That, in the opinion of the House, the government's decision to purchase the F-35 stealth fighter jets without holding an open competition will cost Canadian taxpayers billions of dollars at a time of unprecedented deficits and will create fewer jobs in the Canadian aerospace industry than would be guaranteed through an open competition and therefore the House calls on the government to immediately cancel their plan to spend $16 billion through an untendered, uncompetitive process while there is still no penalty to do so and instead commit to holding an open competition to replace the CF-18s based on clear and publicly disclosed foreign and defence policy requirements.
Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Westmount—Ville-Marie.
Madam Speaker, I do not want you to wonder what this growth is on my face that is sort of passing as a moustache. You will notice that many members of the House are growing moustaches for the month of “Movember”, which is an awareness and fundraising campaign for the Canadian Prostate Cancer Society. You will be shocked when you see the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie get up after my intervention. He, too, is growing a moustache.
However, for Canadians who may be watching these proceedings, they can go on the website ca.movember.com and make a contribution to an individual or a team of men who are doing this for men's health. I did not want viewers to be scandalized and think that I shaved in the dark this morning.
The motion before the House today calls upon the government to immediately cancel the plan to spend at least $16 billion through an untendered, uncompetitive process while there is still no penalty for withdrawing from this announced or intended procurement, and to commit to holding an open, transparent Canadian competitive process to replace the CF-18 fighter jets.
I thought at the beginning I would try to deflate some of the myths that the government has been spreading around the Liberal Party position with respect to this important issue.
First, the government pretends over and over again that it was the Liberal government in 1997 that committed to purchasing the F-35 joint strike fighter aircraft. I will remind the House that the Liberals did not commit to a procurement of the aircraft at a time when they wisely decided to participate in the development stage of the joint strike fighter process. The then minister of defence, in 2002, by way of example, the Hon. Art Eggleton, said, “Ottawa is not prepared to commit to buying JSF aircraft”.
The idea that we commit to participating with a number of allies at a fairly low level in the development process somehow constitutes a binding commitment a decade later to actually acquiring the aircraft is very misleading. The $150 million that the Government of Canada committed to the development stage was a wise expenditure. This has allowed Canadian companies to receive probably close to $500 million of work as part of the development stage of this aircraft. We think that was a wise decision and one with which we would be happy to continue.
However, the idea that the decision was somehow made by a previous Liberal government was debunked in 2008 by Senator Michael Fortier, who was then minister of public works and government services, and Mr. Prentice, who was then the industry minister. They said in a news release in 2008, “This participation does not commit us to the purchase of the aircraft”.
They were again reasserting that the development stage was not in fact a procurement decision.
The current Conservative whip, the minister of state who in 2006 was minister of defence, said, “The participation in this next phase does not commit the department to purchasing the multi-role aircraft”.
The idea that the Liberal government committed to this procurement is simply not true.
Another myth that the Conservatives spread continually is the idea that the Liberal Party is not committed to replacing the CF-18 fighter jets at the end of their useful life cycle at the end of this decade. Again, we have been very clear. The air force needs a fighter jet capacity, and a Liberal government, while doing the responsible, cost-effective thing, not only for taxpayers but for the Canadian aerospace industry, will ensure that there is the appropriate fighter jet aircraft to replace the CF-18s when their life cycle finishes at the end of this decade.
Our leader has been very clear. Nobody in the Liberal Party will ground the air force, as the Prime Minister continually misrepresents in the House. There should be no confusion about our commitment to ensuring that the men and women of the air force have the aircraft they need, but also to do the missions that this Parliament and that the government asks of them, and not simply pursue a particular aircraft for some ideological reason.
Another myth is that there was a Canadian competition to choose this plane. The 2001 competition that the Conservatives constantly allude to was a competition arranged by the Pentagon and Great Britain. Canada was merely an observer in that process and, at the very most, was perhaps able to offer suggestions to representatives from various companies that were participating in the American competition. But to say that a list of suggestions provided by an observer is a Canadian competition is certainly no way to tell the truth in the House.
Alan William, former assistant deputy minister responsible for military procurement and an expert in this area, was very clear. He said that the idea that there was a Canadian competition was “an insult to our intelligence”.
The current process is full of contradictions and, we think, unnecessary risks for the Canadian taxpayer.
On May 27, the current Minister of National Defence said that replacing the CF-18s would be done through an open, competitive and transparent process.
He said that this year. Now the Prime Minister is saying that a competition took place in 2001. The Minister of National Defence said one thing in May, and the Prime Minister is now claiming that Canada participated in the Pentagon's competition in the United States. I think it is completely misleading to tell Canadians that that was a Canadian competition.
Furthermore, the government said it considered other potential aircraft, but once again, we know that is false.
Kory Mathews, vice president of Boeing's Super Hornet program, for example, told the Standing Committee on National Defence that the Government of Canada never received the full complement of Super Hornet performance data.
The Government of Canada never asked the U.S. navy for a list of that airplane's technical characteristics. For the government to claim that it compared planes and ultimately chose the F-35 is again false.
The same is true for the company that makes the Rafale. Yves Robins told the committee more or less the same thing, saying that the last time they met with representatives of the Canadian government and air force was on February 22, 2006. Thus, it is completely false to say that the government compared the F-35 to any other planes in the last few years.
One of the main reasons that we bring this motion today is our concern about the cost of the F-35s. Members will remember that the initial price tag was supposed to be $50 million per airplane. Now we are hearing the Minister of Defence and others say that the cost of the airplanes would be in the mid-$70 million range. Other countries have said that it could go as high as $100 million per airplane.
Without any hope of getting further precision or lowering the costs in the short-term or mid-term, we think that is an unwise expenditure at this time for the Government of Canada.
Robert Stevens, the chief executive officer for Lockheed Martin, said that his company will, “examine the need for more time, more people and more dollars”. This can hardly be a cost controlled process. That is why the Pentagon revoked from that company the right to control the costs.
In the Chinook helicopter purchase, which, as members will remember, was undertaken by the Conservative government, the Auditor General identified exactly the same scenario: cost overruns, unreported maintenance costs, underestimating the acquisition costs and possibly misleading ministers with respect to the true cost of the acquisition. Those are exactly the same factors that the Auditor General sees in this procurement, which is why she said that it was a risky process.
We do not think this is the right time to engage in this reckless spending. Canadians have other priorities. We will have an open Canadian competitive process to replace the CF-18s.