Tories to spend $16 billion on fighter jets

A model of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II is seen here in action. (Lockheed Martin/HANDOUT)

A model of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II is seen here in action. (Lockheed Martin/HANDOUT)

BRYN WEESE, Parliamentary Bureau

, Last Updated: 8:17 PM ET

OTTAWA — The new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II stealth jet is cool.

And the federal government announced Friday Canada is buying 65 of them.

But are they worth $9 billion — or $140 million each — notwithstanding additional repair costs over the next 20 years that could bring the total cost close to $16 billion?

Opposition parties say no one knows because the contract was never put out to a public tender, and vow to halt the contract if elected into government.

What's more, they question whether we need new planes at all.

"The case has not been proved that Canada needs this fighter," said Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff during a summer bus tour stop in Orillia Friday. "We're in the middle of a $54-billion deficit and we're just about to do $6 billion in corporate tax cuts. So they're buying their giant strike fighter, or they want to buy it, on borrowed money, and we think that's crazy."

Critics have also argued the F-35 is too much plane for Canada's needs.

"We've heard this type of criticism from opposition sources in the past," charged Defence Minister Peter MacKay at Friday's announcement. "You remember our maritime aircraft was called a Cadillac. I, for one … believe that we need to invest in the best equipment for what we believe are the best forces in the world."

MacKay also stressed it was the previous Liberal government who entered into agreement with the United States and other western countries to help design and develop the F-35.

To date, Canada has invested more than $150 million in the program, and Canadian firms have snapped up $350 million in work because of it.

"I am questioning the hypocrisy, which seems to soar higher than this aircraft, in now criticizing purchasing the very plane that the previous government signalled and invested very early on that they were going to do," MacKay said.

NDP MP Jack Harris called the deal "yet another example" of the government spending public money without transparency or accountability.

"Is this really a priority for the Canadian taxpayer? Do we need 65 new fighter jets? There needs to be accountability and some justification for spending this amount of money and we have not seen that," Harris said. "At no point has this government done anything to show the necessity for these new jet fighters."

The first of the new jets is expected arrive in 2016, and they will ultimately replace Canada's current fleet of 79 CF-18 fighter jets, which were recently refurbished for $2.6 billion to keep them in the air until 2017.

bryn.weese@sunmedia.ca


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