OTTAWA - Bob Rae is laying the blame for the stealth-fighter fiasco squarely on Stephen Harper — and he's demanding the prime minister's resignation.
The interim Liberal leader says Harper "lied" to Canadians during last May's election about having contractual protection against skyrocketing costs for the F-35 jets.
And he says Harper deliberately misled Parliament as well.
The prime minister is trying to calm the furor over a biting report by auditor general Michael Ferguson. The report concluded that the National Defence Department manipulated the process, low-balled cost estimates and kept Parliament in the dark to ensure it got the fighter jets it wanted, without competition.
Harper told the Commons Wednesday his government will follow suggestions from the auditor general on how to make the process for replacing Canada's CF-18 fleet more open and accountable.
"The auditor general has given a recommendation on re-examining cost estimates," Harper said.
"The government will do that."
Harper reiterated that the government believes now, as it did in 2010, that Canada is protected from significant increases in the price of the F-35 jets, if it decided to buy them.
"It is the case that it is the government of the United States that has agreed to cover escalation in the development costs (for the F-35)," Harper said.
Rae says it's simply not credible for Harper to claim he was unaware of the problems.
He notes that the news has been full of reports of escalating costs and that both the Congressional Budget Office in the U.S. and Canada's parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, have pegged the costs at billions more than the $9 billion touted by the Harper government.
"You can't get away with the fiction that a $10-billion mistake in calculating the cost of the F-35 stealth fighter ... had nothing to do with the man in charge, with the man whose name and whose moniker is on every single publication of this government," Rae told a Liberal caucus meeting that was thrown open to reporters.
"He cannot now pretend that he was just the piano player in the brothel who didn't have a clue as to what was really going on upstairs."
While he expects a public servant or maybe even a cabinet minister or two might get "thrown under a bus," Rae said: "A massive fraud of this kind can't be ascribed to anyone other than the prime minister of Canada.
"This is Stephen Harper's baby. ... That's why we say and I say without hesitation, Stephen Harper is not fit to be the prime minister of Canada."
Rae added: "I'll tell you who I think should resign. Stephen Harper should resign. The buck stops at the top."
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair was more circumspect. He said he believes Defence Minister Peter MacKay is "ultimately responsible" for the mess but stopped short of calling for his head to roll.
"It's premature to ask for a resignation. We don't have all the details," Mulcair said.
In response to Tuesday's auditor general's report, the government has announced it will spend no more than $9 billion to purchase new fighter jets, give annual updates to Parliament on the program's progress and shift lead responsibility for procurement of the jets from Defence to the Public Works Department.
FIIn this file photo taken on July 14, 2011 and released by U.S. Air Force, a USAF F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) aircraft soars over Destin, Fla., before landing at its new home at Eglin Air Force Base. Japan selected the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, to replace aging jets in its air force and bolster its defense capability amid regional uncertainty. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago)
A F-35 Lightning II sits on stage during the United Kingdom F-35 Lightning II delivery ceremony on July 19, 2012 at Lockheed Martin Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas. The ceremony marked the first international delivery of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to a partner nation. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Plane models stand outside the Lockheed Martin Corporation during the United Kingdom F-35 Lightning II Delivery Ceremony on July 19, 2012 in Fort Worth, Texas. The ceremony marked the first international delivery of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to a partner nation. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet sits in front the entrance of the Asian Aerospace 2004 show in Singapore 24 February 2004. The Asia Pacific offers one of the world's strongest prospects for defence-related spending, US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin said Tuesday as it expressed confidence in remaining a major supplier to the region's governments (AFP PHOTO/ROSLAN RAHMAN)
(AFP PHOTO/CARL DE SOUZA)
A Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lighning II fighter jet sits on the tarmac for static display at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore on February 12, 2012. Boeing's much-delayed 787 Dreamliner is set to star at the Singapore Airshow this week where companies touting private jets and defence hardware to the Asian market will also be out in force. (ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
(ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
On Feb. 16, 2012, the first external weapons test mission was flown by an F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The F-35A is designed to carry up to 18000 pounds on 10 weapon stations featuring four weapon stations inside two weapon bays, for maximum stealth capability, and an additional three weapon stations on each wing.
IN AIR, NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, MD - FEBRUARY 11: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been received by U.S. Military prior to transmission) In this image released by the U.S. Navy courtesy of Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight February 11, 2011 over the Chesapeake Bay. Lt. Cmdr. Eric 'Magic' Buus flew the F-35C for two hours, checking instruments that will measure structural loads on the airframe during flight maneuvers. The F-35C is distinct from the F-35A and F-35B variants with larger wing surfaces and reinforced landing gear for greater control when operating in the demanding carrier take-off and landing environment. (Photo by U.S. Navy photo courtesy Lockheed Martin via Getty Images)
Courtesy: NAVAIR/JSF Program/Lockheed Martin
Highlights of F-35 flight testing at NAS Patuxent River, Md., NAS Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, and Edwards AFB, Calif.
The first night flight in the history of the Lockheed Martin F-35 program was completed on Jan. 19, 2012 in the skies above Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Piloted by Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Mark Ward, AF-6, an F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, launched at 5:05 pm PST and landed after sunset at 6:22 pm
An F-35 test pilot talks about airstart testing at Edwards AFB, Calif., in early 2012.