Competition to replace CF-18 not on Liberal radar before 2010 0
A F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is seen at the Naval Air Station (NAS) in Patuxent River, Maryland on January 20, 2012. (REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)
OTTAWA - Calls for a "fair and open" competition to replace Canada's aging fleet of CF-18 fighter jets didn't really take off until after the Conservative government's 2010 announcement that it had chosen the F-35 stealth fighter for the job.
A former Liberal defence minister says the issue wasn't on the government's radar while he was in Parliament.
"I don't recall any discussion around a competition," said David Pratt, who was defence minister between 2003 and 2004.
Liberal Senator Art Eggleton, defence minister between 1997 and 2002, signed Canada up as a partner in the international F-35 consortium.
He touted that up to $10 billion in business for Canadian companies would result from that decision, though he insisted the country wasn't committed to buying the F-35.
"We didn't have an F-35 at that point in time," Eggleton said on Thursday. "It was a research project."
Alan Williams, who reported to Eggleton as an assistant deputy minister back then, says 2002 was too early to think about competitions for a CF-18 replacement.
"We hadn't even thought about replacing (our jets) then," Williams said, but he insists a full-on competition would have happened eventually.
Still, Pratt says participation in the F-35 program was "absolutely" seen as the strategy for replacing the CF-18.
"We could, I suppose, have gone through the motions of having a full competition in Canada, but in some respects it would've been meaningless," Pratt said, suggesting current fighter models would be out of date by the time the F-35 was in its prime.
He added that only the F-35 meets the key Canadian goal of full interoperability with the United States.
"If we want NORAD to continue, then it would be in our interests to ensure that the planes of both countries can talk to each other and interoperate completely," Pratt said.
John McCallum and Bill Graham, both former Liberal defence ministers, weren't available for comment Thursday.