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A F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), fighter aircraft seen as it arrives at Edwards Air Force Base in California in this May 2010 file photograph.

HO/Tom Reynolds/Reuters/Lockheed Martin

Stephen Harper is trying to keep a lid on accusations from rivals that his government's pricey stealth fighter jet purchase is more expensive than advertised.

Michael Ignatieff's Liberals are pointing to a U.S. government watchdog's estimate that says the F-35 fighters that Canada is buying have more than doubled in cost.

But the Conservative Leader is promising Canadians that this country has a special deal with the United States that insulates it from the F-35 Lightning's spiraling costs.

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"We are sheltered from research and development costs," Mr. Harper told reporters during a campaign stop in south-central Quebec.

The Liberals, however, dispute this, saying a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the total acquisition cost of the F-35 has nearly doubled from $81-million (U.S.)_to $156 million per plane - overruns that American Senator John McCain has labelled "an absolute disgrace."

The Harper government insists Canada's planes will only cost $75-million each.

The Liberals are questioning the discrepancy, noting in a statement that U.S. law prohibits the sale of military equipment to foreign countries at a lower price than the U.S. government pays.

Mr. Harper said Canada needs new planes by the end of this decade and Canada's aerospace industry stands to reap $12-billion in business from contracts to help build the F-35s.

The Conservatives agreed to the controversial purchase of 65 fighter planes during the last government at a cost that could top $15-billion to $22-billion over two decades.

The Tories selected the jets without a competitive bidding process.

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Opposition rivals have criticized the deal as ill-timed during an era of high deficits and insisted a competition would yield a better price.

Mr. Harper has said all the information in his possession suggests Canada's costs will not increase.

The Department of Defence estimates the total cost of the new jets will hit $15-billion or so over 20 years.

Canada's parliamentary budget watchdog, Kevin Page, has said a far more accurate estimate would be $29.3-billion over 30 years to reflect what he considers the full lifecycle of the new planes.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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