The $10-billion question: why isn't the F-35 scandal on the front page of "important" newspapers?
There are several disturbing issues raised by the auditor general's recent report on fighter jets.
They relate not only to the financial and political links to the scandal, but also to the way this issue has been treated by national newspaper chains.
Consider the magnitude of this story: Department of National Defence staff told a $10-billion fib to the Canadian public about the cost of buying and operating 65 F-35 planes over 20 years.
The $10-billion figure is equivalent to the annual revenue of B.C.'s largest company, Telus Corporation.
Today, Auditor General Michael Ferguson told the public-accounts committee that members of the Conservative cabinet knew that the planes would cost $25 billion—and not the $15 billion claimed by bureaucrats.
During the 2011 election campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeatedly claimed that the F-35 program would cost $16 billion. He has refused to answer opposition questions about when he learned that the real cost was billions of dollars higher than that.
So where did the Globe and Mail place the fighter-jet scandal in its B.C. edition yesterday? It was buried on page A4 with the relatively positive headline: "Feds scramble to save face over fighter jets".
Today, Canada's self-described "national newspaper" ran another inside story in the B.C. edition. Neither today's nor yesterday's Globe carried a single editorial or column on its opinion page regarding what Liberal Leader Bob Rae has characterized as "the worst example of economic incompetence and fiscal dishonesty that this country has seen in a generation".
Canada's national newspaper, indeed.
Meanwhile, Postmedia's Vancouver Sun put the auditor general's report on air safety on the front page yesterday. There was a hardhitting article and column on the fighter jets—buried on B3.
In a curious coincidence, the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun endorsed Stephen Harper and the Conservatives in pre-election editorials last year.
"Those who disdain the Harper approach should consider his overall record, which is good," the Globe intoned less than a year ago. "The Prime Minister and the Conservative Party have demonstrated principled judgment on the economic file."
Meanwhile, the media outlet that is giving this story the greatest play, CBC, just had its budget cut by more than $100 million.
That's not the only troubling aspect of this story. Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, is on leave as a managing director of Onex Corp., which is one of Canada's most powerful corporate conglomerates.
Onex Corp., which is headed by businessman Gerry Schwartz, owns Hawker Beechcraft Inc. It's a partner of Lockheed Martin, which is selling the F-35 fighter jets to the Canadian government.
Wright was a director of Hawker Beechcraft. According to a obsequious profile last year in the Walrus, he was a key Onex key executive dealing with the airplane industry.
“He’s in a completely untenable position,” Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin was quoted as saying in the article. “[It’s] a... profound conflict of interest on so many levels that in order to live up to any ethical standards, he would have to recuse himself from three-quarters of cabinet meetings. He would be out in the hallway more often than he would be in the cabinet room... [He] cannot even order a pizza for the prime minister without being conflicted.”
The Walrus then declared that Martin's comment was "nonsense" because an "ethical wall" was created to keep Wright's dealings, as the prime minister's chief of staff, separate from Onex. He pledged not participate in any discussions regarding the aerospace industry.
"A complex mechanism has been constructed to prevent information about these files from crossing his desk. And for the duration of his tenure in the PMO, his public equity holdings, including 93,957 shares in Onex and 44,024 shares of its Cineplex Galaxy Income Fund—worth roughly $3.5 million—have been placed in a blind trust," the Walrus added.
Schwartz's executives also have a connection to NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who hasn't raised the Onex connection to Harper's chief of staff.
As Vancouver antiwar activist Derrick O'Keefe has pointed out, Schwartz and several of his company's most senior managers were donors to Mulcair's recent campaign to become NDP leader.
The son of Toronto mining tycoon Peter Munk, Anthony Munk, was among them. Anthony is an Onex managing director.
In another coincidence, father Peter was quoted in the Walrus article, dishing out lavish praise for Wright.
In the past, Schwartz has also been a big financial supporter of the federal Liberals. It's a small world in Canadian federal politics.
So here's the story you're not reading in the national media:
• Corporations want to suck $25 billion from Canadian taxpayers over 20 years to buy some killing machines.
• One corporation's former director is chief of staff to the prime minister.
• One of the corporations financed the campaign of the leader of the Opposition.
• Two of the country's biggest newspapers don't want to give this story on play on the front page or in their editorials.
• The magnitude of the lie to Canadian taxpayers is the equivalent to the annual revenue of B.C.'s largest company.
Scandals involving a pittance of this, such as Defence Minister Peter MacKay's $1,452 hotel room, are treated with practically the same level of seriousness as a $10-billion whopper by the Conservative government.
Is it any wonder some of us think Canada is going down the tubes right before our eyes?
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.