The Harper government announced its decision to acquire the F-35 in July 2010. The House was on break at the time and did not resume sitting until September 20 of that year.
Here is some of what ensued in the House during the first two weeks of the fall sitting.
Siobhan Coady. Mr. Speaker, in May the Conservative government promised there would be an open competition for Canada’s next generation of fighter jets. Then over the summer, the Conservatives said it was not necessary. Then they said it had actually taken place in 2001, but in the United States. Why is the Conservative government throwing the rule book, for fear of competition, out the window? Why would the government do it for Canada’s largest military purchase, a $16-billion purchase, instead of trying to save taxpayers’ money and ensuring industrial benefits for Canadians?
Rona Ambrose. Mr. Speaker, it is great to be back in the House. It is good to see you, and it is good to be back representing the good people of Edmonton—Spruce Grove. On the issue of a competition, there was an international competition. In fact, the Liberals were part of that competition, so they should know it very well. Holding another competition would risk the future of our aerospace industry because any delays, frankly, would be slamming the door shut on Canadian jobs and Canadian companies. I would ask the member opposite, why would the Liberals take such a risk?
Siobhan Coady. Mr. Speaker, this is an open competition. On access to information requests by me, they uncovered a truth from the secretive Conservative government: a plan written by DND called for a competitive process that would run in 2010. It needed a competition to find a fighter jet that would suit its needs. Instead, the Conservative government decided to proceed without competition, arbitrarily making this decision. I ask the Minister of National Defence, when exactly did the open competition he promised change and who exactly made the decision to do so?
Peter MacKay. Mr. Speaker, what the member opposite has said is patently false. That is absolutely not the position that was taken by the Department of National Defence. However, let us take it out of the realm of the partisan. Let us take it away from individuals without credibility who are criticizing this. Let us listen to the chief of the air staff, Lieutenant-General André Deschamps, himself a pilot, himself a member of the Canadian Forces and the air force for many years. He said: Analysis of our mandatory requirements for Canada’s next fighter jet made it clear that only a fifth generation fighter could satisfy these requirements in the increasingly complex future security environment. The Lightning II is the only fifth generation aircraft available to Canada. Not only that, but the F-35 offers the best cost value–
Dominic LeBlanc. Mr. Speaker, by choosing to spend as much as possible on these stealth aircraft, the Conservatives have let guarantees of benefits for Canada’s aerospace industry slide. Alan Williams, former head of the initiative at National Defence, says that the Conservatives’ agreement will benefit Canada’s industry far less than if there had been a public bidding process. Why did the government choose to pay more and get less for Canada’s aerospace industry?
Tony Clement. Mr. Speaker, the fact is that by signing this memorandum of understanding we have given Canadian companies an entranceway for being part of the global supply chain for up to 5,000 planes worldwide, not just the 65 that are going to be built in Canada. The Liberals want to throw it all away. They want to cancel the contract or review the contract. The minute they do that, all of those contracts, and there are 60 contracts already extant for this plane for Canadian companies, go on hold, too. That is irresponsible. They are threatening Canadian jobs.
Peter MacKay. Mr. Speaker, the member for Perth—Wellington knows that in addition to the Canadian Forces getting a spectacular fifth-generation aircraft in the F-35, the Canadian aerospace industry will receive huge benefits. Because of the $9 billion investment in our 65 aircraft, the Canadian industry will have the ability to compete for contracts on up to 5,000 aircraft. This means good paying jobs for Canadians right across the country, and the air force will be flying a plane for the next 40 years to ensure mission success. Let us get behind the air force. Let us get behind Canadian industry and support this project.
Geoff Regan. Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister would like Canadians to believe that an MOU compelled Canada to buy the F-35 stealth fighters, but in 2008 the then industry minister said, “this participation does not commit us to purchase the aircraft”. Former senior defence official, Alan Williams, said, “Never did we promise to purchase the aircraft”. Why is the Prime Minister misleading Canadians?
Peter MacKay. Mr. Speaker, let us be perfectly clear. In fact, it was a former Liberal government that participated in an extensive and rigorous U.S.-led competitive process between 1997 and 2001, where two bidders developed and competed a prototype aircraft. Then, after that competition, it was the Liberal government that signed on with the joint strike fighter program in 2002, after an extensive competition to choose the F-35 Lightning. Why was it okay for the Liberals? Why, once again, are we seeing a Liberal Party backing away from previous decisions and trying to shortchange the Canadian Forces?
Michael Ignatieff. Mr. Speaker, yesterday evening at a public forum in Outremont, a woman asked why the government was spending $16 billion on airplanes when there is a serious shortage of funding for affordable housing in Quebec. My question is for the Prime Minister. Can he explain to this woman why he needs to buy this particular plane at this price on an untendered contract while ordinary Canadian families are having trouble making ends meet?
Stephen Harper. Mr. Speaker, F-35s will replace our CF-18 fighters, whose useful life will end at the end of this decade. This purchase has the strong support of the Canadian Forces and the unanimous support of Canada’s and Quebec’s aerospace industry, which is one of our largest employers.
Michael Ignatieff. Mr. Speaker, if the Prime Minister were to participate in an open public forum with open questions, I think that he would have a hard time convincing Canadians that he shares their priorities. He would have a hard time convincing the woman who asked that question yesterday evening. I would like to ask the question again. Why this particular plane at this price on an untendered contract when ordinary Canadian families have other pressing social needs?
Stephen Harper. Mr. Speaker, this company was selected by the former Liberal government. This purchase has received strong support. Our Canadian Forces need these planes. This purchase has received strong support from an industry that is one of the country’s largest employers. This is very important for the economy. Those of us on this side of the House are not playing political games at the expense of the aerospace industry or our Canadian Forces.
Michael Ignatieff. Mr. Speaker, we are not playing political games. We are asking questions to which Canadians want clear answers. Even the United States Pentagon cannot tell us how much the plane will cost. The costs are skyrocketing. We are in the middle of a $54 billion budget. The bid was not competitive. How can we go to a town hall anywhere in Canada and explain this choice to Canadians when there are so many other priorities that are pressing on hard-pressed Canadian families?
Stephen Harper. Once again, Mr. Speaker, the CF-18, which has served the Canadian Forces well, will be retiring at the end of this decade after some four decades of service. That is why successive Canadian governments, not simply this government but the previous government, planned in advance to purchase a plane to replace that plane when it reached the end of its useful life and to do so in a way that would bring jobs and opportunity to the Canadian aerospace industry. What is the Leader of the Opposition seriously suggesting? Is he suggesting that we would simply ground the air force at the end of the CF-18? Is he suggesting that we would fund one airplane but buy another airplane? His policy makes no sense other than the political game.
Dominic LeBlanc. Mr. Speaker, while other partner countries in the joint strike fighter project are hitting the brakes because of costs rising from $50 million to $92 million per plane, the Conservative government is going full throttle and is planning to stick Canadians with the bill. Why can Britain, Norway, the Netherlands, and the United States re-evaluate their need for stealth aircraft and Canada cannot? Why does the Minister of National Defence not act responsibly, slow down, and yes, meet the needs of the air force, but at best value for the taxpayers?
Tony Clement. Mr. Speaker, the member is referring to Norway. Norway, upon consultation with Canadian authorities, has decided to defer its purchase to be in sync and in line with the Canadian strategy. The bottom line is that our action to purchase this plane has opened the door for Canadian aerospace industrial partners to gain priority access to the F-35 program, to jobs and opportunities and to be part of building 5,000 planes, not 65 planes. Members do not have to take my word for it. Experts in the industry, including the president of Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, have said–
Dominic LeBlanc. Mr. Speaker, that was not the question. The price of the fighter planes keeps going up, but the Conservatives still want to give Lockheed Martin a blank cheque. Other partners in the project are starting to back away. Norway is hesitating, and the Netherlands, too. British Conservatives are not sure, and even the United States will be buying fewer planes. Why are all of these governments protecting their taxpayers while the Conservatives are forcing Canadians to pay for an untendered contract with borrowed money?
Tony Clement. Mr. Speaker, I believe that we are actually getting a discount on the planes. Here is what Claude Lajeunesse said. He is the president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada. Here is what he said yesterday: “We are calling on political leaders from all parties to support the government’s decision. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past, because they will surely be more costly than ever before for our industry, for our military, and ultimately, for the nation”. When are the Liberals going to end their political games and stand up for Canadian industry and stand up for Canadian jobs?