MacKay dismisses fears about F-35 jet program
Fears that the F-35 fighter jet program is in jeopardy are nothing more than "clatter and noise," says Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
MacKay, who is meeting with U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta in Halifax Friday, said the program is vital to Canadian security and will proceed despite concerns about the cost and need of the 65 jets Canada plans to purchase.
"Maintaining the closeness of the Canada-U.S. defence partnership provides both countries with greater security than could be achieved individually," MacKay said in a statement.
Panetta, who is in Halifax to discuss defence and security issues at the Halifax International Security Forum, said he is confident the American government will be able to fund the F-35s, even as it tries to trim costs to rein in its deficit.
The meeting with MacKay come just days after Panetta threatened to cancel the F-35 program unless the Republican-controlled Congress agrees to a series of spending cuts elsewhere in the Pentagon, about $450 billion over the next 10 years.
"Let me be very clear that the United States is committed to the development of the F-35," Panetta said. "I feel very confident that we'll get funding for the F-35."
Speaking to CTV's Power Play, associate defence minister Julian Fantino said the F-35 deal is good for both the military and the economy, noting that the fighter jets include parts from Canada.
"We're putting Canadians to work, Canadian industry is very much involved in this project and we're providing the men and women in the military (with) the tools they need to do the job into the 21st century," said Fantino.
He added that an earlier remark he made -- about the government having a "plan B" in case the deal falls through -- was in jest.
"There's a plan A, there's a plan B, there's a plan C, there's a plan Z and they're all F-35s," he said.
Rob Huebert, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, added that Canada has few options if it wants to keep its air force in step with the rest of the world, and in particular the U.S. The Russians and the Chinese are both developing fifth-generation fighters, "but obviously we're not going to buy from China or Russia," he noted. And though the U.S. also makes the F-22, its own laws prohibit its sale to any other country.
"There's nobody else out there," said Huebert. "It's the F-35 or nothing."
But CTV's Chief Political Correspondent Craig Oliver warned the F-35 deal could still get caught up in political wrangling south of the border.
"This is not at all a certainty," he told CTV News Channel from Ottawa. "The (U.S.) administration has to make cuts in the defence budget and this is a decision for the U.S. Congress, not the administration."
Oliver also said the security forum is "a very, very important session" from a Canadian point of view.
"The value of it is it's pretty much informal," he said. "They can talk about things they might not talk about in public."
Discussions at the security forum were expected to include NATO transformation and Canada-U.S. bilateral defence co-operation.
"Defence relations between our two countries are longstanding, well-entrenched, and highly successful," MacKay said. "Meetings like the one today allow us to address the important issues we face and serve to strengthen the unique connection between our two countries."
With files from Canadian Press