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PMO launches pre-emptive strike against fighter-jet critics

This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Air Force shows a Canadian Air Force F-18 Hornet jet escorting a Russian TU-95 Bear heavy bomber out of Canadian airspace.

The Canadian Press

1. The Russians are coming? At first glance, it was kind of a head-scratcher.

Members of the national press gallery awoke this morning to find a "read-out" from Dimitri Soudas, the Prime Minister's director of communications, in their e-mail in-boxes that described what seemed to have been an aerial defence against the Russians.

"On 24 August, two CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft were launched and visually identified 2 Russian aircraft, the TU-95 Bear, approximately 120 nautical miles north of Inuvik, Northwest Territories. At their closest point, the Russian aircraft were 30 nautical miles from Canadian soil. The CF-18s shadowed the Bear aircraft until they turned around. The two CF-18s came from 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta," Mr. Soudas wrote.

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OK, but you don't have to go very far north of Inuvik to find yourself over polar ice cap. Which is why, as Mr. Soudas went on to explain: "Thanks to the rapid response of the Canadian Forces, at no time did the Russian aircraft enter sovereign Canadian airspace."

And we all learned earlier this summer when a similar incident occurred and the Sun Media chain broke the news to suggest that a Russian attack had narrowly been averted that, in fact, these types of sorties occur 12 to 18 times a year without incident.

Why would Mr. Soudas be sending out this kind of missive in the wee hours of the morning?

Well, the government did just buy 65 Lockheed-Martin F-35s stealth fighters through an untendered contract worth $9-billion plus maintenance that will the total cost up to $16-billion.

And, as Daniel Leblanc reports in Wednesday's Globe and Mail, not everyone is happy about it. Critics want the government to explain why it chose the F-35s and why the purchase has to be made without going to tenders.

A new report from analyst Kenneth Epps of Project Ploughshares said the Harper government has yet to state exactly which types of missions the F-35s would handle, and why other types of aircraft couldn't do the same things. So Mr. Soudas is getting out ahead of those like Mr. Epps who would challenge the government's purchase.

"The CF-18 is an incredible aircraft that enables our Forces to meet Russian challenges in our North," he explained. "That proud tradition will continue after the retirement of the CF-18 fleet as the new, highly capable and technologically-advanced F-35 comes into service. It is the best plane our Government could provide our Forces, and when you are a pilot staring down Russian long range bombers, that's an important fact to remember."

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2. Ready, aim, fire. Expect to hear much chatter about the long-gun registry in the coming weeks.

On Sept. 22, the Commons will vote on motion to scrap a Conservative private-member's bill that would kill the registry, which has emphasized Canada's urban-rural divide since it was brought in by the Liberals 15 years ago.

Because Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has whipped his caucus to vote in favour of the motion, it will be up to a handful of New Democrats who have previously opposed the registry to decide whether the bill lives or dies.

Many of them won their seats by campaigning against the registry, which costs about $4 million a year to run, and a couple of them seemed to be squirming when asked Tuesday how they would vote.

Meanwhile, both Liberal MP Mark Holland and NDP Leader Jack Layton have demanded the release of an internal evaluation of the Canadian Firearms Program which was to have been completed in February of this year but has spent an unusual amount of time in translation.

The report is said to be favourable toward the gun registry, which has the support of Canada's police chiefs, and the opposition want it to be publicly available before the September vote. The Conservative government, however, says Canadians don't need the report to know that the registry is a waste of money.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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