Friday, November 12, 2010

F-35s in the Vaughan by-election

Time to talk F-35s again and a bit of the Vaughan by-election!

On Wednesday, Stephen Taylor referred us to Liberal candidate Tony Genco's recent YouTube video which touched on the fighter jet issue. There, Genco stated he wasn't hearing people in his riding ask for fighter jets or mega-prisons and further, that there is no love lost among the good citizens of Vaughan for the $56 billion deficit. This all sounds entirely credible in present day Canada.

But Taylor is taking this as gospel truth that Genco is against buying fighter jets! And that this is a flip-flop from his time working for a former Liberal Defence Minister! Well, Genco's video point, it seems to me, was that the Harper government has its priorities wrong. Judging by that Ekos poll yesterday, there may be something to that sentiment, on the F-35 purchase in particular.

As for whether Liberals have had a "change of heart on F-35s" over the years, the Liberal position on this JSF program has actually been quite consistent from the start.

It is true, Canada has participated in the JSF development program over the years, in order to get access to all those job contracts that Canadian industries are currently benefiting from. Former Liberal governments were smart to sign up for those reasons.

But signing on to that development regime didn't commit us to buying any jets let alone this 2010 sole-sourced $16 billion jet proposal. Even Industry Canada knows this. Here's an Industry Canada press release from 2008:
The Government of Canada's participation in the JSF program makes it eligible to benefit from preferential conditions and advantages reserved for JSF partners; however, this participation does not commit it to purchase the aircraft.
That is correct. Indeed, the 2006 JSF agreement (s. 3) that the Harper government signed defers to each nation's laws and regulations on selection of fighter jets (as do the previous agreements). This is a development program, not a contract that we've signed to purchase fighter jets.

Another point Taylor highlights, from a government press release, suggests that the Pentagon’s competition to select Lockheed Martin as the designer of the F-35 suffices as an open competition for Canada, even though that competition never outlined the needs of the Canadian military or tested the market to see what other planes are out there. (This would be why National Defence was planning on having a competitive bid process in order to choose the CF-18 replacements, according to Defence documents obtained by media.)

As a reminder, a Canadian competition would allow for:
· More regional benefits and possibly technological transfers

· A possible drop in price by up to 20% - over $3 billion

· A decision which ensures Canada gets the best plane for our needs at the best price
There is simply no good argument for not holding a Canadian competition. There was more news this week out of the U.S. on the F-35 bolstering the case for a competitive process here in Canada.

To sum up, and bringing this back to the Vaughan race in particular, it all seems like a bit of Conservative reaching into the way back machine to find some "change of heart" that's just not there.