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Liberals would shoot down fighter-jet plan, Garneau says

A senior Liberal MP says his party would kill plans for a no-competition, $16-billion contract to replace Canada's aging fleet of fighter planes.

The Harper Conservatives plan to announce this sole-source contract Friday at the Canadian Forces Uplands facility in Ottawa.

But Liberal industry critic Marc Garneau said his party can't support an untendered contract of this size.

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The Tories are expected to spend $9-billion on the planes themselves but commit to as much as $16-billion when 20 years of maintenance and support are included. They're going to join the Americans in purchasing F-35 joint-strike fighters.

Mr. Garneau said the best value-for-money should be determined through a competitive process.

"If the Conservatives won't put a stop to this contract, a future Liberal government will," the Liberal MP said at an Ottawa news conference.

He said the existing CF-18s don't need to be replaced until 2017, so there's no need for a contract to be signed in the near future.

In a release issued after Mr. Garneau's announcement, the Official Opposition muddied the water on their commitment, saying the party, if it won power, would put the fighter contract "on hold" while they review military procurement. They're also calling for a recall of the Commons defence committee to examine the purchasing process.

"A Liberal government will put this contract on hold while we review military procurement," Mr. Ignatieff said in the party's statement.

"At a time when the Conservatives are also signaling significant cuts to Veterans Affairs, a $16-billion sole-sourced contract, agreed to without transparency, can't be allowed to proceed."

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It was a Liberal government that first got Canada involved in the Joint Strike Fighter project about a decade ago. But Mr. Garneau noted it did not bind Canada to buying the F-35.

Friday's announcement, to be made by Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Public Works minister Rona Ambrose and Industry Minister Tony Clement, will represent the next phase in what is shaping up to be one of biggest military projects in Canadian history.

The unveiling will also include a mockup of the F-35 Lightning II, industry sources say.

It would be almost equal in size to the entire 2006 plan to acquire more than 2,000 trucks, 21 transport planes, 16 heavy helicopters and three ships for the Canadian Forces.

The Tories are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. government that would see them buy the aircraft in tandem with the Americans' planned purchase of 2,443 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jets.

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About the Authors
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

Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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