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The Globe and Mail

Harper sticks to his guns on fighter-jet price tag

The Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter is shown after it was unveiled in a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, in this July 7, 2006, file photo.

The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper is standing by Ottawa's rock-bottom estimates for buying fighter jets, even in the face of U.S. forecasts suggesting the aircraft will cost as much as 25 per cent more.

The Conservatives agreed to the controversial purchase of 65 fighter planes during the last government at a cost that could top $15-billion to $22-billion over two decades.

The Tories selected the jets without a competitive bidding process.

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Opposition rivals have criticized the deal as ill-timed during an era of high deficits and insisted a competition would yield a better price.

The Conservatives and the Department of Defence contend each plane will cost Canada about $75-million (U.S.). The U.S. General Accountability Office, which is similar to Canada's federal auditor general, has estimated that Canada will pay $111-million to $115-million each, however.

The GAO released a report earlier this month on rising costs of the F-35 and on an official from the office told CBC's Power & Politics the jets could cost up to $115-million.

Mr. Harper, however, said Canada is immune from rising U.S. production costs.

"There are cost increases involved in the United States that do not have any impact on us," the Tory Leader said.

Under the terms of the F-35 project, Canada does not have to shoulder rising research and development costs as the U.S. does.

Mr. Harper cited the aging Canadian warplanes sent to Libya as a reason to buy new aircraft.

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"You know, the CF-18s that are flying over Libya right now, they will come to the end of their useful life in the next few years, so by the end of the decade."

The Tory Leader said all the information he has suggests Canada's costs will not increase.

The Department of Defence estimates the total cost of the new jets will hit $15-billion or so over 20 years.

Canada's parliamentary budget watchdog, Kevin Page, has said a far more accurate estimate would be $29.3-billion over 30 years to reflect what he considers the full lifecycle of the new planes.

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