VICTORIA, British Columbia — Canada will see a major shift in defense policy with the election of a new Liberal Party government and its planned withdrawal from the Iraq coalition air campaign and the US-led F-35 program.
Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau promised both during the election campaign leading up to Monday's vote. Trudeau won a surprise landslide victory, forcing the ruling Conservative Party government into the opposition ranks of the House of Commons.
"I committed that we would continue to engage in a responsible way that understands how Canada has a role to play in the fight against ISIL," Trudeau told journalists in a televised news conference from Ottawa, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group, also known as IS. "But (President Obama) understands the commitments I've made around ending the combat mission."
In October 2014, Canada's Conservative Party government committed a force of 600 Canadian military personnel, fighter jets, refueling tankers and surveillance aircraft to the air campaign against IS. It also sent 69 special forces to train Kurdish troops in northern Iraq.
In April, the Conservative government expanded Canada's role in the bombing campaign to IS targets in Syria.
Although Trudeau intends to end Canada's role in the bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, he has promised to boost the number of soldiers available to train Iraqi troops.
Trudeau reiterated Tuesday that Canada remains "a strong member of the coalition against ISIL." However, the prime minister-designate has questioned the value of the bombing campaign.
Lockheed Martin spokesman Mark Johnson said the firm has not received any formal notification from the Canadian government that its status has changed concerning the F-35 program.
Canada is the first country to withdraw from the air coalition against the Islamic State group.
It would also be the first to leave the F-35 program.
Alan Williams, who signed the original memorandum that brought Canada into the F-35 program in 1997, said the planned withdrawal from the fighter jet project would be embarrassing for the US.
"It will be up to the government to decide how the roles it wants to see its fighter aircraft used and what would best meet those requirements," said Williams, who is the former Assistant Deputy Minister for Materiel at Canada's Department of National Defence.
The other potential contenders to replace Canada's CF-18s are the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale, Boeing's Super Hornet and Saab's Gripen.
Williams said holding an open competition for a CF-18 replacement would ensure Canadian aerospace firms have the best chance at obtaining work on such a project.
Trudeau has suggested that the F-35 would not be considered in any competition.
Thirty-three Canadian firms have active contracts on the F-35 program totaling US$637 million.
Staff writers Lara Seligman and Aaron Mehta contributed to this report.
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.