Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jets may still be in the mix to replace Canada's aging CF-18s after the federal minister responsible for government procurement refused to rule out a purchase of the F-35 in an interview with CBC News.
"At this point in time, we have an open process and no decisions have been made," Judy Foote, minister of public services and procurement, told Rosemary Barton on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.
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Foote said Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan is continuing his review of all defence requirements, a process tasked with looking at the most effective way to replace Canada's CF-18 fighter jets.
But Foote couldn't specify whether the now controversial purchase of the F-35s would be considered as a part of that review. "We need to look at what is required of the defence position we take as a country and we can do that by looking at any number of options," said Foote.
This latest round in F-35 saga comes after Sajjan confirmed that his government is still part of the program and likely will be renewing its payment this spring to remain part of the F-35 consortium of countries — a decision Foote confirmed today.
Earlier this week, Sajjan said these payments didn't commit the government to purchase the F-35, adding that his priority is in making sure Canadian troops have the right capability and replacing the CF-18s remains a top priority.
"There are opportunities for Canadian businesses to avail and we want to make sure we don't close the door while we are still able to do so," said Foote. "The promise is to live up to our commitment, and we think we can do that by finding new ways of doing things — and that's exactly where our focus is."
Broken campaign promises?
If there is confusion around the Liberal government's intentions, it is because during the election campaign Justin Trudeau promised a Liberal government would not purchase the F-35 stealth fighter.
"Instead of budgeting for the acquisition of 65 F-35s, we will plan to purchase an equal or greater number of lower priced, but equally effective, replacement aircraft," the Liberal platform reads.
Part of the reasoning for abandoning the F-35 purchase was over its soaring costs. The Liberals said a more cost effective fighter would leave more money to invest in a renewal of the Royal Canadian Navy.
"We're going to be open and transparent," said Foote. "People are going to know exactly what we are doing and how the money is being spent."
A new strategy for shipbuilding in Canada
When the previous Conservative government unveiled its National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, it budgeted $26.2 billion to build 15 warships. But over five years later, none have been built and the strategy has faced delays and growing costs.
"We inherited a very difficult file," said Foote. "I think we need to revise the shipbuilding industry in Canada."
In efforts to move things forward, Ottawa recently announced it was bringing in former British admiral Steven Brunton to share his expertise in shipbuilding and to advise the government.
And most recently, the government is examining a process of combining the bids for both the design and the integration systems that go into the ships.
Foote said these changes could save up to two years in the process.
"We're going to take the mystery out of procurement so that people have a real appreciation of what's involved," added Foote.
The minister does anticipate the ship-building costs to be higher than the funds allocated, however, and admits the $26.3 billion won't suffice for 15 surface combatants. How the government proceeds next will depend on what the navy needs.
A previous version of this story stated that the minister, Judy Foote, said changes to the procurement process could mean ships would be ready in as little as two years. In fact, Foote said the changes could save up to two years in the shipbuilding timeline.Feb 26, 2016 1:21 PM ET