Friday, January 18, 2008

A trip down Hercules procurement memory lane

Last week, Peter McKay took us on a trip down memory lane when he engaged in a spirited round of Liberal bashing to explain a delay in the delivery of the choppers (Sea King replacements) the previous Liberal government (finally) ordered for the military.

Now, regular readers know I’ve never been a defender of the poor record of past Liberal governments on defence spending -- frankly, that whole helicopter cancellation thing was pathetic -- and I'm not keen on the job Denis Coderre is doing for us as critic either...but also pathetic was MacKay’s over-reaching and unnecessary politicization last week. A manufacturer’s delay is a manufacturer’s delay, not a chance for grandstanding.

Since he likes trips down memory lane though, with his announcement last week of the C-130J Hercules contract I thought it might be interesting to take a more recent, and slightly more relevant, trip into the past.

You may not recall this, but the Liberals actually tried to buy these planes, these C-130Js, over two years ago. Yes, two years ago. Back in the fall of 2005. Then defence minister Bill Graham wanted to fast track the purchase, as the military needed these planes tout de suite. The money was allocated. The ball was rolling.

Feds announce $4.6-billion plan to buy new military transport planes
Canadian Press

Published: Tuesday, November 22, 2005

OTTAWA (CP) - The federal government has announced that it will go ahead with a plan to buy about $4.6 billion worth of military transport aircraft.

And then along came Conservative defence critic (and former lobbyist) Gordon O’Connor. Not so fast, said O’Connor. There’s no rush. Let’s take our time. No more billion dollar boondoggles. And what about Airbus, he said (he used to lobby for Airbus). Let them bid too; you can’t rig this process to favour Lockheed.
The Conservative defence critic, retired general Gordon O'Connor, says he's concerned the government is rushing the process unnecessarily and has made the requirements "so precise only one solution's possible."

"They're basically saying that these are needed tomorrow morning for Afghanistan and that's not true."

“I don't think having a legitimate competition . . . would add much time to this process."
O’Connor and his old lobbyist buddies were able to kick up enough dirt that the government backed down, delaying the procurement until after the election.

A few months later the Conservatives form a minority, and one year after scuttling the initial attempted purchase, in November of 2006 they announce, surprise surprise, they’re going to go with the Herc after all:
The Conservative government has quietly named Lockheed Martin's C-130J aircraft as the winner of a $4.9-billion bid to replace the military's aging Hercules transport planes.

The U.S. aerospace giant was informed of the government's decision on Monday, although there has been no official government announcement about the selection of the C-130J for the project.

Despite the government secrecy, the choice of the C-130J as the military's new tactical transport aircraft doesn't come as a surprise to those in the aerospace industry. Although the Conservative government maintained that the competition was open to all bidders and fair, the project requirements automatically eliminated the European-built A400M aircraft, the main competition to the C-130J.

Hey, wait; isn’t that the same plane the Liberals wanted to buy one year earlier, you ask? And making sure the project requirements favoured the Herc; isn’t that what O’Connor accused the Liberals of doing, and didn’t he say that was bad? Yes to both questions.

And now, more than a year after the Conservatives selected the C-130J, and more than TWO years after they helped scuttle a Liberal attempt to buy the C-130J, they finally sign a contract to buy…the C-130J.
The air force's long-awaited purchase of the Super-Hercules cargo plane became a reality Wednesday as the Conservative government formally signed a contract with U.S. defence giant Lockheed Martin.

The purchase of 17 C-130J planes is worth $1.4 billion, with delivery of the first aircraft in the winter of 2010.
So, in essence, we’ve come around full circle. If O’Connor and the Conservatives hadn’t of taken us on this two-year magical mystery tour, one wonders if the air force would be getting their planes ‘round about now, or, at least, some time before 2010? I wouldn’t be surprised.

It’s no wonder Peter McKay didn’t mention this little historical story…

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Bailey said...

"Let them bid too; you can’t rig this process to favour Boeing."

I think you mean Lockhead, not Boeing.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Right you are, thanks Bailey.

The Rat said...

Umm, Jeff, that's what's known as "opposition", the job of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Their job is to "oppose", to bring up flaws, to point out errors, generally to be sure that the government, when it does something, does the right thing. I know this concept is apparently foreign to today's Liberals, but blaming the Conservatives for opposing the Liberals is a tad funny. Now, if the Hercs were so important, why didn't the Liberals buy them in 13 years of Majority rule? Oh yeah, because your own embarrassment is justified. The Liberals have a pathetic record on the military.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Umm, so rat, you're saying even though the Cons thought these were the right planes, and that the military needed them, because they were in the opposition it was their job to kill the deal, and end up delaying the military from getting these planes?

Yeah, that's a pretty stupid argument, you should be embarrassed.

The Rat said...

I know that you Libs have difficulty understanding "opposition", as seen by your recent spate of abstentions, but yeah, that's basically the gist of the argument. Although stating that the Conservatives "killed" the deal is a little much, after all weren't you guys in government then? It's almost as bad as Dion blaming the Conservatives/Reform for keeping him from implementing Kyoto. You see, Jeff, opposition opposes and the Government is supposed to argue in favour of. In the end there is a vote. Was there a vote on the Hercs? Or did the Libs just turn tail and run?

Just to give you a teeny tiny example of LEADERSHIP, do you recall a controversial vote in the commons that the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc all "opposed" and are even decrying to this day? One maybe regarding a certain nuclear reactor in Chalk River? It seems to me that despite "opposition" from all three opposing parties the Conservatives still called a vote and somehow won it. But you're right, I'm sure, there was just no way the Liberals could have possibly pushed ahead on the Hercs. It was just too hard and there were so many other priorities.

A BCer in Toronto said...

You might have been able to win me over with the truthiness of your argument rat.

However, as I support the opposition and you support the government, as I understand it my job is to oppose whatever you say, no matter what I believe myself to be right.

So, sorry about that.

The Rat said...

Oh now Jeff, you once again show your ignorance of opposition. It isn't that you believe yourself to be right that makes opposition important, it's that you point out the flaws, and make it difficult enough that compromises are made, or the government makes thorough explanatory arguments. If it comes to a vote in a majority Parliament you can even vote against it. A classic example of that non-belief is the vehement opposition you Libs put forward on the GST, you voted against it, and you even campaigned against it. Then, in government, you just accepted it as good policy (*the only reason you got whacked on it was that you did campaign against it).

You don't have to believe your own press, again, given the Libs' vote for over-ruling Keen and re-opening Chalk river, you just have to work against the government for accountability's sake.

Luke said...

Let me see if I have this straight. When a party is in the opposition they can promise the moon and criticize. If they get elected they don’t need to keep those promises because they were in the opposition. I get it the Cons had their fingers crossed. The Cons promised not to tax income trusts, to be more accountable, and to be more open than the Libs. Oh wait they said those things when they were the opposition. Wink Wink

The Rat said...

As did the Libs on GST :-) I think you get it, Luke, I think you get it.