Sunday, April 02, 2006

It's conflict of interest season again

We can look forward to lots of conflict of interest stories next week.

Our air force needs a replacement for its ageing fleet of Hercules transport aircraft, and some of the main contenders are coming to Ottawa this week eyeing the $12 billion-plus deal. Luckily for Conservative defence minister Gordon O'Connor, at least one of the contenders aren't strangers. He used to work for one of them.

Back when he was a lobbyist with Hill & Knowlton (and by back when, I mean way back in 2004) one of O'Connor's clients was Airbus. And now, Airbus is one of the contenders for that billion-dollar contract, and O'Connor is the minister of national defence. I bet they're pleased as punch.

While naming a former defence lobbyist your defence minister is just, well, dumb and arrogant, this particular contract shouldn't have been an issue. That's because, since the military needs these new planes rather badly, some months before the election the Liberals attempted to fast track a process to buy new Hercules C-130J aircraft from Boeing. These were the aircraft the military wanted, and a fast track process would ensure they got them more quickly.

Not so quick, though. The Conservatives balked and raised all kinds of hell, and the Liberals backed-off. They wanted Airbus to be able to bid too, even if it meant the military waiting years longer to get the aircraft. And who was leading the charge for the Conservatives? If you guessed their defence critic, and former Airbus lobbyist, Gordon O'Connor, that give yourself a pat on the back.

So, defence critic O'Connor helped kill the contract going to the competitors of his former clients, and now defence minister O’Connor gets to help decide who does get the contract. If it goes to Boeing after all he looks pretty stupid for the wasted time, money, and delay in the military getting the aircraft, and if it goes to Airbus he looks really bad because even if he doesn't interfere one iota, he is in a completely untenable position because there would still seem to be to anyone with a pulse at the very least the appearance of be a conflict of interest.

Anyway, as the Ottawa Sun reports it looks like the aerospace road show is coming to town, towing the conflict of interest wagon right along with it. Should be fun.

Defence contractors lining up to land plum contracts

Armed with dirt on their rivals, the world's largest defence firms are converging on Ottawa this week in anticipation of a flood of billion-dollar federal contracts under the new Conservative government.

P.S. And it’s not just Airbus. O’Connor also lobbied for BAE Systems, General Dynamics, and some 24 other defence companies. I wonder how many will now be getting-in on that “flood of billion-dollar contracts”?

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Mark Dowling said...

Why didn't the opposition object to O'Connor as defence critic - why wait until he was named minister. But that wouldn't be as politically opportune would it.

Jeff said...

Well Mark, I believe the other parties pointed-out the harpocracy of his being their defence critic, but as you know defence critic and defence minister are two very different positions.

Mark Dowling said...

No, really? (Although in these days of PMO dominance maybe they really do have about the same amount of power).

It is unfortunate that a MinOfDef who has actually served in the military does have this baggage - that said, the strat lift procurement process underway by the Liberals/DND was a complete stitch-up to ensure C-130J won (manufactured by Lockheed-Martin btw, not Boeing who make C-17s). Pointing that out while critic did raise issues of O'Connor's Airbus links, but other opposition critics raised it too.

DND needs strategic lift as soon as possible to replace existing aircraft running out of flying time (thus the push for C-130) and disqualifying Airbus for O'Connor's past job will just ensure Lockheed can name their price - and the possibility of the order going to Europe may scare Lockheed's lobbyists into asking Congress for flexibility on Canadian issues like softwood.

Jeff said...

I'm not saying disqualify Airbus because of its history with O'Connor, just that because of his history O'Connor being in this job is a bad idea for all concerned. And with his lengthly list of former defence industry clients, this won't be the last time.

Anonymous said...

The US rushed the C-130J through its Instrument trials because they were short for heavy lift capabilities in Iraq.

The C-130J is also not a new design of aircraft, its the same old Herc with newer instruments and engines.

The Airbus however is a new platform and new design, unfortunatetly it is behind schedule, ( in the beginning, not enough demand for a new transport, then after 911, a huge immediate demand).

The Airbus has more than a few advantages over the C-130J, from price, repairability, flexibility, range, comfort, protection, speed, load capabilities.

It will be a shame if once again Politics determines what the Forces get, ( while wasting billions of taxpayers dollars).

Personally, I have no issues with former General working as Arms lobbyists or for Arms companies, after all, its not like they can semi-retire to the Farm anymore,....

and there really arnt that many Arms companies anymore, ( and the inter-relationships are incestous), so it is inevitable that there may be perceptions of conflict of interest,....

In Canada Politicians have always bought the arms for the Military,....

personally, I think that the Military should just be given the money, some guidelines from the Accountant General on how to spend it, ( accountancy rules, transparancy rules, conflict of interest rules, contract advice, etc), and the Military should get to choose on which item is the best for their needs and budget.

But thats common sense, completely absent in politics,.....

it is however another thing separate from the Transport issue, for a Party to campaign on a platform of no Lobbyists in Government,.....

that pisses me off.