DAVID PUGLIESE, OTTAWA CITIZEN
The defence and aerospace industry is abuzz about the letters the U.S. government sent to Canada over the upcoming competition to acquire a new fleet of fighter jets to replace the RCAF's CF-18s.
In short, the Trump administration has given an ultimatum to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. If Canada insists that industrial and technological benefits must come from the outlay of $19 billion for a new fighter jet fleet then Lockheed Martin's F-35 stealth jet is out of the race. Full stop.
The U.S. argument is that because Canada is a partner in the F-35 program it cannot ask Lockheed Martin to meet specific industrial benefits for a Canadian competition if the F-35 is selected. Under the F-35 agreement, partner nations are prohibited from imposing requirements for industrial benefits as the work is determined on the best value basis. In other words, Canadian firms compete and if they are good enough they get work on the F-35 program. Over the last 12 years, Canadian firms have earned $1.3 billion U.S. for their work on building F-35 parts.
The U.S. had boldly stated it cannot offer the F-35 for the Canadian competition if there are requirements to meet for set industrial benefits.
But that ultimatum could seriously backfire on the Trump administration.
Trudeau and the Liberal government has never been keen on the F-35 (Trudeau campaigned against purchasing the jet). There have also been a number of negative headlines over the last year outlining the increasing maintenance costs for the F-35s, not a good selling point for the jet.
The U.S. ultimatum may have just given Trudeau a way out of his F-35 dilemma, particularly if the prime minister can say that it was it was the Americans themselves who decided not to enter the F-35 in the Canadian competition.
Trudeau will also be able to point to the other firms ready and keen to chase the $19 billion contract.
Airbus, a major player in Canada's aerospace industry, says it is open to producing its Eurofighter Typhoon in Canada with the corresponding jobs that will create.
Boeing, which has a significant presence in Canada, will offer the Super Hornet.
Saab has also hinted about building its Gripen fighter in Canada if it were to receive the jet contract.
To be sure, if the U.S. withdraws the F-35 from the competition, retired Canadian military officers and the defence analysts working for think-tanks closely aligned with the Department of National Defence be featured in news reports about how the Royal Canadian Air Force will be severely hindered without the F-35. Some Canadian firms involved in the F-35 program may complain publicly about lost work on the F-35 program but companies tend not criticize governments for fear they won't receive federal contracts or funding in the future.
There will be talk about how U.S.-Canada defence relations will be hurt but then critics will counter that U.S. President Donald Trump used national security provisions to hammer Canada in ongoing trade disputes.
And let's face it. Defence issues are rarely a factor in federal elections or in domestic politics.
The Trump administration, which is not the most popular among Canadians, may have just given Trudeau a political gift.