The Commons: Back to the future of the F-35

The opposition insists on living in the past

The Scene. “Will the Minister of National Defence finally admit that the jig is up,” Matthew Kellway asked, “admit he was wrong and hold an open competition?”

So the latest in jet fighter technology was damned with the language of Elizabethan times. Alas, the Defence Minister did not stand here to proclaim himself besmirched. Instead, Rona Ambrose stood to impart the talking points.

“Mr. Speaker, as you know, the National Fighter Procurement Secretariat has been set up to ensure transparency and due diligence is done before the decision is made to replace our CF-18s,” she explained. “We are committed to completing its seven-point plan and moving forward with our comprehensive and transparent approach to replacing our aging CF-18 aircraft.”

For good measure, Ms. Ambrose added a pre-emptive explanation for the decidedly larger price tag that is still to be released publicly. “When including more years in operations and maintenance cost estimates,” she said, “it goes without saying that the dollar figure will be proportionately higher.”

That such stuff went without saying seems largely to be problem here.

Of what was said, there were now a few rounds of reading into the official record the pronouncements of yesteryear.

“Only two years ago when faced with questions from the NDP on the skyrocketing cost, the defence minister puffed out his chest,” Mr. Kellway recalled, while, across the way, the Defence Minister mockingly repuffed his chest, “dismissed the concerns and said, “If we don’t make this purchase there is a real danger we’ll be unable to defend our airspace,…exercise our sovereignty or…share our responsibility to both NORAD and NATO.’ Coming from the Minister of National Defence, that is some serious stuff.”

On that note, a riddle of a question.  “If he still believes what he said, will he now defend himself against his own party?”

Ms. Ambrose rose to offer her reassurances. “Of course, no money has been spent on the acquisition of any new aircraft and we will not purchase any replacement until the seven-point plan is complete,” she explained. “That of course includes a full options analysis, not simply a refresh of work that was already done.”

Bob Rae stood, cleared his throat and, head down, read aloud. “Mr. Speaker, on November 3, 2010, in speaking of the F-35 contract, the Prime Minister said, ‘It would be a mistake to rip up this contract for our men and women in uniform as well as the aerospace industry.'”

Looking up and directly at the Prime Minister, Mr. Rae presented his question. “I would like to ask the Prime Minister, does he now stand by those words, or is he admitting that in fact there is no such contract, that there is no such deal and that the government is completely floundering in the face of additional information from KPMG and others?”

Mr. Harper, making a rare Monday appearance in the House, kept to the current mantra. “Mr. Speaker, as has been pointed out many times before, the government has not spent any money on the acquisition of new fighter jets,” he said. “The government has enunciated a comprehensive seven-point plan going forward to ensure that our military does have new aircraft when the time comes to retire the current CF-18 fleet.”

Mr. Rae tried again, this time with the words of Peter MacKay that Matthew Kellway had just recalled. “Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence said this Sept. 15, 2010 about the F-35: “If we do not do this acquisition, we may not be able to strongly defend our own airspace, unable to to exercise our sovereignty and unable to share our responsibilities in NORAD and NATO.’ ”

Here Mr. Harper seemed willing to acknowledge that which had been enunciated before April 2012. If only in a slightly less specific manner. “Mr. Speaker, it is clear that it is important to remind the Liberal leader that the government has not spent money on acquiring new fighters, and I have said that repeatedly,” the Prime Minister. “Nevertheless, it is essential, for the reasons cited by the Liberal leader that fighter jets replace existing aircraft when our air force will need it in the future.”

The Stats. The F-35, 13 questions. Foreign investment, six questions. Ethics, four questions. Aboriginal affairs, three questions. VIA Rail, government spending and crime, two questions each. Physical education, temporary foreign workers, immigration, the Arctic, affordable housing, employment insurance and Christmas, one question each.

Stephen Harper, 10 responses. Rona Ambrose, nine responses. Diane Finley, five responses. Greg Rickford and Pierre Poilievre, four responses each. Steven Fletcher and Vic Toews, two responses each. Christian Paradis, Bal Gosal, Rick Dykstra and Tony Clement, one response each.

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