Government flies through opposition flak on F-35

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair



OTTAWA - The feds are under a full opposition assault ahead of this week's release of updated estimates for what it would cost Canadians to buy and fly the F-35 fighter jet over its full 42-year life cycle.

"This has been a debacle since day one and the Conservatives are going to have to wear this one," said NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.

Mulcair seized on unconfirmed media reports that the stealth fighter's updated full cost will surpass $45 billion.

"They told us it was $9 billion," he said. "It turns out that it's five times that."

Mulcair's apples-to-oranges comparison is between the possible cost of the F-35 over its full life cycle versus the much lower cost of just buying the plane.

None of the rhetoric has moved the prime minister off his insistence that the government will re-work the numbers and re-evaluate the options in response to last spring's harshly critical auditor general's report on the F-35.

"The government is following a seven-step process to ensure that Canada will have new fighter aircraft when the air force will need those aircraft," said Stephen Harper, noting that no money has been spent yet on any plane to replace the old CF-18 fleet.

Still, Mulcair complained the feds had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on development of the F-35.

Harper told the Montreal MP he's not ashamed of that.

"Canadian companies, based actually in his city, have hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for that work, and the government has no intention of ripping up those contracts," said Harper. "If he does, he can go explain that to the workers in Montreal."

Taxpayers have paid about $200 million US to be part of the F-35 development consortium.

However, the Tories say 70 Canadian companies have won $435 million US in development and initial production contracts for the F-35.

Mulcair remains unimpressed.

"These are peanuts compared to the overall contract," he said, after complaining that Canada isn't guaranteed any work on the F-35 after the jet hits full production.

The report this week on full life cycle cost estimates for the plane is also expected to include a section firming up expectations of how much work Canadian companies could win if the Canada buys the plane.

Previous estimates of the work range between $9 billion and $12 billion.

The Liberals, meanwhile, continue to call for the defence minister's resignation - something the Tories have ignored.

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