F-35, the gift that keeps on gifting.

The news media in Ottawa never really appreciated Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s weird sense of humour. They probably thought you needed to be from Chicoutimi to understand it. This is not true. He merely left traps for his successor. He thought it was Paul Martin on whom he had pulled the jokes. It turned out to be Stephen Harper. That was fair as far as Chrétien was concerned. He disliked them both.

The Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter program was one of those booby traps. Lucky for Paul Martin, he had barely warmed his chair in the Prime Minister’s Office before the voters gave a squeaker to Stephen Harper. Martin left office not knowing what Jean Chrétien had left for him.

It fell on the Conservatives to mismanage the F-35 file. And mismanage it they did. Defence Minister Peter MacKay made a complete ass of himself enjoying all the photo ops that a new fighter aircraft affords the photogenic. He was totally out of his depth.

When Stephen Harper realized that his Defence Minister was inadequate to handle the file, he gave it to an ex-cop who knew as much about Canada’s requirements for military aircraft as the Prime Minister’s kids. The cop did his job though and dragged the Conservatives further out on a limb. They were determined that Canada was going to get this miraculous fighter aircraft.

But what Chrétien must have realized from day one was that the challenge to Lockheed Martin was impossible. You simply cannot include Canada’s fighter aircraft needs with the strategic needs of the U.S.’s four military services. Canada does not take aircraft to war aboard aircraft carriers. It has no country to attack with a stealth aircraft. Canada has long and rugged coasts to protect and maintain its sovereignty. It does not have the convenience of having lots of places along those coasts to pop down and gas up. It needs a two-engine aircraft for long distances.

What the Canadian military must have been thinking throughout this fiasco remains to be determined. As usual, they just hunkered down and did what they were told.

It is probably for the best that Jean Chrétien will never be blamed for this foolishness. He is retired and can chortle quietly as he tees up for his next round of golf.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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