House of Commons Hansard #121 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I still have not received a response to the question I asked on February 15 about the F-35s and the government's plan B. Of course, the debate has gone on in the House, but there are still many contradictions that have not been explained.

When we ask about these contradictions, we ask simple questions such as “Why does the government not have a plan B?” and “When will we get these aircraft?”. I would like to point out, from the outset, that the government has said that we need to replace our old fleet of CF-18s by 2020. This is something we all agree on.

According to the government, the fleet will be too old to be in acceptable condition to fly after 2020 and the cost of maintaining the CF-18s so that they could continue to be used would be astronomical. The government has also assured us that the Canadian fleet of F-35s will be ready to replace the CF-18s in 2020 so that our air force will not be left without fighter jets.

One of the main criteria for a new fleet of aircraft was that the jet selected was to be operational in 2020, according to what was said. Since 2010, the government has maintained that a fleet of F-35 jets would be operational in 2020. However, there have been delays in the past two years and the government has not changed the delivery dates. On April 11, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence stated that a contract would not be signed before 2017-18.

It seems to me that the timeline for delivery of the aircraft will be a little tight if it is expected that the contract will only be signed in 2017-18 for 2020 delivery of a fleet of 65 jets that will be operational and tailored to the Canadian Forces. Furthermore, yesterday, in committee of the whole, my colleague asked if the government thought it would keep the CF-18 jets in service until 2025. The Associate Minister of National Defence responded as follows:

Madam Chair, again, contingency plans are being developed. We are in a position of having to make some of the decisions once other answers are forthcoming. There is work being done.

My first series of questions is as follows: When does the government plan to purchase these fighter jets? When will they receive them? When will our armed forces be able to pilot an operational fleet of new fighter jets? When will the CF-18s be retired?

Another question remains unanswered: how many F-35s will they buy and for how much? For months, the government has repeated that a $9 billion envelope will be allocated to the procurement of 65 F-35s. Now they have changed their tune a little. They are talking only about the $9 billion that has been frozen. We heard the government say that studies had established that our air force needed 65 planes.

Yesterday, however, when my colleague asked whether the government could confirm that it would be procuring 65 F-35s, the minister said that we clearly needed fighter jets.

The government is no longer giving us any figures. The Parliamentary Budget Officer said that 80 was probably a reasonable number of fighter jets.

I would like to know how many fighter jets the government wants to buy, how much it will cost, whether the $9 billion envelope remains unchanged, and how many planes we will be able to buy with that envelope. Could the government provide some clearer answers with regard to these figures?

The other thing we do not know is where this money is going. This program does not respect the traditional standard of equivalent economic domestic spinoffs. When we sign military contracts, we usually ask for that clause. This contract does not include this clause, which means that the guarantees are hypothetical. I would like to know what the government's plan is for that.

What is the government going to do to guarantee economic spinoffs for Canadian businesses and Canadian workers if they are not formally negotiated in the contract itself? I would also like to know if it has begun any negotiations with Lockheed Martin to demand industrial offsets.

What can Canadian workers expect?

May 10th, 2012 / 6:50 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in the House before you and my hon. colleague, whose interest in this very important matter regarding the future of the Canadian Forces, and the Royal Canadian Air Force in particular, never seems to wane.

Her questions are entirely relevant and are questions that we must consider very carefully, given the importance of this issue. I appreciate having the opportunity to respond.

When will we have the planes to replace the CF-18s? It is impossible to know, and I am giving a very honest answer here today in the House. Why? Because we are nowhere near the point of procuring any planes to replace the CF-18s and because we have a plan—as we have mentioned repeatedly in this House—that will govern our actions over the months and years to come, before any spending of any kind takes place to replace the CF-18s.

We are being very careful in this matter. We are very aware of the complexity of the matter. I repeat, we are fully aware of the complexity of developing a new high-tech aircraft, with eight other partners, because the development is not yet complete.

We have made a lot of progress so far, but we are not there yet. As all members of the House are well aware, no decisions have been made about what will replace the CF-18s. That is why, in response to the Auditor General's spring report, we launched a better, broader framework to guide our decision-making process with respect to replacing the CF-18s.

The hon. member probably already knows all seven points by heart, but there are really three key elements among them. First, no decision will be made without presenting all of the costs to Parliament, and that includes not just estimated costs, but full life-cycle costs for the aircraft. Those costs will have to be tabled in the House and verified by an independent authority commissioned by the Treasury Board. That is part of our commitment and our plan, and we will keep that promise.

Second, we will continue to compare Canada's options. Of course, we are participating in developing the F-35. Our involvement started 15 years ago in 1997, when the member was very young and perhaps still a member of the Canadian Forces, or maybe even before she embarked on her military career.

Fifteen years is a long time. We have a certain amount of experience and a certain amount of expertise. However, that does not mean, even today, that the F-35 is definitely Canada's choice. We have to follow the steps set out in our plan before making such a decision. And we are going to compare the F-35 with the other options.

Third, it is very important to ensure that our procurement exercise complies with Canada's military production laws. There is a law in this regard. The Minister of Public Works is responsible for it. These three things are very important.

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, if I understand correctly, the Conservatives were not telling us the truth before. They were giving us information that may not have been verified. Now, at least, we may have made some progress, since they are telling us the truth. However, the truth is that we still do not have an answer. So, I am not sure if this can really be considered progress or not.

I would like to come back to one last question: which plane?

In July 2010, the Conservatives announced that Canada would be purchasing 65 F-35s and, until the beginning of this year, they were assuring us that only the F-35 could meet our operational requirements.

We have learned that, for now, the F-35 does not meet all those requirements, particularly, in terms of the 360-degree helmet display. What is more, we do not know whether these planes will ever be able to meet those requirements.

Since that time, the Conservatives have changed their tune. The ministers are saying that a definite choice has not been made. But it is 2012. If the government wants to have an operational fleet in 2020, I hope that it will examine the possibilities very carefully.

I would therefore like to know whether the government has definitely decided against the F-35 and whether it is aware that the only way to—

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, we have not eliminated any of our options. We have not decided against the F-35 development project. That is a different program from the one to replace the CF-18s.

However, we do know the operational costs of the CF-18s. We have spoken about them at length in committee and in this place. We will have to cost out the options for replacing the CF-18s. How many aircraft will we purchase? We shall see. We have a budget and we will work within it.

However, we must really prove, show and verify the cost before giving a definitive answer.

It is not true that the benefits for the Canadian industry are hypothetical. I know that is what the Leader of the Opposition believes; he denied that the F-35 purchase would create jobs in Montreal and other regions in Canada. These jobs are already real. We have invested more than $300 million—

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. This is a debate that will have to be continued at another time.

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:00 p.m.)