The $10-billion question: why isn't the F-35 scandal on the front page of "important" newspapers?

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      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.

      Comments

      17 Comments

      Denise

      Apr 5, 2012 at 1:58pm

      Its not front page news, because we do not have free and independent news in North America for decades, and a lot of people are making a lot of money to make and buy killing machines instead of funding; housing, health care and the environment!

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      DavidH

      Apr 5, 2012 at 2:31pm

      I don't buy print anymore (naturally), but ...

      - The F35 was the top story on the G&M web edition this morning, and remains the lead story in the Politics section.

      - The story is the second lead on the National Post web edition today.

      Trust me, I am no friend of the corporate media that we're stuck with these days, but I think it's important to get the facts right so that criticism is clearly justified (as it usually is).

      Does story placement in print editions really matter these days? Don't think so.

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      CityHallWatch Randy

      Apr 5, 2012 at 4:33pm

      Some excellent questions by Charlie. Here is one take on it: The top 11 under-reported news stories of 2010/2011 included "Corporate lobbying shaping laws" (#3) and "Militarizing Canada's Foreign policy" (#11), according to the News Watch Canada report out of SFU (http://pages.cmns.sfu.ca/newswatch). Everyone should read the report for its description of how the media work. Canada is among the most extreme countries in terms of concentration of media into a small number of corporate hands. We need a public aware of exactly who owns which newspapers, how that affects news reporting and editing. Many people, including me, are VERY thankful to the Georgia Straight, an example of independent media, and for its coverage of many key issues that get little or no coverage in mainstream media.

      Xtina

      Apr 5, 2012 at 5:31pm

      Harpers' Conservatives plead guilty to violating campaign spending laws and paid the 52,000. fine for overspending by 1.3 million during the 2006 federal election.
      Since then Harpers Conservatives have gone onto prorouge Parliament twice, been ruled by House of Commons Speaker as in contempt pf Parliament (2011), and engaged in a nation-wide voter suppression scheme --all historic "firsts" for a sitting Canadian government.

      Maybe if the Auditor General had the legal ability to criminally charge those responsible this would be given the diligence it deserves. But it's taken a decade long effort from big oil to put Harper in place and hell hath no fury like the nefarious oil industry!

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      Daniel Z.

      Apr 5, 2012 at 5:47pm

      It's obvious that corporations influence media coverage. However, both yesterday and today, The Globe and Mail devoted its 'top story' section, as the writer above notes, to the Auditor General's report on the F-35 jets.

      That said, I realize that electronic and print media are distinct. It can be argued though that more individuals read electronic versions of newspaper rather than the actual newspapers.

      I'm not surprised that Thomas Mulcair accepted donations from corporate executives. His behavior indicates that he wants to replace the Liberals as the party representing the center, or more vaguely but politically popular, 'the middle class.'

      The next step is more important though. Anybody curious how the deficit for 2011-2012 is $25 billion dollars? It's up to the New Democrats to demonstrate that the Conservative government's spending priorities are not in the best interest of this country, from either short-term or long-term perspective.

      Ghenghis Khan and his Brother Don

      Apr 5, 2012 at 10:00pm

      The worst thing about all this is that *everyone* knew the F-35 deal was complete bullshit...yet still elected this compulsive liars to destroy, I mean govern the country.

      This notwithstanding the fact that F-35s are maladapted and wholly inadequate for the purposes of "defending" our country. I mean how would we scramble an F-35 from Bagotville to defend our sovereignty over Hans Island? In addition to the fact that we would never be able to defend it in the first place against more formidable neighbours...wink wink nudge nudge.

      May we all live in peace

      Ghenghis and Don

      miguel

      Apr 6, 2012 at 6:19am

      "A complex mechanism has been constructed to prevent information about these files from crossing his desk.

      Yeah, I believe that.
      Miguel

      who knew who was goosing who

      Apr 6, 2012 at 11:39am

      Harper was adamant during elections that the truth be know his high flying minister was not giving Canadians the airs with the planes and helicopter rides. And does the air stink, oh yes indeed because "everyone" is talking and Harper is gone as far as they are concerned. And he will be if "everyone" has their say without robo calls putting Harper in control and not "everyone." despite what this government has to say. Like who can believe them? No one and that is not okay. The message the media gave voters goes like this "You don't want the market to fall do you, Harper is your man. And the IMF's , former director who is said to have raped a women spends his days giving sex parties to get to the bottom of things says Harper is needed for the countries economy. It is how Europe does business, they get off on each other. He didn't get it right either the pompeous pig and neither did the French. And don't forget Harper has his trusty con man right by his side as the prime minister's top advisor is where it all started.

      the story is out

      Apr 6, 2012 at 1:13pm

      DavidH there is something to be said for getting your news in a timely matter and sticking to the facts. That didn't happen, the media downplayed any controversay and pointed to Harper as the "Man" to lead Canadians to economic prosperity. And he did sorta only not the receiving end because Canadians have never been so deep in debt and it could be devastating if interest rates rise.

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      Paulsdottir

      Apr 6, 2012 at 10:27pm

      NEW YORK/WASHINGTON | Wed Mar 28, 2012 7:56pm EDT

      By Soyoung Kim and Andrea Shalal-Esa

      NEW YORK/WASHINGTON | Wed Mar 28, 2012 7:56pm EDT
      (Reuters) - Hawker Beechcraft Inc, the aircraft manufacturer owned by Goldman Sachs Group Inc's (GS.N) private equity arm and Onex Corp (OCX.TO), is preparing to file for bankruptcy protection in the next several weeks, according to several people familiar with the matter."

      L. Clemens