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February 15, 2012

Should we cut pensions to buy overpriced jets?

Geoffrey Stevens

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The Harper government does not admit to any imperfections - and why should it? It has a majority and in its ranks it boasts "the best finance minister on the planet," as the prime minister called Jim Flaherty at Davos a couple of weeks ago.

Flaherty’s planetary acclaim aside, if the government did have a weakness (which, as noted, it does not concede), it might be that it does not suffer fools gladly — “fools” being loosely defined as anyone who fails to applaud everything the Conservatives do. This is quite a large category, encompassing (or so pollsters tell us) two-thirds of the Canadian populace.

Not only does the government not embrace criticism, it does not trust experts. The overhaul of the old age security system that Harper announced, minus details, in Davos (safely removed from the fools in Parliament) illustrates the point. As Harper sees it, the changes — which apparently will require seniors to wait longer and accept smaller pensions — are needed to make OAS sustainable for future generations. But is that really the case?

Non-partisan experts argue that if the Conservatives factor in economic growth and increases in the working-age population though immigration, they will discover a quite different picture, and not a bleak one at all. One of those experts is Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget officer (and a troublesome fellow in Tory eyes) “We don’t have a long-term sustainability problem,” Page says. “I think he (Harper) is doing it for broader problems.”

Common sense would suggest that the Conservatives acknowledge that independent experts just might have a point worth considering (by a royal commission perhaps?). At very least, the public deserves a more convincing explanation and some reassurance before the best finance minister on the planet attacks a pension system that has served the country well over the years.

But when distrust of experts combines with a distaste for divergent views and political impatience (after all, the next general election is a barely 44 months away), common sense melts away.

Common sense is bypassed on other fronts. Spending billions to build more prisons at a time when the serious crime rate is falling is one issue that cries out for rethinking. So is the scrapping of the firearms registry over the objection of police forces, who claim the registry helps to save lives. What if the police are right and Conservative strategists are wrong?

But the biggest failure of common sense, in my view, is found in the Harper government’s pigheaded determination to proceed with the purchase of 65 F-35 stealth fighter jets.

It’s crazy. We have a government that feels it must reduce its investment in health care and old age security, but has no compunction about spending an estimated $30 billion on aircraft the country doesn’t need. Not only is the unproven F-35 the wrong plane, its development costs are wildly over budget and its production is running years behind schedule.

The F-35 is an American aircraft built by Lockheed Martin and the idea is that the U.S. and its closest allies would all buy it. Australia originally proposed to buy 100, then cut its order to 14. Now it is reconsidering the purchase of 12 of the 14.

Cost overruns and delays are forcing the Obama administration to rethink its plan to purchase 2,440 F-35s. On Friday, the U.S. air force chief of staff announced that the Pentagon will have to refurbish 350 aging F-16 fighters to keep them in the air because of delays in the F-35 program.

A week earlier, the New York Times published an editorial calling on Washington to cut its losses and save more than $150 billion by reducing its order of F-35s from 2,440 to 1,000. “The F-35 was designed as a low-cost, supercapable aircraft,” the Times said. “It has become the costliest Pentagon procurement project ever and its performance has been disappointing.”

These are the planes the Harper government would have Canada buy, with no questions asked.

The Record, February 6, 2012

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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