Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and join the debate in relation to the joint strike fighters, the F-35s. I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Vancouver Centre.
At a time when families in Canada are struggling to make ends meet, it kind of boggles the mind that the government would decide to make the largest military procurement in Canada's history without an open and transparent competition, with no competition whatsoever.
One would think that the government would like what Canadians want, which is to get the best price and the best equipment. Canadians want value for money. The government cannot get that by sole-sourcing, by saying that it picks a certain one without actually having any competition.
The question has to be asked, where is the Prime Minister's oversight on spending? Where is the oversight of this process when there is no competition?
It has a huge price tag: $16 billion. That is remarkable. We are not even sure that it will not be more than that. We do not know what the operating cost of this will be. It is a bit like going to buy a car and not having any clue what it is going to cost to put gas in it, how many kilometres it gets per litre, et cetera.
For most people today who are concerned and who struggle to make ends meet, those are important questions. They want to know what kinds of expenses to anticipate, and they certainly expect government, in a procurement so huge and so important, to be aware of those things.
There are a couple of key issues that I want to address today. The first is the question of whether Canada was in fact part of the competition that took place between 1995 and 2001 in relation to the joint strike fighter, the F-35, the one that was won by Lockheed Martin, which builds these aircraft.
Today in question period, the industry minister actually suggested that Canada was part of that, that we were in that competition and it was decided back then. We have had the Prime Minister say the same thing. The defence minister made this claim as well.
Let us go back a bit. Even earlier this year, on May 27, the defence minister told the national defence committee:
I just want to be very clear on the record that the reference to the next generation of fighter aircraft does not preclude a competition, and an open and transparent one.
He was talking there about the future. He was talking last May about a future competition for the next fighter aircraft for Canada. He could have said at the time, if it was the case, that we had this competition years ago. That argument only surfaced after the government made and announced its decision to choose the F-35s. Then it decided it had better have an explanation and made the excuse that it was decided years ago.
Let us go to the person who was the actual assistant deputy minister for materiel, the person in the Department of Public Works who was responsible for overseeing the procurement back in 2001 when the Americans announced that they had chosen the F-35s. He said that the reason for joining the joint strike fighter program was not, at that time, the urgency of replacing the CF-18 fighters, the ones we still have, but the potential industrial opportunities that Canada could take part in.
Mr. Williams said this about the 2002 memorandum of understanding that Canada signed:
This signing had nothing to do with buying or committing to buy these jets, but rather everything to do with providing an opportunity for Canada's aerospace industry to participate in the United States' largest defence procurement in its history, a procurement valued at over $200 billion.
Since then, before the government made its announcement this July, Canadian companies had actually been awarded 144 contracts. So to suggest that Canada would only get contracts if we agreed to buy these jets is nonsense. Canada already had those contracts and had them before the government announced that it wanted to go in this direction.
What else did Mr. Williams say? He talked about the past claims of the defence minister and the Prime Minister that there was a competition that Canada was part of in the past.
He said in committee last month:
The ministers are referring to the competition conducted by the United States to determine which company would build the jet. On October 26, 2001, Edward Aldridge, Under Secretary of Defense...announced that Lockheed Martin was the successful candidate over Boeing.... [W]e were all glued to our TVs at National Defence headquarters awaiting the announcement.
The competition took place and we had no role in the decision. The government is claiming that we were part of that competition, but we did not have a contemporaneous announcement here, at the same time as the Americans made their announcement. We had to watch the Americans and see what the heck they were going to announce. It was a big surprise to Canada, obviously, from this quote. Canadians had no idea what the Americans were going to choose. It was clearly not a competition that we were actually part of or had any real say in. The fact is that we had to wait to see what they would announce.
Mr. Williams went on to say:
This competition had absolutely nothing to do with the need for a competition to determine which jet aircraft in the marketplace could meet today's Canadian military requirements at the lowest life cycle cost. Equating one competition with the other insults our intelligence.
Even the Chief of the Air Staff at the time confirmed it. In 2001, Lieutenant-General André Deschamps was quoted in the Canadian Defence Review when he was asked about the joint strike fighter. The magazine asked, “Where is the next generation fighter on your list of priorities?”
In fact, the Review story came out the same day as the announcement in the U.S. So he was being asked this on the eve, essentially, of the Americans' announcement, after this competition had gone on for several years, which supposedly Canada had been part of, according to my colleagues on the other side. Supposedly it was partly our competition. What did Lieutenant-General Deschamps say at that time? He stated:
The next generation fighter is very high on my list. We know government wants to get to that discussion soon, and we definitely need to get on with a process to get a new fighter. It sounds like a long time away, but as we know it takes a lot to go through a contracting process and produce a new fighter.
To me, that sounds an awful lot like he is speaking in future tense. He is clearly talking about the future. He is not saying we are part of something now, that we are part of this discussion, this decision, this competition that is going on right now. He is saying we are not even thinking about it that much yet, just a little, and we will have the discussion in due course. He did not even mention the joint strike fighter. He did not mention the F-35s at all in that answer.
He goes on to say:
We just finished upgrading our CF-18s to what we call the R2 standard. It's a tremendous upgrade creating a great platform, and will give us a high performing aircraft to keep us competitive certainly through this decade. That doesn't mean we shouldn't move forward on selecting what will replace the CF-18. We're moving forward hopefully in the not too distant future to establish a discussion with government.
That is not a head of the air force who is in the middle of participating in a competition and making a decision. That is someone saying we will get involved in this discussion with the government in the not too distant future; we will think about what kind of aircraft we want in the future. Yet the government, over and over, has been claiming that Canada was part of this competition that took place a decade ago. It is absolute nonsense and it knows it.
What else did Mr. Williams say, the ADM of materiel management, the person responsible for procurement at that time? He stated:
The only way to know for certain which aircraft can best meet Canadian requirements and at what cost, is to put out an open, fair and transparent statement of requirements and request for proposal, and conduct a rigorous evaluation of the bidders' responses.
How much better than that could one say it? How much clearer can it be that it is the process we ought to have?
The second claim of the government that I want to talk about is that we are bound to buy the joint strike fighter. In fact, the Conservative government signed a second memorandum of understanding in 2006, and paragraph 18.104.22.168.1 of that 2006 agreement states:
Actual procurement of JSF Air Vehicles by the Participants will be subject to the Participants’ national laws and regulations and the outcome of the Participants’ national procurement decision-making processes.
Clearly that 2006 agreement looks forward to a time when governments will make their own decisions about what aircraft they will buy and whether or not, in their decision-making processes in the future, decide to buy this particular aircraft. It clearly does not commit the government, as the government has been claiming for months now, to do it and it is not committed to it yet. There is no actual signed contract as we speak. It still has the opportunity to walk away from this and have an open competition.
The F-35 might win that competition but why not have the competition? Why not challenge all those bidders in that competition, whether it is Rafale, Lockheed Martin or whoever, to come forward with offers of industrial regional benefits and good value in terms of the price of the aircraft?
I sat on the defence committee a couple of times over the past couple of months and at one of the meetings I asked Mr. Williams to what extent, if at all, he would say that Canada's exhaustive list of requirements was included in the competition, because that is an important part of this. If the government is claiming that we had a competition, surely Canada's own requirements would have been considered in that. Mr. Williams said:
The fact is that on December 20, 1995, the U.K. signed the only level-one partnership agreement with the United States. In so doing, this agreement allowed them to be full partners in the development of the requirements and in the system design. No other player in this program has had that opportunity, so to suggest that we were anything more than what we signed up for in the first phase--i.e., as an observer--is greatly exaggerating any influence or input.
He also said, “at that time we hadn't even developed requirement statements for our jets”.
That is right from the horse's mouth. He is the fellow who was responsible for procurement of military equipment for the Government of Canada in 2001 when the announcement of selecting the F-35s was made by the U.S.
I do not know how the government can claim otherwise. I do hope the parliamentary secretary to the defence minister, who I am pleased to see listening, will address that problem with what the government has been saying. Maybe he will come clean here and admit that it has not been true.
Considering what this means for families and how families are struggling to make ends meet, and see the government wasting money as it has on this without an open competition, is reprehensible.