Defence Minister MacKay defends F-35s, gov't denies deal is dead

Defence Minister Peter MacKay takes part in a press conference to the military and and media announcing Canada will be acquiring the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter F-35 Lighting II Friday July 16, 2010



OTTAWA — Defence Minister Peter MacKay is under fire following reports that new cost estimates for the F-35 stealth fighter to be tabled next week will show 65 planes possibly costing more than $40 billion over their 42-year life cycle.

With the new figure much higher than the $25 billion over 20 years that defence department officials first estimated, and some media incorrectly reporting the feds have already nixed the F-35 purchase, the Liberals called for MacKay's head.

"I don't see how the minister of defence can possibly continue in his job," interim leader Bob Rae said. "He's basically been a salesperson for the manufacturers of the F-35 since he took office."

The NDP also took for granted the F-35 program is dead, something the Conservative government strenuously denies.

"The Conservatives don't even know how to cancel a project properly," NDP defence critic Jack Harris said. "After years of defending the F-35s in the most insulting way, the government will now reportedly restart the whole process, which the NDP has been demanding for years."

MacKay dismissed the opposition attacks.

"There's been a lot of speculation over the last 24 hours," he said. "What I can tell you is we're following the seven-point plan as we have been now for some months and into next week there'll be an open and transparent discussion about the next steps that are going to follow in the CF-18 replacement."

Part of the plan is for an audited reworking of the full life cycle costs of the F-35 running from 2010 to 2052.

That work is done, but the final report won't become public until next week.

That's not good enough for the NDP.

"Why isn't it being tabled today?" Harris asked. "Why is...information from this report being given to reporters and given to the media?"

If the feds come out with a cost estimate of $40 billion over 42 years for everything from some of the development costs for the F-35 to ultimate disposal of the plane, the cost works out to about $1 billion annually.

That's a little less than what taxpayers shell out for the CBC every year.

Even so, the NDP says that's too much to pay for an air force.

"I don't think we pay for one aircraft as one facet of our military defence," Harris said. "This is something that is way overpriced, out of control."

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