Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau turned the defence of his plan to scrap the purchase of F-35s into an attack on Tom Mulcair, accusing the NDP leader of reversing his position on the fighter jets.
Trudeau called Mulcair’s willingness to still consider the expensive fighters “irresponsible” to the military and the economy.
Since the weekend announcement that the Liberals would scrap the acquisition of F-35s in favour of increased spending on the Royal Canadian Navy, Trudeau has taken flack from both Conservative leader Stephen Harper and Mulcair, who says the procurement process can’t be pre-judged.
In a speech before several hundred supporters, Trudeau said that Mulcair had previously called the Conservative government’s plan to buy the Lockheed Martin aircraft the “biggest procurement fiasco in the history of Canada” but has since said he wants to keep the process open and hasn’t ruled out buying the jets.
Trudeau promised that a Liberal government would “cap” the acquisition of the new jets to replace Canada’s long-in-the-tooth CF-18s, though he didn’t provide a figure on the cap.
He also focused on the purported performance problems with the F-35s, saying the aircraft are unsuitable for use in the Arctic and called it “a stealth fighter that’s not actually stealth.”
Mulcair maintained Monday that both the Liberals and Conservatives are attempting to pre-determine the outcome the procurement without a process in place. He also reiterated some of his past concerns about the suitability of the F-35s for Canada’s needs.
The Conservatives put their acquisition of the F-35s on hold in 2012 after the auditor general said they would cost an estimated $44 billion over their operating lifetimes.
Harper says cancelling the purchase is sure to cost jobs in the Canadian aerospace industry and dismisses Trudeau’s claim that it is necessary to kill the acquisition to fund new frigates and supply ships for the navy.
“The Liberal party is living in a dream world if they think we could pull out of the development project of the F-35 and not lose business,” Harper said during a campaign stop Monday.
Trudeau was introduced by the party’s “star” candidate in Orleans, retired Army general Andrew Leslie, who accused the government of “pooching” the procurement of the fighters.
Leslie is attempting to unseat Orleans incumbent Conservatives Royal Galipeau, in the kind of suburban riding the party needs to win to form government.
Trudeau has picked up on Leslie’s call for a sleeker Canadian military that is “more teeth and less tail,” but denies this would mean cuts to spending on the Canadian Forces.
That message resonates in Orleans, a community with a large number of public servants.
Earlier Monday, Leslie said in a radio interview the Liberal plan for a toothier military would not require cuts to the number of jobs at the Department of National Defence.