Rae says 'reset' of F-35 process not enough
Published Thursday, December 13, 2012 1:51PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 13, 2012 2:21PM EST
It's not enough for the federal government to simply "reset" the process to find a replacement for Canada's aging fleet of CF-18 fighter jets. Instead the entire system must be revamped and the government must learn from its mistakes, says Liberal Leader Bob Rae.
Rae said a "genuine, open market competition" is the only way to truly ensure the procurement process is transparent and to make certain Canada gets the best deal on any aircraft – in terms of price, maintenance and others fees over the entire lifetime of the project.
The comments come one day after an independent audit put the total cost of buying 65 Lockheed-Martin’s F-35s at $45.8 billion over 42 years -- much higher than the government's original estimate of $9 billion over 20 years. In the wake of that report, Ottawa also said it was “hitting the reset button” on its plan purchase the stealth fighter-jets until a full options analysis is complete.
But Rae argued that if the government or its panel of military experts are reviewing the planes, the end result will likely once again be the F-35.
"(Canada needs) a genuine, open-market competition in which we'll be asking people to come for with their best possible deal on price, best possible deal on maintenance, best possible deal on replacement parts, best possible deal on industrial benefits," he said. “The best possible deal over the lifetime of the project."
And even before a plane is chosen, Rae said Canada should assess its foreign policy and defence needs over the next 20 years -- and then choose a fighter jets that fits with those projections.
Rae also dismissed the government's argument Canada hasn't committed to the F-35s beyond a memorandum of understanding, and could theoretically back out without any major penalties or expense.
He argued "tens of millions" have already been spent.
"You've got hundreds if not thousands of public servants supposedly assessing planes: coming forward with a proposal, arguing for a proposal, travelling around the world, engaging in conversations with their NATO and NORAD colleagues," Rae said. "I'm sorry that costs millions of dollars. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on this non-competitive procurement process and if Mr. Harper says that didn't happen. He's just not telling the truth."
Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose said Wednesday the government would look at other replacement options, not making a decision until every step of a comprehensive seven-point review plan is complete.
The government also said it would begin asking other manufacturers for quotes on the cost of building a new jet, but stopped short of committing to a fully open competition for the contract -- a stance that has irked opposition members since the government first announced it was purchasing 65 F-35 stealth fighters in 2010.
While the government originally estimated the 65 Lockheed Martin-made F-35 jets would cost $9 billion, several other reports have put the price much higher. The recent KPMG audit estimated a price tag at $45.8 billion over 42 years – a total that includes fuel, maintenance and attrition costs over the entire lifespan of the jets.
While two other reports have also projected costs that are much higher than the government's estimates, Ottawa has consistently maintained the F-35 is the plane the Canadian Forces needs and that Canada's partnership with other NATO nations on the bulk purchase meant is was getting the best possible deal.
However, that stance seemed to change after Wednesday's report.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay told reporters that as the government continues to review all options, it will work to ensure any decision balances military needs with taxpayer interests.
“Ultimately, our government will get the best plane for the Armed Forces, for our pilots and for Canadian taxpayers,” he said.
But further delays in finding a replacement to the F-35 will mean additional costs, said CTV’s political correspondent Craig Oliver.
“This means the CF-18s will have to fly a lot longer and they're already past their best-before dates, so that means they'll have to upgrade them and upgrade them. And that's going to make some people nervous.”
Ambrose said that by factoring in the full-life cycle cost of any purchase of jets, any new fleet will come with a “significant price tag.”
MacKay defended the cost and said military investment remains a high priority for the government, noting any future investment is “well worth it.”
“Defending Canadian sovereignty is serious business and it requires substantial investment,” said MacKay. “The reality is that protection, security, ensuring Canadian forces have the right equipment and respecting taxpayers is what this entire exercise is about.”
Moving ahead with the government's procurement reboot, a committee of independent experts -- comprised of University of Ottawa professor Philippe Lagasse, Communications Security Establishment chief Keith Coulter, former federal comptroller-general Rod Monette and former civil servant turned policy consultant James Mitchell -- has also been struck to vet the process, including the consideration of alternatives to the F-35.