The timing was fortuitous. When Canada’s Minister of National Defence announced that the government is buying 88 F-35 fighter jets, the announcement was timed for when the Prime Minister would be out the country. That way he didn’t have to take any questions.
For him this is an especially embarrassing purchase, which explains why the announcement was made when he was in Mexico. Less chance of being asked why the government is pouring billions of dollars into a plane he said Canada did not need and would never buy. .
Canada’s military procurement process is always political and moves at a snail’s pace. The need for new jets has been known for 30 years. The decision to buy the F-35 was first made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2010, a decision that was subsequently suspended amid concerns about cost and effectiveness.
I’m not going to question the need for these planes, nor the price tag. Not today anyway. (I have a lingering love for the CF-105, even though I know no government will ever return to that plane.)
What this decision does highlight is the danger of making pronouncements and promises. Which politicians do all the time.
I think it is different to make a promise to do something and then not follow through. Certainly Canadian voters have been very forgiving of Justin Trudeau’s failure to follow through on his promises. From electoral reform to balanced budgets to government transparency to revenue neutral carbon taxes to climate change action, the only consistency is that he has broken his promises.
The people have collectively shrugged. It isn’t as if we expect politicians to do what they promise.
Promising not to do something feels different. The promise seems more definite when it is made, even though we know that politicians don’t live up to their politicians. Somehow it seems more embarrassing. Or would be if you were the type of person who feels shame.
Justin Trudeau was very clear. His government would never buy the F-35. He was going to buy cheaper, unnamed, jets and use the savings for six new offshore patrol ships for the navy. Until the Liberals discovered the F-35 was the jet that met the air force’s operational needs better than anything else they could buy. And the navy seems no closer to getting its new ships than it was in 2015 when Trudeau promised them the money was coming.
If there is a lesson for aspiring politicians to learn here, it is to be careful with your language. I doubt that in 2015 Justin Trudeau had paid much attention to military matters. He knew the price tag attached the the F-35, and that the Conservative government had thought it a wise purchase. That was enough to convince him to say “never.”
The funny thing is, Canada was part of the multinational consortium that developed the F-35, getting involved in 1997 under a Liberal Prime Minister, Jean Chretien. Stephen Harper’s government continued its involvement because it was felt to be the best option for Canada’s defence needs. Maybe that wasn’t part of Trudeau’s briefing notes.
With the purchase announcement he looks silly. The smart thing would be to apologize for his 2015 pronouncement and admit he really didn’t know what he was talking about back then, that he let politics get in the way of proper evaluation of the jet and the military’s needs.
Do you think that is likely to happen? Neither do I.