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 '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 actually suggested that Canada was part of that, that we were in that competition and it was decided back then. We have had the say the same thing. The made this claim as well.
Let us go back a bit. Even earlier this year, on May 27, the 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 and the 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 126.96.36.199.1 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.
Mr. Speaker, I support the motion because because I think Canadians want to have some very clear answers to some pretty logical questions.
I am not a military expert. I do not know one plane from another. All I know is that they have wings. However, I am hearing from many of my constituents who have been writing to me, phoning me and a lot of them who are experts are giving me a great deal of advice and asking a lot of questions on this issue. I want to bring these logical questions to the fore because they need to be answered. What we are talking about here is the most expensive equipment procurement in military history in this country.
The government is adamant, first and foremost, that it needs the F-35, which will, at the end of the day, cost taxpayers $16 billion. The big question we want the Conservatives to answer is why they need these F-35s. The tells us that we need them to protect our airspace from Russians. He talked about Russian aircraft attempting to penetrate Canadian Arctic airspace and so we had to release the CF-18s. That was the minister's statement. We then hear that NORAD, and Canadian fighter pilots have told us, is a routine kind of flight that goes on all the time. They have test flights that go on all the time. What we do know is that these “invading Russian fighter planes” happen to be 60-year-old propeller planes. I am asking these questions because they do not make any sense to me. We also hear from the fighter pilots that this is just routine stuff that is going on. However, I think most of us believe that the cold war ended a while ago, so I have no idea what we are talking about and I need an answer to that, as do my constituents.
If we do need planes to protect our airspace, what is the most appropriate plane that we need? I have been told that the Boeing Super Hornet could fit the bill because not only are the Hornets good for protection, but we need to look at a two-engine plane instead of a one-engine plane, mainly because the Canadian airspace is so massive that we need to have a back-up engine if we are flying across that airspace and a bird flies into the engine or something else happens. This is a big issue. We have always felt that we needed two-engine planes in this country. We have always believed that and followed that, and now we are being told that this one-engine plane is very necessary and that it is the most important thing.
If we are protecting our airspace, why do we need a stealth fighter? Most experts tell us that a non-stealth fighter would do that job very well. What I want to know is whether this is the most appropriate plane that we are being told we need to get.
I also want to know if we need these planes now. We know that the CF-18s have been upgraded and rebuilt so that they will be fully operative and operational beyond 2020, so it is obvious that we do not need the F-35s now.
I need to drag up the argument that whenever we ask these basic questions in the House, we never get the appropriate answers. We get this rhetoric that I have just debunked. The government always raises the argument that it was the Liberals who opened up this question to put up Canadian aerospace companies to compete for worldwide contracts. The Conservatives are saying that we did it. Now we hear that the ADM at the time this was being negotiated, Alan Williams, said that of course we negotiated the agreement with Lockheed Martin. He remains adamant and absolutely vocal that this did not commit Canada to actually purchase the joint strike fighter. Asking why the Liberals did it at the time, it was to open up competition for Canadian aerospace companies. It did not commit us to buying it and we did not say that we would buy it.
By the way, turning to the question about priorities and costs, at the time we were talking about new jets, if I am not mistaken, we had a $13 billion surplus and we had a $3 billion contingency fund somewhere. We could talk about buying a Mercedes when we had a lot of money in the bank. However, we are now talking at a time of unprecedented deficits in this country and little money to spend.
When we only have a small amount of spending money at a time of an unprecedented deficit of $56 billion and counting, when we have the highest unemployment that we have had in the last 14 years, when we have 151,000 people in Canada out of work and when we find that young people have one of the highest unemployment rates in this country, how are we setting priorities here?
When I looked at my household budget, I had to made decisions when we had less money than we had at certain good times. Those decisions are core priorities. Anybody who did economics 101 will tell us that priorities are based on a hierarchy of needs. What do we need most? What is the most important thing we need at a particular time in our lives when we have a limited sum of money? What do we need first and foremost?
We have a $56 billion deficit. We have the need for job creation because we are told we will be into a jobless recovery. We need to look not just at part-time jobs, not just at job sharing, but at the ability for people to have full-time, sustainable jobs so they can pay their mortgages and not lose their homes. We are talking about that very basic question that people are asking.
In a recent report that came out about a week ago from a think tank, we heard that there were more people in the history of Canada using food banks and that 33% of those people were children. We have to ask about priorities again, the hierarchy of needs. What needs do we need to look at?
Whether the government believes it or not, one of the things a government responsible for the well-being of its people is supposed to do at a time when people are struggling is to look at ways to help them out. Why is it going to pick a hierarchy of needs of fighter planes, which we have been told we do not need now, that they are not the ones need and that they will not do the job as well as others?
The government promised in 2006 that it would look at a whole lot of real, immediate defence needs, and it has done nothing about them. Let us talk about ice breakers. Let us talk about the three supply ships about which it talked. It is still doing diddly-squat about it.
Let us deal with the immediate problems. I know, as a homeowner, if my roof is leaking and I have the choice between fixing my roof and buying a new car, I will keep my old car for the next two years and fix my roof. It is called priorities. It is called common sense. Most Canadians understand this. I do not understand how these decisions are being made. That is why we are trying to get some very clear answers.
We have hierarchy of needs, timeliness of needs and the most urgent needs. What do we need now to take care of business now, so we can move on and maybe do what we really would like to do down the road? It is the difference between what we need and what we want. Sometimes we have to make choices in bad times between those two.
I know the government wants these pretty little toys to play with. The bottom line is Canadians want the government to wake up, listen and look at the statistics, although I know the government does not really like statistics very much. They tell it things it may not be willing to listen to or it does not want to hear. The government should listen to Canadians and look statistically at unemployment rates and at the increasing number of people on the welfare roles. In my province of British Columbia, every month the number is going up. The government shrugs its shoulders and tells us not to look at it, that it is provincial problem.
I want to talk about the word need. We need to look at the sustainability of health care. The need for core housing is a big problem. We have this hierarchy of needs. We have these immediate needs of Canadians. Yet the government is unable to give us answers as to why it picked this issue as the top of its hierarchy. What about the timing of this? We do not need it now. It can wait for a few years. What are the outcomes of the choices it is going to make?
If the government went to the people with a major poll and asked them whether they wanted F-35s right now or whether they would like the government to look at helping stimulate the economy in a meaningful way, looking at housing and looking at getting people off the food lines, I know what the people would say.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to speak about our intention to acquire 65 F-35 Lightning IIs. It is a topic that is very important to me because I know the value of having modern and capable fighters.
When the government released the Canada first defence strategy two and a half years ago, we committed to rebuilding the Canadian Forces into a modern, integrated, flexible, multi-role and combat-capable military, a military that would be able to meet and overcome 21st century challenges.
Canada's overall defence priorities have not really changed since the 1964 white paper with respect to protecting Canada and being a reliable partner in NORAD and NATO and meeting our international commitments. What has changed is the threats we face. The Canada first defence strategy recognizes this fact with its plan for systematic restoration of the combat capability of the Canadian Forces after more than a decade of darkness.
For the Liberals to say that they do not understand the priorities and missions of programs like the next generation fighter makes me ask where they have been since 1964 and where they have been since we tabled the Canada first defence strategy over two years ago, and nary a comment on that until recently.
We embarked upon the Canada first defence strategy because, on behalf of all Canadians, we ask our men and women in uniform to do a lot of things at home and abroad, and they always get the job done, whether they are providing security at major events like the Winter Olympics, or responding to Canadians in distress in things such as hurricane Igor or patrolling North America's skies in co-operation with the United States, which we have an obligation to do. When an aircraft enters our air defence identification zone, we have an obligation to find out who that is, whether it is a Russian Bear, with absolutely up-to-date modern avionics and electronics, or whether it is an airline.
We are conducting operations in Afghanistan or elsewhere. The men and women of the CF are among the very best in the world and they deserve only the very best equipment, not just shiny little toys. The air force is instrumental in defending Canada and advancing Canadian interests and needs the best tools to carry out its work. We have a duty to acquire the best fighter aircraft available, and that is the F-35 Lightning II.
It is clear that our CF-18s are very useful in allowing Canada to exercise its sovereignty, especially in the Arctic, to defend North American airspace under the auspices of NORAD and to participate in international operations, as was the case in the first gulf war and in Kosovo. One thing is certain: the need for fighter jets remains. We use them every day.
We currently have CF-18s to undertake various missions across the country. They were recently used to escort Russian bombers that were flying close to Canadian airspace. In addition, last month CF-18s intercepted and escorted through Canadian airspace a cargo plane suspected of transporting explosive material.
Under the recently completed modernization program, we extended the operational life cycle of our Hornet aircraft until the end of this decade.
The concept of ops for the CF-18 was to operate the aircraft for phase-in plus 15 years. I know this because I was there and I helped write it. At that point we would be in the process of acquiring our new, next generation fighter and that would have put it around 2003.
It made perfect sense for the Liberals to sign onto the joint strike fighter MOU in 1997 and to up the ante in 2002. Our government upped it again in 2006 and made the formal decision to acquire the F-35 under the multinational MOU in July. While that technically did not commit us to buying the airplane, for the Liberals to say now that they had no intention of buying the aircraft is absolute nonsense. For buying aircraft, these programs are long lead-time items. We do not just go down to Walmart and pick one off the shelf. We are buying an aircraft to fly until at least 2050.
Also, threats are evolving. The strategic environment that our CF-18s faced over the past 20 years is not identical to what we see today or certainly will see tomorrow. We need to ensure that we remain agile enough to continue to have the ability to protect our sovereignty and to be interoperable with our NATO allies and international partners. This is why one of the Canada First defence strategy's main equipment goals was a commitment to acquire a next generation fighter capability.
We selected the F-35 to fulfill this next generation fighter capability following our air force's analysis of the mandatory requirements for such an aircraft, and that analysis was thorough. The analysis made it clear that only a fifth generation fighter aircraft, such as the F-35, could satisfy our mission requirements in a complex and evolving future security environment.
Canada has had subject matter experts, military and civilian, studying the joint strike fighter program, next generation fighter requirements, and other options for years at a very highly classified level, and that includes, of course, the current ADM materiel, who has been there for the past five years and is very current on the actual exercise of the MOU, unlike commentators who have not been there for several years. They initially looked at the F-35, the F-18 Super Hornet, the Typhoon, the Gripen and the Rafale. After analysis, the Gripen and Rafale were eliminated and a more extensive evaluation of the F-35, F-18 and Typhoon was conducted. The conclusion was that the F-35 is the only aircraft that meets the mandatory high-level capabilities and the more specific operational requirements, and at the best cost with the best industrial opportunities.
Comparisons done by others have one major flaw. They are based on third or fourth generation fighter knowledge and very limited understanding of the real difference to fifth generation capability. There is a very limited number of people anywhere who are fully read-in to the classified details and capabilities of the F-35.
The same process was followed in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy and Turkey within the memorandum of understanding. Israel is on board outside the MOU, and Japan, South Korea and others are poised to follow suit. At least 10 highly advanced countries all came to the same conclusion, all following a similar process. This sounds like more than a coincidence.
When talking about a fighter aircraft capability, we are talking about acquiring equipment that we will be using for the next 30 or 40 years. The F-35 joint strike fighter will, first and foremost, enable the Canadian Forces to continue performing all of the CF-18's previous tasks while being able to offer so much more, and adapt to threats that we probably cannot even imagine yet.
The joint strike fighter's technological leaps, in terms of sensors, stealth technology, weapons systems, survivablity and the integrated nature of its systems, make it the most effective fifth generation fighter available to Canada and the only viable fighter to meet the Canadian air force's operational and interoperability needs. I must emphasize that a fourth generation aircraft, even those such as our modernized CF-18s, cannot be upgraded to fifth generation stealth capability.
The joint strike fighter represents a quantum leap from previous generations of fighters in terms of capabilities, and it brings four unique advantages.
First, the F-35's stealth technology will significantly reduce detection by enemy sensor systems, providing both lower risks for our pilots as well as enhanced operational capabilities.
Second, the F-35's advanced sensors and technology that fuses data together will help pilots better understand their tactical environment and make decisions more quickly. What this means is that the aircraft takes care of much of what pilots now have to do themselves. The aircraft will, in a sense, be the co-pilot.
Third, we will be seamlessly interoperable with our joint strike fighter development partners and our NATO allies, many of which are purchasing the F-35, as we conduct NORAD, NATO and other coalition operations.
Let us talk a little more about interoperability. In Kosovo, our CF-18s lacked the communications equipment necessary to be part of many packages, because the previous Liberal government had failed to keep the aircraft updated. Our allies had to dumb down so that we could be part of the missions, and it is more than radios and data link, when we talk about interoperability between fourth and fifth generation aircraft.
If there was a package of fifth generation F-35s with a package of Canadian fourth generation fighters tagging along, our fighters would stick out to enemy defences like a sore thumb and would endanger the whole package.
Fourth, the F-35's production line will last well into the middle of the century. So we will definitely be able to replace lost aircraft should the need arise.
Taken together, these factors make the F-35 the right next generation fighter for Canada. Considering that Canada will own these aircraft for several decades, it only makes economic sense and is only fair to the men and women in uniform who will be flying and maintaining these aircraft that we make the best possible investment and acquire the best possible aircraft.
That is exactly what we are doing with our commitment to purchase the F-35s.
The F-35 program will generate spinoffs outside the defence sector, all across Canada. Canadian industry will be guaranteed a role in the most extensive military co-operation program in the world.
Since 2002, Canada has invested $168 million in the Joint Strike Fighter Program and this investment has already resulted in the granting of contracts worth $350 million to companies and research establishments in Canada. With the government's decision to procure F-35s, Canadian companies will be able to benefit from additional spinoffs.
Thanks to the F-35 program, Canadian industry will be able to join the global supply chain that will build thousands of joint strike fighter planes and create high-technology jobs and sustained economic spinoffs in regions throughout Canada.
The business opportunities for Canada would have an estimated worth of $12 billion, an impressive figure that is expected to grow even further with export sales to non-partner nations. The Government of Canada would receive millions of dollars in royalty cheques from sales to these non-partners.
Moreover, the government's decision to base the F-35 fleet in Bagotville and Cold Lake, as announced in September, would ensure that the Canadian Forces' two fast-air bases remain an integral part of their respective communities and continue to bring economic benefits to their regions.
Canadian industry is behind the F-35 purchase, as well.
Mr. Bill Matthews, vice-president of marketing for Magellan Aerospace Corporation, summed the reasons for this quite well last month when he appeared before the Standing Committee on National Defence. He indicated that the F-35 Lightning II aircraft is the perfect example of the kind of program that Canadian companies seek, since it fits their core capabilities; it is exceptionally high-tech in its design, materials and systems, allowing manufacturing advancement; and it is expected to be in production for 20 to 30 years, allowing efficiencies and return on investment for industry manufacturers. As we know, industry loves certainty. It loves predictability.
Let us take a closer look at cost. If we translate the $16,090,000 that we paid for each CF-18 in 1980 dollars ahead to 2016 when we will be acquiring the F-35, they would then cost about $63 million. Our price for the F-35 will be between $70 million and $75 million for a quantum increase in capability. That is not a bad deal.
We are buying our aircraft starting in 2015-16, at the peak of production and lowest cost. In fact, Norway has delayed its acquisition, not because it is concerned about the program but to follow our example and get the aircraft at that cost sweet spot in the production cycle.
Let us look at the breakdown of the $16 billion we hear quoted. About $5.5 billion of that is for the actual aircraft. About $3.5 billion is for simulators, training, infrastructure, spares, et cetera, some of which will come to Canadian industry. This will be spread over at least six years.
The other $7 billion is a very well-educated estimate of what it will cost to support the aircraft for 20 years, much of which will come to Canadian industry. None of this is borrowed, as some across the way would suggest. It is all within the program funding envelope of the Canada First defence strategy. This will be spread over 20 years. No one is writing a cheque for $16 billion tomorrow. By 2015-16, we are going to be out of deficit and back into budget surplus situations.
The $3.2 billion that we have heard quoted as what we would save by an open competition is complete fantasy. It is a number pulled out of the air by a person who was ADM materiel five years ago. What his agenda is, I am not sure. However, it is not based on anything factual whatsoever. It is completely pulled out of the air and is being tossed around by members on the opposite side as having some credibility. It has absolutely no credibility whatsoever.
Let us look at the value of being part of the MOU.
Every member of the MOU has one vote.
Within the MOU we are exempt from foreign military sales fees. That saves us about $850 million on the cost of the aircraft.
For every foreign military sale outside the MOU, for example, Israel, Canada gets a portion of the royalties.
As part of the MOU, we also have the right to use all the classified intellectual property. We would lose that outside the MOU.
As part of the MOU, we have guaranteed spots on the production line. This is critical to the timing of bringing the F-35 into service and phasing out the CF-18 before the CF-18 dies a fatigue life death, which it will do on or before the end of this decade.
Membership has its privileges.
The F-35 is the right fighter aircraft for the Canadian Forces, and one that will provide many benefits for Canadian industry.
Canada needs an aircraft that will enable the men and women of the Canadian Forces to meet the increasingly complex demands and missions we ask of them, and maybe some will be flying it in 20 or 30 years. We are not sure.
These aircraft are an investment in a capability that we need.
Acquiring the F-35 joint strike fighter as Canada's next generation fighter aircraft comes down to three key priorities: defending Canada's airspace; exercising Canada's sovereignty; and assuming Canada's international responsibilities, including as part of NORAD and NATO. I do not think there is a member in this House who would disagree with the importance of these priorities.
Our commitment to purchasing the F-35 is just the most recent example showing that this government is doing what it takes to best equip our men and women in uniform. In no other MOU partner is the political opposition taking such a position, and it is having an impact on the credibility and confidence that our allies have in Canada.
It absolutely will cost jobs if they do not stop very soon. We have seen this partisan political movie before, in 1993. Seventeen years and close to a billion dollars later, we are still waiting for the first Sea King replacement. The implications of this situation are many times greater. That is not a track record, in terms of the Sea King replacement, that Canada should have much trust in.
The F-35 is the right aircraft at the right price with the right opportunities for Canadian industry. We have priced the other options. Dassault said the other day that its plane could do the job. Of course it is going to say that. It also said its plane costs $70 million euros, so we are talking about a 40% to 50% premium on the F-35, which is $70 million to $75 million.
I would like to quote Mr. Claude Lajeunesse, president of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, who has written and spoken quite openly about this. He represents about 400 companies. He said, “We are very concerned that this decision is becoming the object of political theatre. So we are calling on all political leaders from all parties to support the government's decision. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past because they will surely be more costly than ever before, costly for our industry, costly for our military and ultimately costly for our nation”.
Yesterday or the day before at the defence committee we heard from Tim Page, the executive director of CADSI, another industry organization that represents 860 companies in Canada. Every single one of those companies is absolutely on board with this program. All 860 of them obviously will not benefit but dozens and dozens of them will. They are absolutely supportive of this program and they are absolutely appalled at the kind of political theatre that is being played out in this case.
It is time the Liberals stopped this partisan political nonsense and got on with helping us do what is right for the Canadian air force, what is right for Canadian industry and what is right for our commitments at home and abroad for the next 40 years.
My only regret is that there will not be any two-seat F-35s built. My only hope is reincarnation, and I am old enough and we will be flying the airplane long enough that it might just work.
It is important that we get on with it now. The CF-18 is going to retire between 2017 and 2020. It is not going to be extended beyond 2020. What was said earlier by my colleague from Vancouver is absolutely untrue. We have to get on with this program. They are long lead time programs. This program has been looked at in huge detail by very qualified people from Canada and from many other nations, and they have all come to the same conclusion. It is absolutely the right airplane at the right time.
I will be pleased to answer the members' questions when I sit down, which I will do now.
I urge my colleagues to get on board with this program. It is just the right thing to do.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues in the House for allowing me this opportunity to speak on this issue as there is a base in my riding, in Gander, and I proudly represent 103 Search and Rescue Squadron.
We have been talking about this particular issue for quite some time. As we go through this issue, there is no doubt about what the government is saying about the idea of a brand new process by which we go through procurement. I talk about working within the MOU, as was outlined by the . I do not doubt that is the way we are travelling and the way we are going to do this in the future as being part of a global supply chain.
The only way I disagree with my colleague is that he talked about reincarnation and coming back as a pilot. If he is reincarnated and comes back, he will be sitting in a room with two remote controls as they will likely be UAVs, or uninhabited aerial vehicles, which work so well in Afghanistan. By that time, that is probably what will be in the sky for all of these particular vessels. However, I digress.
Nonetheless, we have pilots, airmen and airwomen, and they serve bravely. I know them. The base in my riding does not have fighters. It does not house the F-18s, but it does have Cormorant helicopters, and members of the air force live in my riding and proudly serve as helicopter pilots for the Cormorants.
When it comes to the equipment itself, over the past 20 years, yes indeed, there have been cost overruns and cheques were written that we did not want to write. Nonetheless, the cost overruns dictated that we had no choice. For that there is a lot of blame to go around.
My hon. colleague mentioned a decade of darkness. Well, over the past five years, an Auditor General's report was produced that talks about what is to replace the Sea Kings and about the Chinooks. Some of the points made in this particular Auditor General's report are quite stinging, indeed. It talks about medium to heavy lift helicopter acquisition, directed procurement and some of the things that went wrong. It also talks about the navy, the joint supply ships, and how we had to go back to the drawing board with that one.
The past six years, although I would not call them a decade of darkness, certainly have not been bright, have they? I would ask the House to engage in a debate. I would ask the parliamentary secretary about some of the points. I want to bring up some of the things he mentioned in his speech.
He juxtaposed the acquisition of the F-35s with the mission in Afghanistan and the gist of the missions in Afghanistan. I do not seem to understand how the two are juxtaposed with each other. If memory serves me correctly, the F-18 was used in Kosovo.
Very good, Scott.
Mr. Scott Simms: Thanks very much. I am being complimented.
How that is juxtaposed with Afghanistan, I struggle to understand.
He also mentioned that we cannot just buy aircraft off the shelf. It is my understanding that the C-17 was pretty close to being off the shelf.
Mr. Scott Simms: It certainly looks that way. I know it is something we engaged in quite some time ago, back in 2003-04, and we certainly felt the need to buy them.
He talked about writing a cheque for $16 billion in this particular case, which included the initial purchase of the aircraft and then the maintenance thereafter, the life cycle costs, taking us up to when the F-18s expire. It seems to me, from what the Auditor General tells us, that these costs could become greater. As a point of debate, we should be looking at the very essence of what we need to do to get the best equipment, the equipment that serves the military in the best way possible, and do it at a price that is brought down to a level that we can afford.
We entered into this agreement back in 1997. The Liberal Party did not decide to purchase the aircraft back in 1997. We entered into the SDD. The Liberal Party participated in the development process. In 2002, the Liberal minister of defence said that, “Ottawa is not prepared to commit to buying the JSF planes thus far”. I am sure the government would agree with me thus far. The Liberal government at the time invested $150 million in the joint strike fighter project, mainly for industrial and technological benefits.
I have never been in on the minutia when it comes to procurement, like the hon. member across the way, and I respect him for that service. My understanding, on the surface as it may be, is that in an IRB the point is to guarantee that we get the best IRB available, dollar for dollar expenditure, so we get guarantees that the people, the companies and the industries can count on.
I know work is being done. I know the government will point out to me that we have already secured many contracts. However, he did say at one point that industry loves certainty. I cannot think of anything that is more certain than the process by which we engage in the IRB. To do that, however, we must look at the way the competition was held. I will get to that in just a moment.
We talked about the search and rescue component of this. Right now the Buffalo aircraft, as it exists on the west coast, these planes are flying around on the west coast and going through the mountains. They have been discontinued. We are scouring the earth for parts. I know they have been refurbished but the refurbishment will continue for quite some time. Certainly these things should have been retired recently.
If the process for fixed wing search and rescue aircraft had been done right, as was described by the minister and which was guaranteed in 2007 to actually at that point make a go of this, we could have had them by 2012, but that will not be the case.
The expediency of the F-35 process boggles my mind, especially when all of a sudden the fixed wing search and rescue aircraft seems to be trailing well behind the pack.
We called in several departments and found there had been disagreements between departments. The National Research Council has been called, almost like a referee perhaps but I am not really sure. The requirements seem to be there for the government to take advantage of and certainly there for it to make a purchase of fixed wing search and rescue aircraft. I am not quite sure what has bogged this down. I am not sure what requirements are needed or why the NRC was called in to do this. Maybe the process is too vigorous when it comes to fixed wing search and rescue aircraft. The excuse seems to be that the government wants to get it right. I agree that we need to make this right but I question the F-35s. Did we get that right?
The announcements that have been made thus far when it comes to the procurement, equipment, suppliers, people in the business and my hon. colleague quoted someone from the industry, I understand that. I think it is a fantastic opportunity for them to be involved in this global supply chain.
What I wanted to see here was whether this was done right, whether this was the process by which we are able to secure, as my hon. colleague called it, certainty within the industry.
The global supply chain is something that is new, at least that is what I gathered from my visit to the defence committee. When we look at all the articles around the world, Israel, United Kingdom and certainly in the United States, we see that they too want to be part of this global supply chain. I agree. I think we should be a part of that.
However, If we do this, we need to create the certainty that my colleague talked about, and I do not know if this particular method gives the certainty that we are striving for. I sincerely and genuinely hope he is right. I hope we will be the strongest player out there for this global supply chain. We have the potential to do it.
My colleague also mentioned experts in the field who came back and said that this was the right plane. It almost seems like we go through a process where everything is under cover of the night and then boom, we need to do this now. We have an announcement, with a plane in the background, and the minister sits in the plane, so on and so forth. I get that.
Several years ago, the Conservatives said that they would go through the right procurement process that was there and yet in July it became a story that they had done it. I am not sure if this is a change of direction for the military or not but it concerns me. I am concerned about the global supply chain. I understand there are people who are getting it done. I congratulate them for being a part of this process and manufacturing the parts for thousands of F-35s. However, I need the certainty that I am not sure this process is giving.
When I hear the government say that it did make the choice back then, there is ample evidence here in articles and from experts and assistant deputy ministers that prove that was not the case. We were not a fundamental part of that decision. I find it hard to believe that we were, which is what scares me about this. We should be part of the decision because we need the certainty for our aerospace sector.
I have an aerospace sector in my riding that so far is not cashing in on this particular project. However, that is not what bothers me because some day it will. The certainty that I think we might be missing out on, which scares me, is why I am looking out for the aerospace sector in Gander, in my home riding. In the future, it will be that major player.
I just want to pass on a few comments that were put together by some experts in the field who did a lot of work and research on this.
I have some comments by David McDonough, a doctoral candidate at Dalhousie University and a visiting researcher at the Centre for International Policy Studies. He offers quite a bit of research and says:
One only needs to look at the recent report by the Auditor General Sheila Fraser, which criticizes the ballooning costs and attendant delays in both the Cyclone and sole-sourced Chinook helicopter acquisitions. Similarly, defence contractors recently informed the government that it could not build three Joint Support Ships for the amount that DND had budgeted.
Therein lies the concern about cost, as I mentioned earlier. We seem to be throwing around a definitive number about the cost and yet the experts are pointing out and past circumstances dictate that perhaps that will not be the case.
When Senator John McCain came here, he said that he too was worried about the spiralling costs of this project. At what point do we get involved in that process? I am genuinely asking that question. What are we on the hook for?
I sincerely hope the government can point out to me where it is I am wrong.
The final airplane costs: First, it remains to be seen whether the F-35 will also be required to undergo expensive modifications to make it sustainable to operate in Canada's unique environment. Was that discussed at the SDD. Was that discussed at the genesis of this program? Was the fact that we have a unique climate discussed?
One article I have here talks about one engine or two. It reads, “The new F-35 has only one, and that is enough”, the defence minister says, “but Canada chose its current fleet of CF-18s precisely because they had dual engines”.
It goes on to state:
As the Cold Lake Air Force Museum’s website notes, Ottawa selected the Hornets “mostly because of twin-engine reliability” in case one failed during flights between Canada and Europe or sucked in a bird during low-level operations.
Now that was one of the concerns at the time but I am assuming that was not entirely the case. It cannot be that simplistic. I would like to put my colleague at ease.
However, were these questions posed? Were we in on the ground level at that point, at the SDD, to ensure these planes could be tailored to what we needed? I will not even talk about the fact that we are chasing Russians out of the Arctic, which we are not. From what I understand, the cold war did end, and the TU-95 Russian bomber, I mean, seriously.
The F-35 purchase price might still significantly increase if the total number of jets manufactured is smaller than expected. Of note, Great Britain has already switched to the cheaper F-35C model and reduced its purchase from $138 million to $50 million and there is no guarantee that the United States will not follow suit.
Those are some of the concerns that we have. There was a $4 million guarantee on equipment that was achieved by Israel. What is the nature of that guarantee? Is that something that we are able to achieve being part of this global supply chain? I should hope so.
Despite alarmism that is often generated by Russian nuclear armed bombers, this threat is only actualized in the event that Russia threatens a significant nuclear attack on North America. The primary means of dealing with this possibility is not by a robust air defence systems in which more advanced F-35s would offer a definite advantage but rather by early detection and warning.
My hon. colleague asked if I knew what was in it. I probably do not know what is in it but I do not think our F-35 will make a big dent in reducing the harm that was inside that particular Russian plane. However, here is the situation. Why can we not get these solid answers that we are looking for? I think we are making some valid points here about the process by which we go through in procurement but we are not getting answers.
My hon. colleague, who was a minister in cabinet back in 2004-05, raised a valid point. What does what a fighter pilot did, and I respect what he did, have to do with the fact that we are in the middle of debate talking about the issues that the Canadian public wants to know about.
I would ask my colleague from northern Saskatchewan to refrain for just a moment because at the end of the debate he might find himself engaged in it and I understand that he is not a fighter pilot. I am interested in hearing what my colleague has to say because I hope he can prove me wrong on this. That is the benefit of having him here in the House.
The 2006 agreement for developing the controversial F-35 stealth fighter jet contains a withdrawal clause that would allow a new government to end Canada's participation with no penalties and appears to contradict the government's claim that Canadian firms involved up to now would suffer.
The ADM stated:
Any Participant may withdraw from this MOU upon 90 days written notification of its intent to withdraw to the other Participants.
That is contained within the memorandum of understanding signed along with the U.S., Australia, the United Kingdom, Turkey, the Netherlands, Italy, Norway and Denmark.
It further states:
For Contracts awarded on behalf of the Participants, the withdrawing Participant will pay all Contract modification or termination costs that would not otherwise have been incurred but for the decision to withdraw; in no event, however, will a withdrawing Participant's total financial contribution, including Contract termination costs, exceed that Participant's total share of the Financial Cost....
I do not think that we find ourselves in a situation where we are drastically put way back to the point of 1997 when we were searching for a replacement for the F-18.
I will summarize by pointing out that the process by which we are engaged here creates a lot of questions. I think that we as a Parliament need to be more forthcoming in what these answers should be. I have that aerospace sector that wants to be a part of the future of this country but to do that I need to know that the certainty that my colleague talks about is there.
I hope these answers can be borne out in this particular debate.
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 , 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 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 , 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 , 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.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate this evening.
We have heard a lot of discussion in this House and in public forums about equipping the Canadian Air Force with the F-35 aircraft. Over the past few months, the debate seems to have focused on three key themes: necessity, cost and procurement. I think it is important to be transparent about these themes and I would like to address each of them in my remarks this evening.
I will start with necessity. Since its establishment over 85 years ago, the air force has done tremendous work, often defying the odds and achieving success where it was not thought possible. It is truly remarkable that over 22,000 Canadian air crew served in the First World War. It was the first conflict in which aircraft played a part. Through the valiant efforts of our fighter pilots, especially our famous air aces, like the legendary Billy Bishop, Canada became known for aerial skills and bravery.
During the Second World War, the Royal Canadian Air Force, RCAF as it was then known, reached over 200,000 personnel, including, for the first time, over 17,000 total members of the women's division. At the time, it was the fourth largest air force among the allied powers.
More recently, during the 1991 Gulf War, the Canadian Air Force, as part of the multinational coalition force, contributed combat air patrols, sweep and escort missions, and ground attack roles with CF-18s, as well as reconnaissance with Sea Kings.
In 1999, Canadian CF-18s were actively involved in the NATO-led air campaign in Kosovo from bombing missions, combat air patrols and providing close air support.
An independent fighter jet capability has proven crucial to Canada. As part of our security, fighter jets conduct daily domestic and continental operations, including in the Arctic and through NORAD.
As part of Operation Noble Eagle, NORAD's mission to safeguard North American skies, CF-18s maintain a constant state of alert, ready to respond immediately to potential threats to continental security.
North American Aerospace Defence Command launched three pairs of fighters on September 28, 2006, from the Command's Canadian NORAD region and the Alaskan NORAD region in response to Russian aircraft that penetrated North America's air defence identification zone.
Fighter jets support major international events in Canada. Of course, the CF-18s provided around-the-clock support during the 2010 Olympic Games in British Columbia, keeping the skies safe for athletes and spectators from around the world. Fighter jets respond to major terrorist attacks. Canadian CF-18s formed part of the immediate response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
Just a few weeks ago, Canada worked seamlessly with our American partners to dispatch our CF-18s to interdict a flight suspected of carrying explosive packages designed by terrorists.
Time and time again, events in or close to our air space have shown that Canada needs to maintain a fighter jet capability. The question then is: What kind of plane does Canada need to face the challenges of the decades to come?
We need a robust aircraft capable of handling Canada's geography and harsh weather conditions. We need to be interoperable with our allies. We need to be flexible enough to adapt to whatever challenges Canada may face in the 21st century. We need to provide our men and women in uniform with the best chance to return home safely after confronting those challenges.
A fifth generation fighter aircraft with stealth advance sensors, fusion of central data and external information fits the bill. The joint strike fighter, the F-35, is the right plane for the Canadian Air Force at the right time for our country.