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Canada's Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (C) speaks during a news conference with Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote (R) and Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Canada's Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (C) speaks during a news conference with Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote (R) and Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Globe editorial

Super Hornets join the Royal Canadian Air Farce Add to ...

Justin Trudeau’s 2015 election platform was crystal clear: The Liberals would not buy the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber. Instead, they would “immediately” set in motion “an open and transparent competition” to replace Canada’s aging CF-18 fighter aircraft.

Somehow, that promise of an open competition has become an absolute absence of openness, or competition. The government says it will sole-source the purchase of 18 Boeing Super Hornets – a more advanced version of the CF-18. But that, it says, is only an interim purchase – a few years down the road, it promises an open competition to buy the remaining planes. Confused? Yes, us too.

The government says it needs to buy this mini-fleet, right now, because of the aging of the CF-18, and the need to fly the planes “hard for the next 10 years.”

Opinion: Ottawa's disappointing fighter jet decision was sadly politics as usual

Analysis: Liberals' plan for cheaper fighter jets stuck in holding pattern (subscribers)

Read more: Canada's CF-18 fighter jets can all fly past 2025, RCAF commander says

The impression left is that the Trudeau government wanted above all to differentiate itself from the previous Harper government. We have seen this movie before. In 1993, a campaigning Jean Chrétien promised to cancel the EH-101 helicopter contract; in office, he and his successors spent years trying to figure out how to buy a new helicopter, without choosing the helicopter they’d just spent a lot of money cancelling.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Public Works Minister Judy Foote remain unwilling or unable to say how much the interim Super Hornet fleet will cost.

Ms. Foote said, “We’re not stacking the deck in favour of Boeing any more than we are in favour of Lockheed Martin by staying in the [F-35] program.” But surely Canada is not going to end up buying two different, competing fighter jets? That would be costly and inefficient. Which means that buying 18 Boeing Super Hornets, through a non-competititive process, severely tilts the remainder of the purchase in favour of Boeing.

Mr. Sajjan is blaming the departed Harper government for “a highly politicized process,” but it looks as if that is exactly what his government has now adopted.

The Conservatives, in their day, may have got ahead of themselves, by sole-sourcing, in order to boast fighters to show off to the public, before the inexorable democratic electoral cycle took its toll. The Liberals are getting caught up in the same vortex.

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