The federal government has not dismissed the prospect of backing out
of the F-35 stealth fighter jet program, associate defence minister
Julian Fantino told a House of Commons committee Tuesday.
"We have not, as yet, discounted the possibility, of course, of backing out of any of the program," Fantino said.
He made the comment under questioning from members of both opposition parties.
Fantino said the government remains committed to buying the jets,
although no contract has yet been signed. However, he also told the
all-party committee the government is still considering "if and when" to
sign the contract.
It's a significant change in tone as the Conservatives have been
adamant that the purchase of the jets is a priority for Canada's
In 2010, the Conservative government announced they intended to buy
65 F-35 jets to replace Canada's aging CF-18 fighters. At the time, the
government said the first jet could be ready by 2016 and the purchase of
the jets would cost $9 billion.
However, Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 program has hit several
setbacks. The U.S. and several other nations have scaled back their
The U.S. delayed the purchase of 179 F-35 jets to at least 2017 in
order to save $15.1 billion. Italy has also cut its order from 131 to 90
planes and Turkey has halved its order.
Fantino insisted his government would not leave the air force in the
lurch when the CF-18 jets reach their intended retirement date in 2020.
The Conservatives have been under increasing political pressure on
the F-35 program as the opposition paints the jets as an expensive
purchase at the expense of other areas of government spending, such as
However, outside of the committee, Fantino denied the Conservatives are backing down from their commitment.
"I'm being realistic," he said. "Until such time as the purchase is
signed and ready to go, I think the only appropriate answer for me is to
be forthright. We are committed to the program. We intend to do the
best we can for our men and women and Canadian taxpayers with respect to
replacing the CF-18."