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NDP accuses Tories of using committee to whitewash auditor general's F-35 report

OTTAWA - The NDP accused the Conservatives of using a House of Commons committee to whitewash the auditor general's scathing indictment of the government's mammoth F-35 jet fighter procurement.

The NDP levelled the charge in a dissenting opinion to the public accounts committee's report, tabled Wednesday.

"The NDP remains deeply concerned that this study did not allow parliamentarians to shed light and complete the inquiry on this very important matter," says the three-page dissenting opinion.

"Only seven hours of testimony were dedicated to this study, and no responsible ministers appeared during the inquiry."

The committee was responding to the April auditor general's report that blasted the government for a $10-billion cost overrun on the F-35 procurement.

In its 29-page report, the majority Conservative committee offered six recommendations to deal with issues surrounding the cost of the project raised by auditor general Michael Ferguson.

Ferguson criticized National Defence for failing to come clean on potential problems with buying the F-35. The government has disputed the auditor's calculations.

New Democrat committee member Malcolm Allen said Wednesday's report amounted to a mockery of Ferguson's audit.

"What they've done is: you've got a whitewashed version of the auditor general's F-35 report," Allen said in an interview. "I can't put it any plainer than that."

Key among the half-dozen recommendations in the report is one that calls on the government to "table independently verified updated cost estimates" to the public accounts committee by Feb. 7 next year.

The F-35 is designed to replace the country's aging fleet of CF-18 jet fighters.

In his original audit, Ferguson said Public Works should have done a better job of overseeing the purchase. And he said National Defence didn't exercise due diligence.

"The departments did not agree with this conclusion, as they felt that the level of due diligence was appropriate within the time frame covered by the audit," Wednesday's committee report said.

"The committee agrees that in order to ensure better due diligence going forwards, the government needs to clarify roles and responsibilities involving procurement contracts, as well as what steps need to be taken, and in what order."

The committee also noted that the government immediately released a comprehensive, seven-point action plan as soon as the auditor's report was released.

The government's response amounted to freezing spending on the project, and stripping Defence of the ability to buy new weapons systems and handing that responsibility to Public Works.

Ferguson concluded in his report: "Briefing material did not inform senior decision makers, central agencies, and the Minister of the problems and associated risks of relying on the F-35 to replace the CF-18 Nor did National Defence provide complete cost information to parliamentarians."

The committee said Wednesday that the government must replace the CF-18s in a timely manner.

"But it believes that maintaining the public's trust in the process requires a transparent and accountable process that provides full and complete information to Canadians."


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