Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate about the F-35 and talk about the opportunity that we need to take as Canadians as we make this decision. The government rushed in and pledged to buy these jet fighters to the tune of $9 billion.
I do not think the issue is about whether this is a good plane or not. When one looks at it and says that it is the next generation of x, fine. I defer to my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, who flew CF-18s in Baden-Soellingen and knows all about the technical requirements of a particular jet. I would defer to him as the expert because I think he is.
The reality is we can still ask ourselves a question. Yes, indeed, that is a great aircraft, but is that the one we need for some of the things we are going to be doing here at home? Perhaps it is, perhaps it is not. That question really has to be answered. The question becomes whether we actually need the number that the Conservative government has committed itself to. Perhaps we need less based on the mission requirements or maybe we should have bought something else. The fundamental question for me is around the issue of what our actual needs are based on our operational sensibilities and goals as we head forward.
There is one thing I find lacking. I had the opportunity to attend the defence committee a couple of times. It is the whole sense that we do not really have a major plan, except the extension of the Afghanistan mission. On that there seems to have been a sleight of hand between the red and blue alliance. As we take ourselves through the next 10 years, we have no new defence white paper that talks about what it is we want to be doing and what our people need.
Let me say at the outset that I am never opposed to the men and women of our armed forces or the RCMP receiving the very best tools they need to do their jobs based on what it is they need to do. I will use myself as an example. At one time I was an electrician and I did not use a sledgehammer when the job required a screw driver. I used the very best screw driver and tester because they ensured that I would not be electrocuted. I would not use a 400-volt metre to test 10,000 volts. I would be blown up.
We should provide the very best tools to do the jobs that we are asking our men and women in the forces to do, full stop. That is my belief, has always been my belief and will continue to be my belief. Whether the F-35 is the tool they actually need is part of the debate and I do not think we have had a fulsome debate on that in the House.
That leads me to the procurement piece where the commitment is made and we get into the back and forth of saying, “You made the commitment”, speaking of the previous Liberal government, and the Liberals saying, “No, we didn't”. The Conservatives say, “Yes, you did”. We get into the nuance of memorandums of understanding, which we refer to as MOUs, and what it means when we sign the MOU. Have we actually undertaken to commit to it? I would argue no, we have not. As the NDP critic, the member for St. John's East has said, we are not committed to buying them simply because we signed the MOU.
We have $9 billion ready to be spent on aircraft that perhaps we do not need. Maybe that is not what we want to be doing as we go forward, and we have to ask ourselves that question, in a procurement process which seems at best not to have been forthright, above board and transparent. Did we get the value we should have for this particular aircraft? I am not so sure. In fact, we still have not had a costing done now we are going to buy them. As far as the government is concerned, it wants to buy them. What does it cost to keep them?
As my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, knows, it is extremely expensive to keep equipment operational; I do not care what it is. It is always going to be difficult because the training needed for our personnel to ensure the planes can stay in the air is second to none and should be second to none.
We need to ensure that the folks who are to service that equipment, whatever it happens to be, will indeed be second to none as far as their ability to make it either be in the air, in the water or on land. It is our men and women who will use that equipment and we need to keep them safe at all times and do everything within our power to ensure that happens.
That is expensive. New equipment, with the high technology it has today, is expensive, full stop. It is not an iPod that we bought five years ago that cost $150. Today it costs $25 and does 10 times more than the one 10 years ago. This is not the type of equipment. This is sophisticated equipment to the nth degree that most of us do not quite comprehend in a lot of different ways. It is that type of sophistication.
The problem is there are very few people in this world who can fix it. Therefore, invariably, if it is $9 billion to buy it, it is probably 80% to 85% of that $9 billion to keep it running. Conservatively speaking, probably $7 billion is going to be the cost to actually keep the things in the air. Now we are looking at $16 billion over a period of time.
It is a huge amount of money at this moment in time. It is the single largest procurement purchase we have seen in my memory. I hate to say "ever" because ever is a long time. The economy may be better this year than last, but if members want to come to the riding of Welland, we are not much better off than we were 13 years ago and we have been in this slide a long time. When we start to spend that type of money, my constituents are asking me if that is really what we want to do be doing, if we should be spending this much or are there alternatives. I believe there are alternatives. There are things we should be looking at. There are alternatives that we should have taken into consideration, and we should take into consideration.
This really boils down to whether this is really the appropriate expenditure at this moment in time for that aircraft. Without the kind of thorough investigation that Parliament should do, I am not sure it is the appropriate decision. With that not happening, it seems we may well be simply signing a cheque that does not get what we actually want.
We then get back to the issue of cost. We have heard from different sides of the House that it is the appropriate cost, the right cost and is good value. On this side, we hear not so much, in the sense that we may have overpaid. The problem always will be, and I am sure the parliamentary secretary will help me with this, that quite often we compare apples to oranges. I understand that. We might say that the Australians bought a similar plane for X dollars, but they might not have X or Y in it, and that always becomes a difficult cost comparative. However, we know that if we go through an open procurement process, we have a sense that at least we received the value for money, if indeed this were the expenditure we made. That did not happen in this case.
I know we will go back and say that it started back in 2001, and that was the open process. I would beg to disagree. That certainly was the start of a process, but it was not necessarily the start of a process that said it was open and this was the procurement process. The Americans decided internally what they wanted to do, and we seem to be in lockstep.
There are other manufacturers. In fact, there are folks in our country who are saying we should be looking at some other alternatives. We owe it to the folks who will pay for this plane. This expenditure is going to be paid by us. We pay taxes as well. The good people across the country, who entrust their money to us, expect us to be prudent, especially now. They always expect us to be prudent, but when we are really at a point where we have the numbers of folks who are not working and who are finding themselves living hand to mouth, month in and month out, worrying about whether they can pay bills or keep a roof over their heads and the heat turned on this winter, we owe it to them. When we look them in their eyes, we will be able to assure them we did the right thing, that we made the right choice and paid the best price. We want to assure them that at the end of the day, we did not overlook other opportunities, or we did not turn a blind eye, or turn our backs on them, that we did not simply say we did not want to see it because we made a commitment.
The commitment is actually one we could get out of. From what I have read to date, and unless I can be shown a document otherwise that has locked us in, we can get out of this one. It is not going to be what happened with the Liberals, with the Sea King, when they decided to sink themselves into that one and then get back out, which basically cost us a fortune. It seems to me there is an opportunity, from the memorandums I have read, that we can extract ourselves from this. It is not too late.
That being the case, if we can extract ourselves, then we ought to take that half step back and take a good, hard look at our military requirements, our requirements for security for the country, because those will determine what we want to do, our requirements elsewhere around the world where we may have commitments, whatever those happen to be through NATO, or NORAD or through any other agreements we have internationally, the UN, et cetera, and what it is that Canadians have asked us to do.
One of the things we quite often leave out of this is what they have asked us to do for them, in this sense of what they expect to see our military do. It is not just up to us to make a decision that we will go in and do X, whatever that happens to be. I am not talking about this week's announcement of no debate, no vote in the House about the extension of the Afghan mission. I am talking about a broader picture of where we are headed in the next 10, 15, 20 years as far as our Canadian Forces and what Canadians would like to see them do.
Canadians have a role to play in the sense of asking what they would like to see their forces do for them. The Canadian Forces work on behalf of all of us. That is what we ask them to do. We are empowered as parliamentarians to ask them to do things on behalf of other Canadians. It really boils down to that.
It seems to me that we ran headlong into this at a point in time when we had to buy materials for war theatre. We were at war in Afghanistan. Some of us did not agree, but neither the case, we understood we were there and we needed to buy folks the tools when they were there. We are now buying a fighter jet. That still takes us, in a way, in a theatre of war, depending on how one looks at it. Is that the need we actually want for our country? I would suggest perhaps not.
When I look at what we have done, in the whole sense that we have run headlong into an expenditure of $9 billion, it reminds me of when I was young and newly married and I wanted to buy a house. My wife and I looked at a house and thought it would be a great house in which to raise a family, although we had no kids at the time. We could afford to buy it, but we could not afford the property taxes. It was a very nice house. The problem was the property taxes were astronomical.
That takes me back to this fighter jet. It is a lovely fighter jet, with all the new accoutrements, the bells and whistles and all the great stuff we can have, but maybe we cannot afford to keep it at the end of the day. The jets are inherently expensive.
If we look at the life of the CF-18, it has been a workhorse for our forces for a long time. The fact is the parliamentary secretary and I had a discussion the other night. I was actually in Baden-Söllingen many years ago as a young man. Without a doubt, they were absolutely an astonishing aircraft to watch take off and land. They have been around a long time and I freely admit that. However, we have done a great deal to continue to keep them operational. We have sunk a lot of money into them to keep them operational and we just put in a lot of money to keep them operational for a great deal longer.
We are not about to be out of the air tomorrow, as much as some folks are intimating that somehow we will fall out of the sky tomorrow. That is not the case. We will continue to fly for an extensive period of time, and that is a good thing. We not only have the largest coastal area, but we have a great deal of airspace. Yes, we do have to defend and make our borders secure for Canadians, and I would be the first to admit it. There is the opportunity we need to take.
When we are going to make the largest investment, and this is an investment in our armed forces, no one makes an investment in a company, their home, their life, or their family without looking at all the opportunities and all the possibilities and weighing them all up.
We have not done that. We have allowed ourselves to be driven along a path starting in 2001. Without a doubt, I agree with my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, the Liberals started us on this journey. They started us down this road and we have continued down it. The problem is along the way, when we were travelling this road, there were opportunities to take a look to the side. There were other opportunities and perhaps other roads to follow. The good thing about this is we can actually take a U-turn. We can go back and look again.
I suggest the government should tell the folks that it does not intend to buy this aircraft at this moment in time, that it will go back and do an open procurement and find the best value for Canadians.
One of the things that I find astonishing about this, as someone who comes out of the manufacturing sector, is there are no guarantees for our manufacturers across the country that they will get work if we buy this aircraft. Yes, it says they have the opportunity to bid. The problem with that is I am not too sure why we did not do what Israel did, which was to say it would get X. We did not do that.
The government is saying that there is opportunity. Opportunity is always a wonderful thing. I was born in Glasgow and as my old gran used to say to me “A penny in your hand is better than the opportunity to find one on the street”.
If we are going to have contracts, we need to have an open procurement policy and system. We need to have an open, transparent procurement policy that tell us where we are headed. If we are going to do, it ought to be tied in the way we have done most contracts like this in the past. It ought to be tied to jobs for Canadians and not just for the men and women in uniform who will be around that. We need to have an international body of trade and peace that pulls it together. It sounds somewhat self-serving, but the reality of defence contracts is the way it works in the world, whether we like it or not.
Certain countries simply say that if they are going to buy X from us, they want an X number of guaranteed jobs in their countries, end of story. We ought to be saying that, no matter which one we buy. I would suggest we have to review which one we will buy because this procurement policy just is not up to snuff.
We are about to spend $9 billion and probably $16 billion. If it ends up being $16 billion to keep this aircraft in the air and moving forward through the next 20 plus years of its life span, it will be an issue of what could we have done with that money. If we had bought something at a lesser cost for instance, such as a different plane that met our requirements and commitments, and we had saved $4 billion or $5 billion in that process or even $1 billion in that process, what could we have done with it?
We could have paid down the debt. I am sure the Conservatives would be happy to pay down the debt. I think everyone in the House would like to pay down the debt. I am sure my kids, as they enter into the work world and start paying taxes, would be happy if we paid down the debt and did not leave it to them.
We could have done many other things as well. We could have taken that $1 billion and put them into a poverty strategy that came through a report by my good friend and colleague from Sault Ste. Marie, who has been instrumental in fighting for it for the last 20-plus years.
We could have taken that $1 billion to help folks who are poor, homeless and live below the poverty line. If it indeed had been more, perhaps $4 billion or $5 billion, it would have gone a long way to end poverty in the country. That is what we could have done with that additional money if we had an open procurement policy, if we had an open process, if we had looked at a plane that met our needs, not our wants.
When one is a kid, one always has big eyes when passing the toy store at Christmas. There are always the big wants. The problem is moms and dads can only get what they think they can afford to get. What we saw this time was the big eyes at Christmas with the want rather than asking what our needs were, what could we afford and what should we do.
I ask the Conservative government to take a half a step back, take a look at this and ensure this procurement is an open procurement policy that actually makes sense and saves money for the Canadian taxpayer.