Jack Layton says the NDP would prioritize investment in naval ships over new fighter jets as part of a broader plan to refocus Canada's defence policy.

"Instead of focusing on F-35 fighter jets, I’ll get the job done when it comes to building joint support ships for our naval forces," he said Friday from Esquimalt, B.C.

The NDP would also commit to developing a white paper to chart the future course of defence needs within 12 months of taking office, Layton said, noting that Canada hasn't issued a white paper on defence since 1994.

Layton said the NDP would commit to defence spending levels outlined in the latest budget, but noted that his party would have different defence priorities, which include:

  • defending Canada and protecting Canadians;
  • assisting people when disasters strike in Canada and abroad;
  • providing support for peacekeeping and peacebuilding

Asked whether he'd scrap the F-35 fighter jets, Layton said it was time "to go back to square one" and that there needs to be a full discussion across Canada about defence priorities for the country.

"We need a made-in-Canada defence plan that ensures our defence procurement needs match our domestic security and foreign policy objectives," he said.

The NDP plan would help Canada's shipbuilding industry by helping keep expertise in Canada while providing stable employment, Layton said.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is strongly defending the F-35 fighter jets as a replacement for Canada's CF-18s, despite reports that the planes will  cost far more than estimated.

Layton also said he would ensure that the command of Canada's Pacific fleet stays in Esquimalt, B.C., similar to a promise made Thursday by Harper.

Earlier this week, media reports suggested the navy was planning to move some top command and operational jobs at CFB Esquimalt, on Vancouver Island, to its headquarters in Halifax.

With files from The Canadian Press