F-35 purchase: What do Canadians think?

The debate over the purchase of the F-35 continues, with Conservative and Liberal rhetoric on the issue growing increasingly heated. But does either party really care what Canadians think?

An Ekos poll taken in November suggests that 54% of Canadians are opposed to the planned purchase. Other polls often show that Canadians prefer peacekeeping to combat roles and place a low priority on military spending compared to other forms of government spending.

Opposition to the F-35 purchase is even stronger in Quebec, where an October poll showed 62% against the purchase (Alec Castonguay, “Sondage: Les Quebecois jugent injustifie l’achat des avion F-35,” Le Devoir, 18 October 2010).

The government’s attempt to justify the project as a jobs bonanza is evidence of how little even the Conservatives think DND’s arguments for the F-35 will resonate with Canadians.

But the jobs argument is nonsense. As Linda McQuaig has commented, “the planes will be built in the U.S., with no buy-Canadian requirements… [I]f job creation is the goal, why not invest directly in Canadian jobs building things we actually need — like public transit, clean energy and improved health-care and education systems?” (Linda McQuaig, “McQuaig: F-35 jets are useless without war,” Toronto Star, 10 August 2010).

The Liberal Party clearly sees the F-35 issue as a potent opportunity to damage the Conservatives in the polls. But other than holding a fighter competition that the F-35 might or might not win (and if they let DND set the “requirements”, you can be sure that the F-35 will win), it is not clear that the Liberals’ approach to the procurement would differ very much from the Conservative approach in the long run.

And, as David Pugliese has shown (David Pugliese, “Selling Canada on the need for fighters,” Ottawa Citizen, 12 December 2010), the Conservatives’ interest in what Canadians think seems to be limited mainly to assessing how well the sales job is — or isn’t — going.

Tags: Canadian military spending, David Pugliese, Defence policy, EKOS Research, F-35, Leger Marketing, Linda McCuaig, polling