Trudeau Has No Plan To Replace Aging CF-18 Fighters, Critics Say

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
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After suggesting that his Liberal government would be procuring 18 Super Hornet Jets as an “interim” solution to replacing the aging CF-18 jets that are at the end of their life expectancy, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau now says the deal with Boeing might be off, the National Post reports.

But Conservative defense critic James Bezan questioned Trudeau’s motives on Friday. He told reporters, “if the government is so blatantly willing to throw away the contract, it says to me that there is no capability gap, that they imagined it right from the start .… The government is looking for a way to get out of that commitment.”

The F-18 fighters flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force first entered service in 1982 and were purchased under the watch of the current prime minister’s father, Pierre Trudeau.

Canada committed itself to buying the F-35 joint strike fighter in the 1990s because it is the same aircraft that its principal NATO allies — the U.S. and Great Britain — also plan to fly as their mainstay air force and naval fighter.

Trudeau is opposed to buying the F-35 but hasn’t categorically ruled out acquiring the aircraft in an open competition. The last federal budget chose to postpone all major military equipment acquisition projects well into the future. In the meantime, he has talked about buying the Super Hornet in smaller quantities than envisioned for the F-35 replacement.

But that plan may have evaporated as the Canadian government inserted itself into a trade war between aerospace colossus Boeing and the Montreal-based and chronically-subsidized Bombardier aircraft company. Boeing recently charged Bombardier with dumping some of its commercial planes on the U.S. market. The U.S. commerce department and the international trade commission agreed with Boeing.

In retaliation, Trudeau suggested the deal with Boeing may be cancelled — even if it was never officially initiated.

That provided an opportunity for Lockheed Martin, the company that produces the F-35, to suggest that it could provide an “interim” solution to Canada’s fighter needs.

Cindy Tessier, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman, told the National Post on Friday that her company “would  openly welcome discussions about interim fighter solutions.”

But she insisted “it would be inappropriate for Lockheed Martin to comment directly on a matter between the Government of Canada and another company.”

Even though Boeing describes its relationship with Canada as “deep” and suggests its battle “is focused on the Bombardier company, not the country at large,” that doesn’t begin to assess the relationship that successive Canadian governments have had with Bombardier. Despite its chronic financial difficulties, the aircraft company has become a symbol of Canadian aviation excellence over the decades and has received billions of dollars of interest-free loans and grants to stay solvent.

Trudeau publicly supported Bombardier again on Friday but had nothing to say about any Plan B on replacing the air force’s jets.

Boeing spokesman Dan Curran is well aware of the government largesse that Bombardier enjoys, suggesting in a statement that “substantial government subsidies have enabled Bombardier’s predatory pricing” in the American marketplace.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Christia Freeland countered that accusation Friday in Parliament by saying that Bombardier is supplied by U.S.-based companies that provide “high-paying jobs in many U.S. states.”

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