The Commons: Think of the F-35 as a Senate with wings

Though at least the Senate can operate in cloudy weather

Perhaps the F-35 is best understood as a Senate with wings. Or perhaps the Senate is the F-35 that we mistakenly assigned to guard our democracy.

Either way, they are both now easy jokes.

“Mr. Speaker, yet another report from the United States is raising disturbing questions about the F-35,” Thomas Mulcair reported at the outset this afternoon. “Serious problems have been identified with the aircraft’s radar, helmet and cockpit design. Pilots report that the plane is actually incapable of flying through clouds.”

The New Democrats laughed.

“Who knew that this was one of the requirements,” Mr. Mulcair quipped.

The New Democrats laughed again.

“Worse yet, the former head of the U.S. Navy is now suggesting that the F-35A, the model Conservatives plan to buy, should be scrapped entirely,” the NDP leader concluded. “Will the Prime Minister give a straightforward answer? Will he admit that he has made a mistake and agree to full, open and honest competition to replace the CF-18, yes or no?”

The Prime Minister would do no such thing.

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Harper declared, “the government has been very clear.”

Indeed. Mr. Harper’s government has been very clear. And not just once on this file, but twice.

In the beginning, it was very much clear that the F-35 very much needed to be purchased or this country was very much doomed. “This is the option that was selected some time ago, because it is the only option available,” the Prime Minister said almost exactly two years ago. “This is the only fighter available that serves the purposes that our air force needs.”

So maybe Mr. Harper was thinking then that our air force doesn’t need to fly through clouds. But since the auditor general’s report of a year ago, the government has been very clear again: this time that it’s actually not sure what kind of plane it wants.

“In response to the Auditor General’s report, we have laid out a process for the procurement of the next generation of Canadian fighter and that obviously involves looking at all the options and also making sure that we receive a full range of independent advice,” the Prime Minister explained this afternoon. “The most important thing for us is that when the CF-18s reach the end of their life expectancy, that there be aircraft there for our men and women in uniform.”

The New Democrats, alas, were not quite ready to let this go. Later it was Christine Moore who stood to recall that the Defence Minister had once proclaimed the F-35 to the best plane for this country. In his seat, Peter MacKay, no longer the minister to stand and take these questions, nodded along and shared a few thoughts with his seatmates.

According to that Pentagon report, Ms. Moore reported, the F-35 was no good in temperatures under 15 degrees and pilots should avoid clouds even in good weather. It was Rona Ambrose’s duty to fend this off.

“Mr. Speaker,” she said, “my understanding yesterday was that the opposition wanted us to just ban one particular aircraft and that is not what we are going to do.”

Indeed. Who would think of so rashly limiting the procurement of a new fighter jet?

“We have embarked on a full options analysis before the purchase or any decision to replace the CF-18s,” Ms. Ambrose explained. “We are using the expert advice of a panel that is looking at every option available to replace the CF-18, and we will be guided by its advice.”

There is apparently no option, but to consider all options.

“Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives committed to buying the F-35 multiple times,” Matthew Kellway corrected. “They told us it is on the right track multiple times. According to the Pentagon, the F-35 needs a heated hanger in Florida, it cannot fly at night, and the pilots stay out of the clouds.”

The New Democrats laughed along as Mr. Kellway went.

“They got the headrest wrong,” he lamented. “How can the Conservatives claim to have a legitimate procurement process when they are pitting real fighter jets against paper planes?”

Ms. Ambrose was once more unimpressed. “Mr. Speaker,” she explained, “unlike the opposition we will be guided by an independent process that is in place.”

The official opposition chuckled once more.

Perhaps this is all a bit unfair to the F-35. It is still early yet. Perhaps, like the Senate, the F-35 is not being treated with due respect. Maybe it just needs to be reformed. But then at least we can say that the Senate might periodically save us from an errant clause. As yet, we can’t know whether the F-35 will ever be able to save us from the Russians.

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