Justin Trudeau stakes his claim to prove he's the true anti-Harper candidate

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau appears once again to have taken a bold step to become the one true anti-Harper candidate, with his announcement that as prime minister he would scrap the Conservatives' plan to buy the F-35 fighter jets.

Liberal leader and Harper hold divergent views on budgets, F-35 fighter, leaving Mulcair in the middle

Justin Trudeau announced on the weekend he would dump the F-35 fighter jet option, a move that Stephen Harper referred to as 'incomprehensible' and Tom Mulcair claimed was 'one of the most surprising things' he has heard the Liberal leader say so far in the campaign. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau appears once again to have taken a bold step to become the one true anti-Harper candidate, with his announcement that as prime minister he would scrap the Conservative plan to buy the F-35 fighter jets.

That Trudeau and Stephen Harper would disagree on issues such as military procurement is hardly surprising. 

But Trudeau's "strong team for real change" is up against NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's "campaign for change." And in that battle, it's Trudeau who seems to be going for broke in the attempt to differentiate himself from the Conservative leader.

Trudeau announced on the weekend he would dump the F-35 fighter jet procurement plan, a move that Harper referred to as "incomprehensible" and Mulcair claimed was "one of the most surprising things" he has heard the Liberal leader say so far in the campaign.

"The Liberal Party is living in a dream world if they think we can pull out of the development project of the F-35 and not lose business," Harper said on Monday. "I don't know what planet they're living on."

It was a comment that Trudeau, while at rally in Orleans, Ont., Monday night, seemed to relish, wearing the insult almost as a badge of honour.

"That F-35 might be Stephen Harper's dream, but I can tell you, for Canadian taxpayers, it'll be a nightmare," Trudeau said.

Back in 2010, the Conservative government announced it was intending to purchase a new generation of fighter jet —  the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter — to replace the aging fleet of CF-18s.

However, experts say the F-35 purchase would cost taxpayers about $44 billion over the four-decade lifespan of the Lockheed Martin jets. The project is on hold after the auditor general offered a scathing critique of the procurement.

The Harper government has since said it will extend the lifespan of the current CF-18 fleet to 2025, and it's unclear when it will complete the review about which aircraft to purchase.

Trudeau said there are other, less-expensive, proven options already flying that would meet the
requirements to replace the CF-18s. The savings, he said, would be spent on upgrades for the navy,
which he characterized as being in a state of "crisis."

Standing out

By outright rejecting the F-35 option, Trudeau has not only put himself in direct opposition to Harper, but positioned Mulcair somewhere in the middle between the two leaders. Mulcair said the Liberals were ruling out an option without having all the facts, while Harper was engaged in "decision-based fact making" by pursuing the F-35 at all costs.

The NDP, in contrast, would embark on an open procurement process to get the right fighter jets in the air quickly, he said.

The same kind of political dynamics are at play with Trudeau's plan for deficit spending. Harper has committed to run balanced budgets and surpluses, a fairly safe pledge and one that fits in with his narrative that he's the only choice for a responsible steward of the economy.

But Trudeau has taken a completely different tactic. He has refused to shy away from what was in the past considered the dreaded D-word.

Instead, he has openly embraced it, almost boasting that he would run three consecutive deficits to spend money on infrastructure, which he believes would kickstart the economy.

Mulcair in the middle

And Mulcair? Well he's somewhere in the middle, again, pledging more spending, but at the same time, like Harper, committed to keeping the books in the black.

Mulcair has said he will "reasonably" raise the corporate tax rate. But Trudeau, again appearing as some have said to "out-socialize the socialists" repeatedly talks about how he will make the wealthiest one per cent pay more income tax so he can reduce the burden on middle income earners.

Trudeau would also, as he told CBC's Peter Mansbridge, give more generous child benefits to the families who need it by not sending government cheques to "millionaire families."

In that same interview, Trudeau claimed "a large percentage of small businesses are actually just set up to allow wealthier Canadians to save on their taxes," a comment that later sparked condemnation from both Harper and Mulcair. However, Trudeau stood his ground, refusing to back down or apologize for those remarks.

It's just another move in which Trudeau seems to be trying to aggressively outflank the NDP's left to stake out his anti-Harper credentials.

With files from The Canadian Press