Monday, March 07, 2011

When Conservatives attack: Laurie Hawn F-35 version

There's another fine example today of the Conservative attack-the-critic tactic being reported. Conservative MP Laurie Hawn, Parliamentary Secretary to the Defence Minister, is sending out emails on the proposed F-35 purchase that not only promote the purchase but also take a gratuitous slag at one of the critics of the government's actions. Alan Williams is referenced by Hawn as spreading "BS" about the deal. Williams is the former Defence department procurement official who initially oversaw Canada's early involvement in the F-35 development program and is a 33 year federal employee. He is described in the report as a "respected retired public servant." Hawn and the Defence Department are not explaining what Hawn means by the "BS" remark.

The email "has circulated among retired and serving Canadian Forces members as well as journalists." No kidding. That the Defence Minister's Parliamentary Secretary would be writing emails with such material would get around. And given the decent way Williams has acquitted himself throughout the F-35's debate since the proposal was announced in mid-July, it's totally unbecoming of Hawn.

Williams appeared before the parliamentary committee explaining what, in his view, the failings of the government's F-35 proposal are. Those include the lack of guaranteed industrial benefits that would normally come along with the largest military purchase in Canadian history and the billions more we're likely paying as a result of not having a competitive bid. Those are his views based on his involvement and defence procurement experience. He has certainly contributed to the framing of the debate given his persuasiveness. But if Hawn takes issue with particular statements, he should have the decency to offer up what he's talking about rather than slagging the man through email channels.

Williams has also been one of the more independent participants in the debate, with no real stake at that, other than to offer his historic institutional knowledge of the deal and again, his past defence procurement perspective. Many of those speaking publicly on behalf of the F-35 proposal are, by contrast, related in some way to the present day purchase, funded by the Defence department or coached by the Harper government. If you wonder whether Williams' early involvement in the F-35 program might make him defensive and affect his present participation, his appearance at the committee on October 7, 2010 is worth a read. It speaks to his independence and credibility. He certainly responded to Laurie Hawn quite effectively and perhaps that's what's spawned Hawn's vitriolic emails on Williams.

Williams is calling Hawn's email "unethical and distasteful." To say the least. As noted in the report, Harper also got in on the act a while back, mischaracterizing Williams' views on the F-35.

Williams is one more joining the long line of those maligned by this government simply for having the temerity to voice an unhelpful perspective on a major public policy issue. It's another shabby democratic moment courtesy of your Harper Government.

P.S. There is more grist likely to upset the Harper crew and cue up the public relations attack, a report from the PBO on the F-35 proposal comes out tomorrow, questioning the government's lack of evidence on the cost per plane and future maintenance costs.