House of Commons Hansard #99 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aircraft.

Topics

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question and remind him that the Government of Canada is pleased to be purchasing F-35 joint strike fighter jets, fifth generation jets that will be used by the Canadian Forces to defend the sovereignty of Canada's airspace in order to remain a strong, reliable partner that is committed to defending North America through NORAD and to provide Canada with an effective, modern capacity to carry out international operations.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask our government colleague if the contracting process was a closed one. If an open process had been used for the F-35 contracts, I am sure that jobs would still have been created in Canada. I would like to ask my colleague why this was not an open process. I know that the Liberals blame the Conservatives and vice versa. I do not trust either of them. I would like my colleague to tell me why the process was not open.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

Purchasing the F-35 fighter jets will help the Canadian Forces provide effective defence operations against 21st century threats to our country, over large areas, in harsh environmental conditions, as well as abroad.

A partner in the joint strike fighter program since 1997, Canada participated in the lengthy, thorough competitive bidding process conducted by the United States in 2001, which awarded the F-35 contract to Lockheed Martin and its partners.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in listening to the debate, it appears that some members of the government have been suggesting that the F-35 is the only aircraft available to meet our criteria. That does not square with the fact that under the procurement policy of the Government of Canada, if that were the case, there would be no need to have a competitive bid process, and yet no argument has been made on that basis. I wonder why the government is afraid to say that there is in fact no other alternative and that procurement policy does allow sole sourcing.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will answer my colleague's question.

As stated in the Canada first defence strategy, Canada needs fifth generation fighter jets to enhance the safety and security of Canadians and support the government’s foreign policy and national security objectives.

The F-35 fighter jet is the only fifth generation aircraft that meets the Canadian Forces' needs. With a fifth generation fighter, Canadian missions will have the best chances of success. As well, our men and women in uniform who are on mission abroad will have the best chances of coming home safe and sound.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is absolutely no doubt in our minds that at some point the CF-18s need to be replaced, perhaps in eight or nine years or some such length of time.

The issue is not whether we need these planes, the issue is whether the government is right to choose a sole-sourced order for 65 F-35s with no statement of requirements and no competition. This is where we fundamentally disagree, and this is where we say there must be a competition, partly because it would save money.

On this I will quote Alan Williams, former assistant deputy minister of defence, in charge of procurement. He was in that position when I was defence minister, so I know him well. I know he is an extremely intelligent and hardworking public servant. He knows what he is talking about. He has no axe to grind. He is retired now so he is free to speak his mind.

He said that if we did a competition, the taxpayer would probably save in the order of $3.2 billion. And $3.2 billion is a lot of money. We in the Liberal Party have been talking about the hard-pressed Canadian families needing assistance for such things as home care, child care and post-secondary education. If the taxpayers could save $3.2 billion on this procurement, that would go a long way to helping hard-pressed middle class Canadian families to cope with making ends meet. Liberals argue very strongly that a competitive process is good.

Furthermore, the government has not even specified the requirements. First, the requirements as to what these planes will do have to be specified. Second, as a result of knowing what they will do, the technical requirements and capabilities have to be specified. The government has not done that. That is the first step. How many do we need? What capabilities should the plane have?

Then it should be put out to tender to get value for money. The government is not doing that. It has decided on this single plane with no competition, just throwing away taxpayer money. We on this side of the House believe that that is utterly irresponsible.

The government is also making up stories that are incorrect. First of all, when funding was contributed for this aircraft, there was no commitment in any way to buy it. In 2002, minister Art Eggleton said that Ottawa is not prepared to commit to buying the JSF planes.

Then there are Conservatives ministers. In 2006, the then defence minister said, “participation in this next phase does not commit the department to purchasing the multi-role aircraft”.

In 2008, then-ministers Michael Fortier and Jim Prentice said, “this participation does not commit it to purchase the aircraft”.

So let us get that bogus point off the table. There was no commitment at all to purchase the aircraft. As a consequence of entering into this agreement, Canada derived very important industrial benefits, and so that was a good move but it in no way committed us to purchasing the planes.

The second fallacy is that there was any competition on the basis of Canadian needs. There was a U.S. competition, but the Canadian needs had nothing to do with that competition.

To quote Alan Williams again, he said, “To try to con the public into equating one competition with the other is despicable and insults our intelligence.”

So where do we stand? There was no commitment to buy this single plane. There has been no competition based on anything to do with Canada's needs. Yes, those planes need to be replaced in just under a decade but there is lots of time. No contract has been signed. There will be no penalty to pay if the government does not go ahead with this particular airplane.

The Liberal position is extremely simple. We should scrap this idea of the single plane. We go back to square one. We specify the needs and the requirements. On the basis of those specifications, we put it out to tender. We have bids and then at the end of the day choose the lowest price, the best value for money.

That way we will get the airplane that Canada needs with the right qualities and the right numbers. According to Alan Williams, we will probably save in the order of $3 billion if we do not just arbitrarily go with this particular plane, which has not been demonstrated to be the best to meet Canada's needs under the circumstances.

Certainly its cost is rising out of control, as virtually every country has noted; the U.S. and Europe. These costs are escalating out of control and this government just sits there and remains committed to this plane when other countries are having second thoughts and the case for this plane has not yet been made.

Mr. Speaker, I hope you will indulge me, but I neglected to say that I would like to split my time with the member for Parkdale—High Park.

I think I have made the case and our position is very simple: scrap this arbitrary deal, specify the needs and the requirements, put the thing out to tender and with whatever comes up buy the plane that is the best value for money for Canadian taxpayers.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, it has been noted that Canada does need a fighter jet that can defend the sovereignty of Canadian northern and American airspace in NORAD. We need robust aircraft capable of operating across Canada's vast geography under harsh and varying weather conditions. We need one that can protect our sovereignty of North America through NORAD. It must provide effective and modern capabilities for international operations and effectively conduct joint operations with our allies through NATO or a coalition.

Since we cannot afford to acquire and operate multiple specialized flight fleets, tomorrow's fighter aircraft must be capable of undertaking the defence roles we demand of it, whether this is northern sovereignty patrols, intercept roles, war fighting, surveillance and more.

I think the needs have been outlined in the speeches earlier today.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not disagree with that general list of requirements. We work with NORAD, we need to defend our airspace, et cetera, but that does not mean that only this single plane can do those jobs. There are two, three, or more other contenders out there that could possibly do the jobs the member listed equally well or better, and possibly at a lower cost.

That is why we need to have the competition, see who brings the best value for the money and the best performance abilities. That is the way we should go and not this sole-sourced contract to a single plane.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member for Markham—Unionville a question, but first I would like to make a statement.

We had a vote on Bill C-300, the mining accountability act, which was a Liberal private member's bill. We had the vote on Bill C-440 on war resisters, another private member's bill. We had the opposition day motion on maternal health. All were Liberal sponsored. However, the Liberals did not show up for a vote.

I want to know if they are going--

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. I would like to remind the member for Nickel Belt that there is a motion before the House. If he has a question regarding this motion for the member for Markham—Unionville, he may put that, but it is not appropriate to raise questions that deal exclusively with other matters.

If the member could put the question please, quickly.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I apologize for that mistake.

My question is, are the Liberals going to show up for the vote on this motion?

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Of course we will, Mr. Speaker.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, sometimes I wonder if the opposition parties think we can defend Arctic sovereignty with this century's version of a Sopwith Camel.

The F-35 is the only plane that can meet those requirements. No one has to be believe me or my party, all one has to do is listen to Liberal Senator Roméo Dallaire, who said in the Toronto Sun that the F-35 stealth fighter is an excellent plane and Canada should be buying more of them.

He also commented that the main competition for this plane, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, is old and hailed the government's $9 billion military investment as essential to defending Canada's sovereignty. He said, “It's an excellent plane that's built in North America”. He also said, "We need more than that but we can only afford 65" now. That was a Liberal senator.

My question is, does the hon. member agree or disagree with the Liberal senator?

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure whether the Liberal senator wants us to have a competitive process or not. However, whether or not he does, I believe a competitive process is the way to go. There is more than one plane out there that can do the job. It is irresponsible, from the point of view of taxpayers, to sole-source and thereby spend $3.2 billion more than taxpayers would have to spend if we had a competition.

I would not rule out the possibility we would end up with the same plane after a competition. That is always possible. However, we would get it at a lower price and with better industrial benefits.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has been interesting to hear some of the debate. I wonder what the people at home must be thinking. Here is a government that used to believe in a free market defending the kind of approach we would expect from a totalitarian government, where it does not want the market to discipline any of its choices, where it is all-knowing, never prone to mistakes and never willing to put anything on the table to prove what it is about.

It is quite astounding. Here is a government that is trying to rationalize. We really wonder what is behind this. Why is the government so afraid of the marketplace? Why is it so afraid of putting its cards on the table? Why will it not open this up to competition? It has heard at committee from various companies that everything it has released so far about our requirements can be met by other companies. And that is reliably upheld by other experts, internationally and so on, people who do not have a vested interest in gaining the business.

It is astounding to see that the so-called Conservative Party no longer believes in a marketplace, that it no longer wants to get what is in the best interests of the taxpayers. We wonder what kind of interests are at work here. Is it some international Conservative-Republican agreement here to help offset costs? We really would like the members to be more forthcoming, because I think they are confusing the people at home as to who they are fighting for.

I think it would be interesting, too, to open this up in the sense of what we need to support a military and what should be in place as they decide what there needs to be for the military. For example, what is the role going to be for our defence? What are we going to ask our men and women in the armed services to undertake for us? And where are we going to provide for them?

It is interesting to note that none of the C-18s were used in Afghanistan, where we have had the biggest outlay of military effort in a generation. They were not an essential part of that effort. Therefore, with regard to their replacement, as least we need to pause and ask the question.

All we are saying on this side of the House is, before there is a penalty, before the government starts using all those kinds of excuses that it is stuck in the flypaper of its own doing, that it would put it up for competition and that it would be much more forthcoming, much more transparent about what it is doing. It is far from clear what interests it is upholding here today in resisting this helpful motion, this motion that puts forward an outlook that would protect the public taxpayers' interests. Many years before they were in government, the people opposite used to say they were on the side of the taxpayer. We do not see that anymore. Instead, we see these enormous outlays in terms of things that cannot be explained, such as G20s that are 20 and 30 times the cost of what other countries do. The government hides behind the flimsiest of excuses.

It is the same thing here. If the government feels it is so robust, if the gentleman who talked about Sopwith Camels wants to stand behind this, then release the details that would make this make sense, because the average Canadian is not there with them.

If we want to talk about people, let us inject something into this debate. It is not all about which side of the House one is on. Peter Worthington says this is a silly purchase. Now Peter Worthington is one of longest-standing commentators on military affairs in the country. He is not really known to be a bosom friend of the Liberal Party. However, he has written on this matter. He has judged the people opposite and has said, “What the heck are they doing? Why are they spending all this money on expensive, fancy equipment that they do not need? They are not going to meet the Russians over Canadian airspace”. This is according to Peter Worthington.

If there are members opposite who think they have more expertise, let us have it forthcoming. It did not occur in committee. It has not come forward from the current government. It is basically saying to Canadians, “Trust us. We are going to spend a lot of taxpayers' money. We are not sure what we are going to get.”

Let us talk about what it is the government is buying. It is buying these F-35s. It talks about the procurement that was already started. However, what happened in fact was Canadians invested and Canadians gained about $455 million in contracts without doing what the current government is doing. This anti-free-market government, all by itself, is putting itself in the position of buying these planes. We invested money, which is about 1% of what it proposes to spend on the planes, in return for which we were allowed to bid, and our companies, on their own merit, gained about $455 million in contracts. That is perfectly fine.

However, this is often what happens, and people who are watching us on TV will recognize the pattern. Whenever the current government gets into a tough spot, it says the devil made it do it, or sorry, the Liberal Party made it do it, because there is no such thing as accountability. The Federal Accountability Act lasted for a few weeks and ever since then the government has been looking for people to pin its problems on. I have to say that after five years Canadians are getting awfully tired of that.

Where is the party that used to stand up and say it would make sense of all this. The government seems to have taken over the party. We are talking about $16 billion with very limited public discussion, very limited public disclosure, very little debate and no competition, with no rationale.

There are not people out there who say, objectively, that these are exactly what we need, these very fancy intercepts. Let us look at these F-35s. Where did they come from? Did they come from a Canadian need, a requirement that we have where we got our best experts in a room and asked, “What does the Canadian military need to do in the next 20 years?” so we will spend this very scarce money? It is 76% of one year of supporting our troops, 76% of one year's budget. It is 6% of the Canadian budget being spent in this feckless, reckless fashion. “Reckless” does not come from here. It comes from the Auditor General, who said anybody who thinks it is a low-risk proposition is mistaken.

The onus is on the government to provide the assurances, the details, the specifics, the studies. Instead of doing that, instead of doing something open and transparent and available to Canadians who want to know where our money goes, the Conservatives did not put the experts in a room or say “Here is where our military is going”. Instead, they bought into a program that was designed for nations that have aircraft carriers, which Canada does not have, unless there is a hidden intention on the part of the people opposite.

This was a plane developed for three different formats at once, only one of which applies to Canada, but it is expensive as a result, with short take off and landing and aircraft carrier capacity. That is not the plane Canada necessarily needs. The onus is on the government, on the people opposite, when they are hitching their wagon with so little information, to submit themselves to a process. Rather than doing that, they are asking Canadians to take their word that they are spending $16 billion of hard-earned money at current arrangements for no particular clear purpose. Anything incremental is all borrowed, so will be paid back by our grandchildren. How will Canadians be safer? How will our troops be better supported?

The Conservatives made fun of the F-18s, but they neglected to mention to Canadians that $2.6 billion was spent to upgrade 80 of those F-18s and they are good till 2020. There is time to do what is right. It is another excuse the Conservatives cannot hide behind. There is time to do this properly. Instead of rushing it through like some deal made in the Congress of the U.S. or wherever these links are really coming from, let us have this done in an open and transparent manner, and let us not have people hiding behind the flimsiest of excuses.

With the overall requirements, there is nothing to force Canadians into this deal. That is the other thing the Conservatives have been saying, that they are stampeded because something got done years ago and they have no choice. Somebody made them do it. They are not really in charge. Canadians are getting a little tired of that too.

Over and over again, we hear from the Conservatives that they no longer encounter their own responsibilities. Whether these planes will cost, as they did in 2001, $79 million, or whether they will cost what they cost in 2007, $122 million, or some people are projecting $170 million, the Canadians who are listening want to know why the Conservative government is putting them on this supersonic ride. The only thing fast right now about these planes that are still in development is the way their cost is going up. I do not know why the government thinks we want a stealth procurement policy. That is not what Canadians want. The only stealth capability that we are getting is about how we go about spending billions of dollars on behalf of Canadians, and that is simply not acceptable.

When we look at the kind of dollars that have been outlayed in the past, we are looking at an exponential increase. These particular machines are impressive in terms of some of their capacities, but why is it that we want those stealth capacities? Where is Canada requiring the ability to sneak up on somebody else? So far in most of the debates in the House, we have heard about a defensive capacity on the part of Canada, not an attack capacity. Even in the new role of peace building or peacemaking, even in the kind of missions the government has signed us up for latterly in Afghanistan, we have not used this kind of plane.

The onus again is on the government to demonstrate that, to be straightforward, to be transparent, to allow Canadians in on the deal, because otherwise this deal will never pass muster by the average Canadian. It will not pass the smell test. We all in this House owe them that. Hon. members should vote for this motion, clear their conscience and let Canadians see we are working for them.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Kenora Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I get it now. It is Liberal Pavlovianism: defence procurement, cancel. We have been through that experience before with cancelling the replacement for the Sea King helicopters. This decision put the lives of Canadian pilots at risk and cost the government then $500 million. As everyone knows, we had to purchase new helicopters anyway.

My question for the member is: Are he and his party willing to make the same mistake again, across this process that they started? It is not just about embarrassment, or about risk factors and supporting the important work that our air force and our troops are doing. Why take a position that will support so many industries, particularly in the province of Quebec, with a thriving and dynamic aerospace economy that they depend on?

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it would startle people in Quebec and elsewhere, in Winnipeg and so on, to know that there are no guaranteed benefits. Canadians have not received guaranteed benefits, and the estimate of benefits in the open competition between the eight or nine countries that are qualified is that we are going to do less than the value of these planes. We are actually going to be exporting a lot of our money to get these planes, which is different from almost every procurement we have done in the past. This is the largest military procurement effort and these are weakest rules under which it has been done.

The idea is that Canadians should be happy with crumbs from the table, which is what the member opposite is proposing, that for some reason we should not get the best, that we do not deserve to have a competition and that Canadians should be silent and happy. The government is going to be disappointed with the reaction of Canadians to that proposition.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I found the gist of the member's comments of interest. Yes, we should be opening up competition, which is where the government professes to stand, an open market and fair competition, yet I am surprised that the hon. member complains that it was not open and transparent when his very party cut a deal with the government to extend the war in Afghanistan.

I mentioned earlier, and I am not sure the member heard, that a poll has just come out stating that 70% of Canadians prefer that, rather than spending all this money on the military, we should be moving it toward addressing climate change. Where the real effect of climate change is occurring is in the Arctic.

Does the member believe that instead of spending all of this money on warplanes, we should shift to supporting our search and rescue activities, providing more expedited support for search and rescue and surveillance for the high Arctic?

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

November 18th, 2010 / 1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's non-partisan comments in terms of her support for the questions we are raising today.

Yes, search and rescue is one of the needs that is expressed. We are looking to exert sovereignty, but let us do it practically. “Practically” means we have vast territories to look after. Speaking of short takeoffs and landings, even the conventional version of this is still a short-range, single-engine plane not necessarily suited to Arctic duties. There is a question there. Search and rescue is certainly one of the options that is overlooked.

I want to take the occasion to respond to the earlier question. There is no penalty right now. Let us be transparent about this. Is there a penalty? Is there a booby trap? Like the Mulroney government, is the Harper government loading in something here that it has not made available? If it is telling Canadians that it has, it needs to make it open and clear.

Right now, as far as we know, the choice is still there for Canadians. The choice we are debating today in this motion is still available. It is whether it is search and rescue or other needs that would be traded off. Canada would like to have those choices. Has the government signed a deal somewhere that takes those away from Canadians?

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I want to remind all hon. members not to refer to other members by their given names.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for York South—Weston.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague spoke about whether these are the right tools to do the job. The question is: What is the job?

My question then is: Is this not the opportunity, given what has happened in Afghanistan and the whole issue of peacemaking and peacekeeping, to conduct a foreign policy review with respect to what Canada actually is expected to do and what Canadians want us to be seen to be doing? Is this not the time to put this on hold, never mind the issues with respect to whether it should be a proposal call or whatever, and that we really need to look at what we are doing—

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Parkdale—High Park.

Opposition Motion—National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, the short answer is yes, we should have that very debate. It is being denied. Our mission will follow the spending instead, which is the wrong way to go. That is no way to respect our military personnel. If the average airmen were involved in this particular debate, what would they be looking for and what would they need? Consistently the government tries to speak for them and does not allow this debate to take place.

Canadians cannot have the confidence that we know what we want our military to do. That is what should come first. Then we should ask ourselves how to support them in the best fashion possible. This massive expenditure is the other way around. It would take other options away from us and would not allow us to actually support our armed services when we deploy them for things that could be completely different from where this expenditure puts us.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

November 18, 2010

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 18th day of November, 2010, at 9:10 a.m.

Yours sincerely, Sheila-Marie Cook

Secretary to the Governor General

The schedule indicates the bills assented to were BillC-40, An Act to establish National Seniors Day and Bill S-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime).

The House resumed consideration of the motion.