Rumours are swirling around Ottawa that the F-35 aircraft purchase is dead. Is it? No one knows just yet, but it would be a shock to see the Conservative government move away from its defense of this much maligned purchase.
According to media reports, the cabinet Operations Committee has decided to kill the deal. Quite possibly they have, however, they don't have final say as that is left up to the Prime Minister and the Priorities and Planning Committee.
The Operations Committee looks at issues of political significance or impact on the government. It consists of roughly a dozen ministers, many picked for their political smarts and their background, both inside and outside of politics. The committee weighs the pros and cons of government action and makes a recommendation. By itself this committee can't kill an issue, but its recommendations certainly carry a lot of weight.
The fact that the "Ops Committee" at this late date in the process is once again looking at the F-35 contract is significant. This would suggest that something has come up which would have either impacted a previous decision made by this same committee or there is a red flag on the horizon that the government must now address.
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It may very well be that the recent KPMG audit has come up with new figures on ownership costs. Some reports are suggesting it may reach $40 billion. If accurate, an amount that high (and one which is significantly higher from previous numbers provided to the government) would warrant another look at the purchase. Perhaps that is what is driving this new decision-making process.
Either way, this fighter is proving very costly both in a dollar value and in lost political capital for the Conservatives. During a time of restraint and with budget projections being weak over the next couple of years, the government is well advised to take another look at the F-35's capabilities and costs and compare it to other potential competitors that may be on the market. This is especially true if they can find a cheaper off- the-shelf model or one already in production such as the Raptor, Rafale or Typhoon.
Certainly if the Conservatives cancel the F-35 program, there will be considerable political blowback with the opposition parties shouting "I told you so." However, it would be far better for the Conservatives to make a wise decision and take the short term political pain knowing that in the long term they can spin it as a wise decision in keeping with their image of being strong fiscal managers while looking after the best interests of our men and women in uniform.