Through thick and thin, including an election call, the Conservatives have stood by their commitment to the embattled F-35 fighter jet program. Here’s a look back at the ongoing saga.
May 27, 2010 – Defence Minister Peter MacKay let it slip that Canada had chosen the F-35s as the replacement for the aging CF-18 fighter jets during a late night House of Commons debate. MacKay later said he misspoke and that the F-35 was one of at least two aircraft being considered.
July 16, 2010 – The federal government announces it would purchase 65 F-35 fighter jets for $9 billion, plus $7 billion for 20 years of maintenance. The decision was made without an open bidding process for what would be the country’s largest-ever military purchase.
October 26, 2010 – Auditor General Sheila Fraser releases a report raising red flags about government defence procurement. She predicts the F-35 purchase could be expected to cost far more than what is budgeted.
March 10, 2011 – Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page releases a report estimating Canada’s planned purchase of the 65 F-35 fighter jets will cost the government $28.5 billion over a 30-year period.
March 25, 2011 – The controversy around the F-35 fighter jets helps trigger the federal election after MPs found the Conservative government in contempt of Parliament for withholding documentation about the estimated costs of corporate tax cuts, proposed crime legislation and the cost of the F-35s. On March 25 the Liberals introduced a motion of non-confidence and citing the government in contempt of Parliament.
The F-35 program became an election issue with the Liberals promising to cancel the program and the NDP saying it would review the purchase after studying Canada’s defence policies. The Conservatives stood by their decision to purchase the jets saying they were a necessary and responsible investment.
October 2011 – Media break the news that the F-35s won’t have the capability to communicate via the satellite network used in the Canadian Arctic.
November 8, 2011 – Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino visits Lockheed Martin’s plant in Forth Worth, Texas in November, armed with briefing notes that encouraged him to voice the government’s concerns about the costs, production schedules and transparency of the F-35 program. He reiterates the government’s support for the program publicly while there.
December 2, 2011 – U.S. Vice-Admiral David Venlet said Pentagon officials found cracks and hot spots in the fighter jet’s frame.
December 12, 2011 – While Canada had originally planned to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets, Fantino said the government has not yet decided the final number.
December 20, 2011 – The Conservative government reiterates its opinion that the F-35 is the best aircraft available to replace the CF-18s after Japan signs on to buy the planes as well.
January 26, 2012 – U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirms his country is slowing production on the F-35s. The slower ramp up forces Fantino to review what impact the delay would have on Canada’s planned purchase.
March 13, 2012 – Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino tells the House of Commons’ defence committee the government has not ruled out ditching the F-35 program.
March 20, 2012 – The U.S. Government Accountability Office issues a critical report on the F-35 project. The report raises warnings about the costs of the program, technical problems, and the jet’s poor performance results. The report put the per-unit cost of the F-35 between $137 and $162 million, compared to the $75 million the Conservatives expected.
March 27, 2012 – While on a trip to South Korea, Harper again tells reporters the country will remain in the stealth-fighter project. He says Canada’s aerospace industry has already received hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts from the process.
April 3, 2012 – Auditor General Michael Ferguson releases a critical report on Canada’s F-35 program. The report says the Conservative government is publicly underestimating the cost of Canada's plan to buy next generation stealth fighter jets by at least $9 billion.
April 5, 2012 - Auditor General Michael Ferguson says Conservative cabinet ministers knew the true cost estimate of the F-35s was $25 billion, even while National Defence was publicly putting the price tag at $14.7 billion. The accusations ignited outrage from the Opposition who said the Conservatives misled Parliament and called for the ministers responsible to resign.