Scott Taylor is upset about an op-ed on the merits of the F-35 Lightning jet fighter in the Ottawa Citizen a couple of weeks ago which failed to disclose that one co-author was a former Lockheed executive (and therefore that he would seem to have a financial conflict of interest which the paper failed to disclose). It’s true — but at the same time, and Impolitical, and the Rideau Institute (which also complained about the matter) missed an even more important connection. Both authors, retired generals Angus Watt and Paul Manson, now have positions at the Conference of Defense Associations, a military lobby group which is co-funded by the Department of National Defence.
Interestingly, our society requires that lobbyists be registered, corporations publish truthful (and audited) financial statements, and scientists disclose conflicts of interest in their articles (at least in some disciplines). It does not require politicians to publish truthful statements, nor does it require advocacy groups to declare their (or rather their donors’) financial stakes in the issues they advocate on. These two holes are shamelessly exploited by one organization after another, and I have discussed it in a number of recent posts, relating to Bell Canada and the CRTC metered billing ruling, and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce saying businesses should have lower taxes. But the problem in this case is even more serious. It’s what Dwight Eisenhower once referred to as the “military-industrial complex.”
Canadians are not particularly familiar with this lingo. The Canadian military is far smaller than its American counterpart, and the Canadian defense industry is even smaller, proportionately. Most major acquisitions come from American companies, with a minority of the work done here in Canada. But we’re also lurching, one dishonest step at a time, toward the largest acquisition in our country’s history, the multi-billion-dollar F-35 Lightning II fighter jet. So it’s time to take a look at this corner of the federal political arena — and especially towards a pro-fighter jet lobby group that not only lobbies but is paid by the Department of National Defence.
First, it’s important to recognize that DND is engaged in a full-court press on the subject of the F-35, which will cost Canadians at least $16 billion. Most civil servants, and especially military officers, are supposed to abstain from public debate, and the Harper government is notoriously tight-lipped on most issues. But strangely those restriction don’t seem to apply to military generals. There are articles and op-eds in the press. The head of the air force just published a promotional piece on the fighter in the Canadian Military Journal. And so on. All in all, the Citizen piece that ignited the latest tempest in a teapot was of surprisingly poor quality. First, it’s unoriginal: most of it was pulled from an August 2010 piece, which also failed to provide full disclosure on either author. Second, it’s set up as a “myth-busting” piece but does very little of the kind. Of the ten F-35 “myths” identified, two are conceded by the authors, and most of the rest are simply prompts for their own arguments, not “myths” propagated by anti-fighter groups. They concede that the F-35 is not designed for Arctic sovereignty missions, but are unable to suggest even a single hypothetical mission that Canada would need the F-35 to fulfill.
But this post is not about that. Nor is it about the fact that Manson, identified in the article as a former head of the air force, is actually a businessman in disguise. Among other things, he’s the former chairman of Lockheed Canada. Lockheed is the company that will build the F-35, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars for the various countries involved in the development consortium. Other people have already correctly pointed out that this is a fairly significant conflict of interest for the Citizen to fail to point out.
What really interests me, though, are Manson’s and Watt’s current shared interests. Both currently sit on the Executive Committee of the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA). The CDA states that it is “a non-partisan, independent and non-profit” advocacy group. Despite that, all voting members of its leadership committee are retired officers; the exception is a scientist who until recently taught at the Royal Military College. Manson was, until 2008, the head of the CDA Institute, its policy analysis think tank. Angus Watt is now the organization’s vice-chairman. The CDA’s principal purpose is to advocate for new acquisitions by the military, call for increased defence spending, and support missions like the one in Afghanistan.
Now of course there’s nothing wrong with retired officers joining an NGO that promotes military activities, and there’s not even a real problem with having a national organization representing the views of four dozen military associations across the country (including the Legion, various force professional groups, and numerous United Services Institutes). There is something peculiar, though, about an organization that bills itself as an independent NGO representing these assorted members, while in reality it accepts money from the Department of National Defence in order to defend the military in public and lobby the government on military issues.
The details of the CDA’s responsibilities were last laid out in a contract released to the public in 2007. Among other things, it agreed to:
- “Provide tangible input into legislative and policy governmental work”
- “Attain a minimum of 29 media references to the CDA by… journalists”
- “Attain the publication of a minimum of 15 opinion pieces (including op-eds and letters to the editor in national or regional publications)”
- “Attain a minimum of 100 requests by media for radio/television interviews and materials”
The first point is particularly intriguing in that, later on, the contract specifies that CDA employees be registered as lobbyists.
The contract specifies that the CDA must raise at least 43% of its budget from other sources, and should strive for a 50/50 arrangement (with half the funding coming from DND). It provided $100,000 per year for five years, meaning the current contract will expire (and possibly be renewed) in 2012. Unfortunately, the CDA’s public website does not provide financial statements and there is no way of knowing whether it gets money from elsewhere, and if so, how much. It is a charity, though, despite also being a government-funded lobbying organization. So if you are feeling generous, you can direct even more taxpayers’s money towards the CDA by writing a cheque and getting a tax receipt. Some of the money also presumably comes from the defense companies, since one of CDA’s members is that sector’s own government-funded lobby group, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (more on CADSI in a future post).
CDA prepares an annual report for the Minister of National Defence detailing all of their public advocacy activities over the past year. Presumably, when 2011′s report is written, they will list the Manson-Watt op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen as one of their required 15 articles, even though neither author was identified as a current or former member at the time.Tweet