM
With that, it's over to our first expert of the day: University of Ottawa professor Phil Lagasse, who will have 5(ish) minutes to deliver his opening remarks, although Allen was pretty clear that the time hammer won't come down with quite the same scrupulous fury as does a gavel during a contentious committee appearance.
by Kady O'Malley 8/21/2012 2:10:59 PM
Lagasse lists a few of his more pressing concerns and unanswered questions vis a vis the Secretariat -- namely, will it actually have the power to recommend a *different* course of action, and what accountability will there be. He also shares more general, overarching criticisms of the process thus far, including the lack of cost-benefit analysis, at least in public -- a task that could easily have been assigned to the secretariat in question. Basically, he feels that the RAF requirements are *driving* the process, rather than the other way around. Simply saying we 'need new fighters,' he notes, is simply not enough: *policy* is expected to guide the "difficult process" of determining which capabilities are essential, and which are not.
by Kady O'Malley 8/21/2012 2:14:21 PM
And with that, it's over to our second expert of the day - US defence expert Winslow Wheeler, who seems an avuncular sort, and who arrived with his very own chart that purports to show the projected per-unit costs, although he cautions the room that there is a "fantasy" that the numbers will eventually fall due to efficiency and other semi-magical means. (It's fair to say that Winslow is unpersuaded by those arguments.)
by Kady O'Malley 8/21/2012 2:16:58 PM
As Wheeler wraps up his admirably succinct presentation by urging all and sundry to "do the math" (speaking for myself, sir, I can assure you that *no one wants that), it's over to Jack Harris to lead off the first round of questions - although not before describing the revelations exposed thus far as "startling", which may just be a teensy weensy bit of an exaggeration, considering that this is pretty much what we were hearing before the summer hiatus kicked in.
by Kady O'Malley 8/21/2012 2:22:47 PM
Harris gets Wheeler to expound on what the latter cheerfully, and repeatedly, characterizes as "fifth generation hoopla" -- specifically, the scepticism over just how stealthy these stealth fighters actually are. (Also, it's amazing what a difference it makes when you add a -y to the word. A 'stealth fighter' hints at ancient and eldritch magic. A "stealthy fighter" just hopes you don't see it up there.)
by Kady O'Malley 8/21/2012 2:25:10 PM
The aforementioned hoopla, Wheeler suggests -- as well as the complexity of the aircraft itself -- is the product of technologists' thinking, which explains the staggering expense. You also can't fly it all that often, Wheeler notes -- the stealth coatings won't allow it. Harris wonders why Canada - and Canadians - need that highly specialized feature, particularly since we're only buying -- the government spokesman in my head just popped up with a "We haven't bought anything yet!", but you know what he means -- just one variety of plane, considering that the other customers are picking up a sampling of different types.
by Kady O'Malley 8/21/2012 2:28:34 PM
Lagasse agrees that this -- the overall policy direction -- is, of course, the underlying question: Why, exactly, *do* we need these planes? For international sorties? To protect Canadian sovereignty - and, if so, where? Until we have an answer, all subsequent queries will remain frustratingly unfulfilled. Wheeler, meanwhile, notes that, for domestic security missions, range is crucial -- and he'd "encourage" the (not a) committee to explore that issue with regard to the F35s. Jack of All Trades, he muses, is too generous a term to describe this plane: It does all things, yes, but it does them very badly.
by Kady O'Malley 8/21/2012 2:32:52 PM
"Get empirical data," Wheeler stresses -- not just garbage in/garbage out. Compare and contrast the performance of various models, and let Canadian pilots try out the aircraft(s). Listen to what *they* have to say about the relative strengths and weaknesses, rather than letting Lockheed Martin helpfully provide its own "test pilots". This isn't what *his* country has done, Wheeler notes -- but anyone who buys without a full understanding of the cost and the limitations "is a fool." I wonder if this gentleman ever testified in front of a congressional committee -- and, if so, whether this feels like a grade school play in comparison.
by Kady O'Malley 8/21/2012 2:36:58 PM
NDP MP (and probably an associate or deputy defence critic; I've sort of lost track of the shadow cabinet) Christine Moore wonders about cold weather testing, as well as other uniquely Canadian needs, which sparks a lengthy response from Lagasse, the gist of which would seem to be that we simply don't know whether this plane will do what we need until we know what that -- what we need, that is -- actually *is*.
by Kady O'Malley 8/21/2012 2:41:23 PM