OTTAWA – Remember the former Liberal government’s infamous “billion dollar boondoggle” that engulfed the Human Resource and Skills Development file not so long ago? It was one of more than a few boondoggles that exposed the Liberal Party’s false claim to being a fiscal responsible and accountable government. At the time, Stephen Harper was outraged at the lack of transparency and the Liberals unwillingness to accept responsibility for the mistakes they clearly made. I wonder though; what would Mr. Harper say today if he was in opposition and read the most recent Auditor General’s report than found his government could not account for $3.1 billion of taxpayer money?
The release of the Auditor General’s damning 2013 Spring Report last week has Mr. Harper singing a different tune now that the microscope has been placed on his government’s own financial record. Among other dubious findings the Auditor General was unable to account for $3.1 billion of the $12.9 billion designated to the Public Security and Anti-Terrorism Initiative. In Question Period, Mr. Harper attributed this gapping financial hole to “a lack of clarity” in the operations of his government. No kidding. Remarkably, the Treasury Board Secretary Tony Clement, who also splits his time as the Minister for all things gazebo, denied that any government spending was unaccounted for, but simultaneously tried to peg the blame for the non-missing money on the previous Liberal government.
Does that sound like something a fiscally responsible and accountable government would try to do?
Another scandal that has engulfed the Harper government and has yet to be put to rest is the botched acquisition of 65 new F-35 fighters. In the 2011 election campaign, the Harper Conservatives assured Canadians that it would cost but $9 billion to purchase the new ‘stealth’ fighters and replace our aging fleet of CF-18’s. After ignoring repeated demands for supporting documentation for this claim by the Parliamentary Budget Officer it was eventually revealed that the acquisition and maintenance costs of the proposed F-35 purchase would reach a staggering $45 billion over the lifetime of the fighter – a full five times more than the Conservatives claimed. Add to this the F-35 prototypes’ ongoing engine problems, its inability to operate in cold temperatures (ie: the Arctic) and inability to fly at night, and well it ain’t pretty.
The F-35 debacle is a very public one, but another looming boondoggle has largely gone under the radar – so far. During the 2008-2009 financial crisis the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) under the direction of the Harper Conservatives made a decision, without consulting parliament, to purchase some of the riskiest bank-held mortgages in Canada – at a potential cost of $69 billion to Canadian taxpayers. According to statements made by Prime Minister Harper on US television news network CNBC in February of 2009, this taxpayer funded purchase was not a bailout, but merely a “market transaction with our banks to improve liquidity,” and would cost the government and taxpayers nothing. This mincing of words was echoed by the Canadian Bankers Association (CBA), who, at the time, attempted to explain to the public that these mortgage purchases did not fall under the Oxford dictionary’s definition of a bailout. In truth, that is exactly what this transaction was. Had this massive transaction gone through Parliament as the housing bailout went through Congress in the United States, this questionable decision would have had to face proper scrutiny. More importantly, taxpayers would have been told up front that we were now on the hook for that $69 billion should the housing market face significant difficulties. Pretty risky behaviour for a “fiscally conservative” and “responsible” government wouldn’t you say?
I believe that the latest findings from the Auditor General are but a symptom of a greater illness that is plaguing the Harper Conservative government. Harper’s gang, the party which boasts about being fiscally responsible and accountable cannot account for a full $3.1 billion of our tax dollars. In fact, they can’t even provide Auditor General Michael Ferguson with the proper documentation so that he can search for it. When we look at this report and recall the $45 billion F-35 scandal and the $69 billion bailout of our banks a picture of secrecy, incompetence, waste, and lack of accountability emerges. New Democrats believe that you deserve better and we are prepared to offer you a truly transparent, accountable, fiscally responsible, and ethical alternative to the two tired old parties that we’ll share the ballot with in 2015.
John Rafferty MP