Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday January 11, 2023
Federal government inks deal to buy fleet of F-35 fighter jets
Canada has signed off on the final contract to buy F-35 jet fighters to replace the air force’s aging CF-18s, Defence Minister Anita Anand said Monday.
The final agreement for 88 warplanes — involving the Canadian and U.S. governments and the jet’s manufacturer — won’t see its first delivery until 2026 and the first F-35 squadrons will not be operational until 2029, senior defence officials said during a technical briefing before the minister’s announcement.
The project’s budget of $19 billion remains the same as originally forecast by the Liberal government when it signalled the purchase last year. Anand and other government officials are sticking to that projection despite the likely effect of inflation — which has caused budgets for other major programs to rise dramatically.
The deal represents a dramatic turnaround for the Liberal government, which promised not to buy the F-35 and to instead purchase a cheaper jet fighter and use the savings to bolster the navy.
The Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper first announced plans to go with the Lockheed-Martin-built jet in the summer of 2010.
The plan was shelved in the face of criticism from both the parliamentary budget officer and the auditor general, who questioned the cost and whether defence officials had done enough homework on other aircraft that might meet the air force’s needs.
The F-35 has experienced some high-profile glitches and mechanical problems over the years.
A second senior defence official, also speaking on background Monday, said that Canada will get the latest version of the F-35 — Lot 18, Block 4 — which has the most advanced technology.
Anand said Monday that, because the government waited to purchase until now, Canada will be buying a proven aircraft that other allies are using now. She said the stealth fighter’s technology has evolved to the point where it no longer has issues, and Canadians can be confident the government did its due diligence.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan was scathing in his response to the announcement. He said it took the Liberals far too long to come to the conclusion that the F-35 is the appropriate aircraft and accused the government of engaging in “political games” to avoid embarrassing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“This is a situation where he originally said he would never buy the F-35 and did everything in his power to stop it from actually happening, but at the end of the day, this is the only modern fighter jet that can deliver the capabilities Canada so desperately needs,” Bezan said.
“And so here we are today, where Justin Trudeau has to eat crow and do what’s right for Canada, do what’s right for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and do it right for our NORAD and NATO allies.” (CBC News)