Canada Liberal leader Trudeau says would scrap F-35 program

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau makes a point during the Globe and Mail Leaders Debate in Calgary, Alberta September 17, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Sturk - RTS1NKX

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said on Sunday his party would scrap a program to buy advanced F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin Corp if it wins power in the Oct. 19 federal election.

The party said in a statement it would launch an open and transparent competition to replace Canada’s aging CF-18 fighter jets. It said a Liberal government would not purchase the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber.

“Our (military) commitments will, among other things, ensure that the Royal Canadian Navy is able to operate as a blue water fleet well into the future,” Trudeau said in a statement.

“By choosing to replace the existing CF-18s with a more affordable aircraft than the F-35s, we will be able to guarantee the delivery of current procurements for the navy.”

Canada’s ruling Conservatives announced a deal in 2010 to buy 65 advanced F-35 jets, but abandoned the plan in 2012 after a probe found officials had deliberately downplayed the costs and risks of the deal.

The Conservative minister of veterans affairs, Erin O’Toole, said the Liberal Party was turning cutting the military into a political gimmick.

“By politicizing procurement projects and claiming to streamline spending, Mr. Trudeau is actually showing that giving our men and women in uniform the equipment they need is not a priority,” he said in a statement.

The right-leaning Conservatives, who have ruled the country for nearly a decade, are in a tight three-way race with the center-left Liberals and New Democratic Party.

Reporting by Jeffrey Hodgson; Editing by Leslie Adler