How will the Opposition parties respond to the Trudeau government’s decision to purchase F-35 warplanes?
With the formal announcement expected in the coming weeks that the Trudeau government will purchase a first block of F-35s for $7 billion, how are the opposition parties likely to respond when the House of Commons resumes sitting on January 30?
Conservative Party defence critic James Bezan is likely to support the purchase, but emphasize the time wasted by the Liberal government.
The last Conservative government had selected the F-35 in July 2010, but the resulting political turmoil over the untendered bid delayed the actual purchase.
Their hope to buy the plane was derailed when the Liberals vowed in the October 2015 federal election not to buy the F-35 but “one of the many, lower-priced options that better match Canada’s defence needs”.
In the September 2021 election, the Conservative platform promised to: “Fast-track the selection of a new fighter jet to replace our aging CF-18s through the current open competition and get the new fighter fleet into service as quickly as possible.”
NDP defence critic Lindsay Mathyssen may focus on cost and job creation, but not likely outright opposition to the purchase of new fighter jets.
Following the news that the Liberals intend to begin with the purchase of 16 F-35s for $7 billion, Mathyssen commented: “The reported cost of this purchase, for only 16 jets, is outrageous. Earlier this year, the government intended to purchase 88 fighter jets for $18 billion. Clearly today’s news suggests the government is not interested in getting the best value and is leaving Canadians on the hook to pay for their bad decisions.”
That appears consistent with the NDP platform from the 2021 election that states: “In contracting for new military equipment, including ships and fighter jets, New Democrats will ensure maximum industrial benefits and jobs. This will help ensure the survival of healthy shipbuilding and aerospace industries all across Canada.”
Bloc Québécois defence critic Christine Normandin might also focus on economic benefits for Quebec, but ultimately accept the F-35s as the choice and perhaps focus more on the logistical concerns about where they will be based.
During a meeting of the Standing Committee on National Defence in November 2022, Normandin asked: “If I understood correctly, all the infrastructure is not yet in place for receiving the F-35s if Canada does receive them someday. About how much time will it take for all the necessary infrastructure to be put in place?”
Normandin then further noted at the committee hearing: “Canada should be receiving the F-35s in ten years or so, because the CF-18s will no longer be in working condition. As we know, it is often faster to go via the private sector than via the Canadian Armed Forces’ procurement system. Am I to understand that if we do not go via the private sector, the infrastructure may not be in place on time to receive the F-35s?”
Green Party leader Elizabeth May could be the only political leader to oppose the F-35.
In February 2021, she tweeted a Forbes article about the F-35 and noted: “Greens always said Canada should not waste $$$ on the F-35. US Air Force admits it fails. Put money where it is needed. Our biggest security threat is #ClimateEmergency.”
And in March 2022, after the Liberal government indicated it had entered negotiations with Lockheed Martin to purchase the F-35, May stated: “How do the Liberals credibly claim we are to forget their renunciation of the F-35 fighter jet? Why are we supposed to spending $19 billion on a plane that former Liberal leader Bob Rae … pointed out was completely operationally the wrong plane for Canada?”
While the Liberal government may receive a bumpy ride in the House of Commons over the flip-flop on its pledge that it would “not buy the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber”, it does appear that it will have the parliamentary support it needs to move forward with the purchase from the Conservatives (with 118 seats), the NDP (25 seats) and the Bloc Quebecois (32 seats). The Greens (with 2 seats) could be the only dissenting voice.
The Government of Canada Future fighter capability project website says: “Contract award: 2022; First delivery: as early as 2025; Initial Operational Capability: 2026-2028; Full Operational Capability: 2031-2033.”
While the Canadian Press reports that sources say “Canada will be purchasing F-35s in blocks over the next few years” rather than in one bulk purchase of 88 planes, this is the general timeline to build opposition and defund warplanes.
A key upcoming moment could be when the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer announces that it will be preparing an independent cost estimate sometime after the federal government makes the formal announcement about the purchase.
And as inflation makes life more difficult for Canadians, people may just not accept a fighter jet that costs USD $44,000 an hour to fly.