Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House this evening to reply to the question posed by the hon. member for Beaches—East York regarding this important issue.
Before putting forward a few points in reply, it is absolutely essential that I distinguish three issues with regard to fighter jet aircraft required by the Royal Canadian Air Force to perform tasks that all members agree are important for Canada.
First, there is the issue of the lifespan of the CF-18s, which is running out as we speak but has been extended for the rest of this decade, we are told, due to the expertise of our engineers, pilots and aviators.
I invite the hon. member in his subsequent statements to make it clear for the people of Canada and this House that the NDP supports a replacement for this aircraft. By merely citing the voices of experts, some of whom are absolutely against procuring fighter jet aircraft for this country at all, the NDP is taking an ambiguous position on that issue. I think that is of concern to Canadians.
Second, there is the issue of a development program on which Canada embarked 15 years ago and that now includes nine allied nations to develop a next-generation joint strike fighter, now known as the F-35. That is a development program. Let us be very clear to this House and the people of Canada: we are not yet in procurement mode. We are not yet signing contracts for an aircraft. We are developing an aircraft for Canada and other allies because we think the technology represented by this aircraft will be superior to other available options.
Third, there is the question of purchase, contracts and procurement, which the hon. member has mentioned. It is very important that we distinguish and discuss all three.
I would like to leave the first question with the hon. member. We need to hear back from the NDP on that issue.
On the issue of the development program, let me reassure the hon. member that this is an effort to build a state-of-the-art fighter. It is an effort to work in partnership with allies, with countries that did the hardest work with us in Libya, Afghanistan and Kosovo, like the United States and the United Kingdom, but also with Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. This effort will develop an absolutely superior piece of technology that will perform in the air, fulfill the missions Canada asks of its air force and bring our pilots back safely.
The program is not only on track to develop this aircraft; it is ahead of the test schedule for flights and flight hours. Canada continues to work with all of its partners to make sure this project moves ahead. We are encouraged by the recent statement by the United States that its total purchase of 2,443 aircraft will not be reduced. It is a fact that flies in the face of the kinds of arguments and innuendoes that our colleagues on the other side have put forward both here in this House and in comments to the media. Allies remain committed to this development program.
We intend to purchase the least expensive variant. We remain confident that we will see the F-35 delivered, and there will be benefits for Canada. Almost 70 companies in six provinces across this country have, as a result of our participation in the MOU, received orders for $435 million to date, an amount that is well in excess of the investment Canada has made to be part of the development program.
In future, our companies may have access to billions of dollars' worth of subcontracts. For that reason, we remain committed to this development program as well as to the replacement of the CF-18s at the end of their useful lives, within a budget that we have set. We have been clear about it every step.