A startling about-face on fighter jets highlights the Liberals deference to Lockheed Martin’s influence. After aggressively criticizing the Harper government’s plan to buy 65 F-35s Trudeau’s Liberals have paved the way to buy 88 of the controversial stealth weapons of mass destruction.
During the 2015 election campaign Justin Trudeau slagged the Conservatives as “unhealthily attached to the F-35” and the Liberals’ platform declared, “We will not buy the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber.” But the recent exclusion of Boeing’s Super Hornet from the jet competition and the government’s continued payments to the F-35 consortium mean the Liberals are set to purchase 33% more of Lockheed’s warplanes.
Why? US pressure, a focus on NATO interoperability and the Air Force’s fixation on fifth-generation technology are important factors. But the Liberals probable reversal is largely about the power of the world’s largest arms dealer, which is overseeing the $1.7 trillion joint strike fighter project.
A US-based company, Lockheed is an effective operator in Ottawa. Throughout the Trudeau government’s time in office its Canadian subsidiary has been among the most aggressive lobbyists. Lockheed’s name appeared 39 times when I conducted a “12-Month Lobbying Activity Search” of the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada in late 2017. Another look at that database just before the pandemic listed 40 registrations by Lockheed representatives in the previous year and a look this week uncovered 33 mentions.
A sales pitch carries more weight when it comes from a military “star”. As a result, Lockheed has contracted former Canadian Forces leaders to lobby on their behalf. In 2017 Lockheed contracted retired Air Force commander Andre Deschamps as a lobbyist. Over the past year Deschamps has logged six official lobbying meetings on behalf of Lockheed.
While Deschamps is employed by a lobbying firm, Lockheed also hires retired CF leaders directly. As part of an earlier F-35 push, former deputy commander at NORAD and commander of NATO forces in Libya, Charles Bouchard was made CEO of Lockheed Martin Canada in 2013. Bouchard was with Lockheed until mid-2019.
Lockheed has also marketed the F-35 at its large booth at the CANSEC arms fair. Canada’s defence minister, thousands of DND officials and many other government representatives attend the annual event in Ottawa.
Lockheed has promoted the F-35 in washrooms and bus stops where politicians and DND officials congregate. A bus shelter in front of Parliament Hill recently declared, “F35: Seats one. Employs thousands.”
The company also advertises aggressively in publications read by Ottawa insiders such as iPolitics, Ottawa Business Journal and Hill Times. Lockheed’s ads also appear in journals read by military officials such as the Canadian Defence Review and Esprit de Corps.
The company sponsors talks and exhibits attended by Ottawa insiders. Lockheed promotes their brand at the Canadian War Museum, Gatineau-Ottawa airshow and Ottawa Chamber of Commerce. It sponsors the Conference of Defence Associations’ annual conference in Ottawa. (CDA Institute president between 2004 and 2008, Paul Manson, was former chairman of Lockheed Canada and Chief of the Defence Staff.)
Lockheed funds various think tanks as well. A 2018 PricewaterhouseCoopers report noted, “Lockheed Martin provides funding to the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, the Conference of Defence Institute, the MacDonald Laurier Institute, the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, the American Chamber Commerce in Canada and the American Business Council.” The MacDonald Laurier Institute has published numerous widely circulated articles and reports critical of the Liberals’ position on the F-35.
Lockheed is represented on the board of directors of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries. The arms industry’s primary lobby group previously promoted the F-35. Lockheed is also represented on the board of directors of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, which called on Ottawa to purchase the F-35. Additionally, the world’s largest weapons firm is a member of the influential Business Council of Canada.
The Liberals are set to select a warplane dogged by performance questions and its capacity to fly long distances required to cover Canadian airspace. The F-35 also consumes significantly more carbon intensive fuel than other (already heavy GHG emitting) fighter jets.
Trudeau’s likely about face on the F-35 is a stark reflection of the power an American-dominated arms industry has over the government. It is business as usual in a corrupt, wasteful and ecologically damaging sector of capitalism.
Please take 1 minute to email all NDP MPs asking them to start raising questions about cost, GHG emissions and planned uses of the F-35s.