OTTAWA — How Canada will replace its fighter aircraft fleet and whether it continues its involvement in the Iraq war will be decided by the outcome of the country's federal election in October.
At issue is whether Canada should move ahead with the purchase of the F-35 joint strike fighter or hold a competition for the multibillion-dollar acquisition for new planes.
The Conservative Party, which has been in power for the last nine years and had originally committed Canada to the purchase of the F-35, hasn't yet outlined how it would proceed. In December 2012, the Conservative government, under continuing fire over questions about the increasing cost of the F-35 program, announced it would put the procurement on hold. That acquisition process has yet to restart.
Defense analyst Martin Shadwick said despite a potential price-tag of tens of billions of dollars for new fighters, the issue has not been discussed by the candidates for the Oct. 19 election.
"This election will shape how Canada's next fighter jet is purchased, but defense issues are rarely discussed on the campaign trail and this election is no exception," said Shadwick, who teaches strategic studies at York University in Toronto.
He noted the Canadian public is more focused on the country's economy, which is in a recession. Defense issues could emerge later in the election campaign but Shadwick said he doubts they will play a major role.
"The public is not looking for anything radical on defense from the political parties," he explained. "They want to know there is an adequate defense capability and that it's affordable."
New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair said if his party forms the next government he would end Canada's participation in the bombing campaign and withdraw all military personnel from the mission. The NDP would instead boost humanitarian aid to the region. But Mulcair has suggested that if the United Nations or NATO takes command of the mission, Canada would consider further participation.
Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has also said if his party forms the next government it would end Canadian participation in the bombing campaign but keep military trainers in Iraq. Canada would also increase humanitarian aid to the region, Trudeau added.
Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper is suggesting that if he is re-elected as prime minister, the mission will be extended.
Liberal Party defense critic Joyce Murray counters that the Conservatives have developed a number of myths surrounding their strong support of the military. Defense spending, she noted, has dropped below 1 percent of GDP.
A significant number of defense procurement projects, from the building of ships to the acquisition of new fighter jets, are stalled, she added.
The New Democratic Party has also highlighted the Conservative government's failure to deliver on military acquisition projects, in particular the purchase of new search-and-rescue aircraft.
Shadwick said the traditionally left-leaning NDP appears to be ready to adopt a more defense-friendly posture as it tries to appeal to a wider range of voters.
David Pugliese has been Defense News' Canada correspondent since 1989. He has covered conflicts in Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia and Africa. In 2020, he won the Spencer Moore Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom. He is the author of two books on special operations forces.