Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Defending Defense

It appears that the Canadian Tory government is having a hard time selling the new F-35 plane to Canadians, a $9 billion dollar project that will bring stealth fighters to Canada's air space. The Tory government claims that the new stealth fighter will allow us to see threats before they see us and that this is the right time to make this sort of investment.

Fear-mongering works well in the US, but it's a tough sell in Canad. Here's why:

1- We're not afraid enough.

The US has a constant fear machine with 24 hour news stations like CNN and Fox, churning out the threats to the nation with flashy lighting and stock images. They also have pundits, who make a living out of striking fear into the heart of the nation by telling them that free radicals are attacking the country. If you watch enough of that stuff, you'll start believing that Bin Laden can be hiding inside your taco. Canada doesn't have that kind of fear machine on hand. We're just blissfully unaware, living our lives and our news anchors are like people we invite into our living rooms at night, not the brandisher of evil news. They put on their serious face when they talk about the silly stuff that the city council wants to do, but most of the time, their reports are light.

2- What exactly are we afraid of?

The US makes a lot of enemies, particularly through invasive foreign policy or punitive economic measures. They also have a bad reputation on the international stage. Canada doesn't have such famous or spectacular enemies. Yes, we follow other countries into war-ravaged zones, but in the interest of lending a helping hand, not forcing Canadian values on others. It's hard to argue for more protection for the country because we don't have a clear sense of who we're protecting ourselves from.

3- Economies of Scale

9 billion dollars? Really? Most Canadians can't fathom what that kind of money looks like. Unlike the US, which can funnel billions of dollars into large portfolios such as Homeland Security, Canada doesn't have that kind of money to hide within its overall budget. An amount that large doesn't go unnoticed by the Canadian population which is significantly smaller than that of the US. So you better believe that if that amount of ressources is being pooled into something, we will know about it and we will have something to say. And considering that we're not scared enough as a nation, quivering in our collective boots, and that we're not even sure who exactly we're so scared of, it's not going to be an easy sell to invest $9 billion into this.

This is a two front battle for the Tories, and it's not just the cost or the utility of the investment that's causing problems, but also, the lack of a competitive process to buy this plane. There has been no bidding process due to the fact that there is apparently no other plane that fits the government's specifications and then the Tories have gone ahead and used their oldest trick: the US did it, so why can't we?

Arguing that the US decided to use Lockheed Martin as their supplier without a competitive process is glossing over some pretty important facts, such as the fact that members of the government had investments within the company and stood to make a personal profit from the supply contract. It also glosses over the fact that this contract was designed for American needs and not adapted to Canadian and that a competitive process would have proven whether or not the supplier was up to this task.

Finally, it goes against the government's promise of transparency to the public by not conducting an open bid process for this important contract that the public hasn't asked for. The public has not demanded this service from the government and it has not voiced fighter planes as a priority. I think that if you asked the average Canadian what was top of mind for them, it would be the economy and health care, rather than aerospace defense. Too bad the government didn't bother to ask that essential question.

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