the very day the auditor-general’s report was tabled the ghost of the Bonaventure—government waste’s classic example—would surface once again. Trouble was, it had nothing to do with the report. Rather, it involved the defence department’s announcement that the list for its $2.34-billion jet-fighter contract had shortened to two from six. And while one finalist, General Dynamic’s F-16, has shown a weakness for engine stalling, the other, McDonnell Douglas’ F-18A, is primarily intended for use on an aircraft carrier. Canada’s last such animal, the maligned Bonaventure, became extinct in 1970 when it was sold to Taiwan as scrap.
That’s not to say the losers—the Grumman F-14, the McDonnell Douglas F15, the Northrop F-18L and the Panavia Tornado—were such duds. True, the Grumman was shot down during a test flight by its own missile going erratic, but the real reason was money. Canada insisted on buying 130 aircraft for its $2.34 billion.
In a speech this past September, Defence Minister Barney Danson declared: "Technology, it seems to me, is the modern philosopher’s stone, which the ancients believed could turn base metals into gold." Some moderns—the NDP defence critic Andrew Brewin among them—believe Danson is speaking of fool’s gold. Arguing, as Danson did, that we must be prepared for the possibility of bomber attack is, to
Brewin and others, as sensible as outfitting the armed forces with chainsaws in case the Trojans send Canada a wooden horse.
Though the final decision isn’t expected until next spring and first deliveries won’t be made until 1982, the F-16 of General Dynamics clearly has the inside track. Four of Canada’s NATO allies—Norway, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands—are buying
it as well, and it is by far the cheapest of the planes considered. Its stalling problem presumably can be licked (it’s a single-engine jet, to make matters worse).
The Canadian government already has two strikes against it when it comes to buying planes. The CF-5, bought in 1968, was said to be the only fighter that needed a fighter escort during its short service in Vietnam. The CF-104 Starfighters bought in 1962 have had an even worse time—of the 238 Canada purchased, 95 have crashed.
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