Is the Defence Department feeling the heat over F-35s?

The Defence Department has commenced a public relations campaign to sell the Canadian public on the Harper government’s decision to buy the F-35 fighter (Steven Chase, “PR blitz aims to sell “skeptical public” on need for F-35 fighter jets“, Globe and Mail, 24 November 2010).

Roundtables targeting opinion leaders in academia and industry are being held in a total of seven Canadian cities as part of the campaign. The first meeting was held in Ottawa on November 19th.

Retired major-general Lewis Mackenzie is quoted in the Globe’s article as saying that he cannot remember another occasion when the Defence Department had to launch a campaign to sell the public on a military purchase: “They are clearly feeling the heat.”

Part of the government’s PR problem is that it has yet to settle on a convincing explanation of why Canada should buy the F-35.

The government’s early rhetoric focused on the Russian bomber “threat” in the Arctic, but job creation is now front and centre in the government’s arguments. Ottawa says the purchase would give Canadian companies “access to bid on at least $12 billion worth of contracts for components and servicing of as many as 5,000 fighters.”

The Canadian Auto Workers, who represent many of the workers in the Canadian aerospace industry, are among those not convinced by the claimed benefits of the government’s approach, however. In a brief presented to the Commons’ defence committee on November 25th, the CAW called for guaranteed “industrial and regional benefits” to be included in any fighter purchase contract: “Canadian workers should not be asked to just sit back and hope that Lockheed Martin will send contracts to Canada out of the goodness of its heart. ‘Wishful thinking’ is not how you build a world-class aerospace industry.” (Juliet O’Neill, CAW seeks $16 billion worth of job guarantees for F-35 contract, National Post, 23 November 2010).

Photo: Department of National Defence

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