Auditor general takes aim at Liberals’ fighter-jet plan with new probe

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OTTAWA — Six years after the Harper government blew up its own plans to buy F-35 stealth fighters without a competition, auditor general Michael Ferguson is about to release a new report on Canada’s tumultuous attempts to buy new fighter jets.

This time, the focus is expected to be on the long-term implications of the Trudeau government’s handling of the file, which includes adopting several stopgaps while taking its time on a competition to buy new planes for the Canadian Forces.

Ferguson is expected to report specifically on the financial and technological costs of flying Canada’s venerable CF-18s — plus a handful of second-hand Australian jets — into the early 2030s, at which point the aircraft will be nearly 50 years old.

The auditor general is also expected to train a spotlight on the air force’s problems recruiting and retaining fighter pilots.

Ferguson’s report follows years of criticism of the Liberals’ decision not to launch an immediate competition to replace the CF-18s, which first started flying in the 1980s and were supposed to be retired by 2020.

The Liberals, who plan to invest more than $1 billion to extend the lives of the CF-18s and buy 25 used Australian fighters, insist they are taking an appropriate amount of time finding replacements.

The Canadian Press