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The Globe and Mail

Rae's verdict on F-35 fiasco: 'Harper should resign'

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae delivers a speech to his caucus in Ottawa on April 4, 2012.

Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Bob Rae is laying the blame for the stealth-fighter fiasco squarely on Stephen Harper – and he's demanding the Prime Minister's resignation.

The Interim Liberal Leader says Mr. Harper "lied" to Canadians during last May's election about having contractual protection against skyrocketing costs for the F-35 jets.

And he says Mr. Harper deliberately misled Parliament as well.

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Mr. Rae's all-out attack on the Prime Minister comes on the heels of a scathing report by Auditor-General Michael Ferguson, who concluded that the Department of National Defence manipulated the process, low-balled cost estimates and kept Parliament in the dark to ensure it got the fighter jets it wanted, without competition.

The Liberal chief says it's simply not credible for Mr. Harper, a reputed control freak who micromanages every aspect of his government, to claim he was unaware of the problems.

He notes that the news has been full of reports of escalating costs and that both the Congressional Budget Office in the United States and Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, have pegged the costs at billions more than the $9-billion touted by the Harper government.

"You can't get away with the fiction that a $10-billion mistake in calculating the cost of the F-35 stealth fighter ... had nothing to do with the man in charge, with the man whose name and whose moniker is on every single publication of this government," Mr. Rae told a special Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday.

"He cannot now pretend that he was just the piano player in the brothel who didn't have a clue as to what was really going on upstairs."

While he expects a public servant or maybe even a cabinet minister or two might get "thrown under a bus," Rae said: "A massive fraud of this kind can't be ascribed to anyone other than the prime minister of Canada.

"This is Stephen Harper's baby. ... That's why we say – and I say – without hesitation: Stephen Harper is not fit to be the Prime Minister of Canada."

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Mr. Rae added: "I'll tell you who I think should resign. Stephen Harper should resign. The buck stops at the top."

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair was more circumspect. He said he believes Defence Minister Peter MacKay is "ultimately responsible" for the mess but stopped short of calling for his head to roll.

"It's premature to ask for a resignation. We don't have all the details," Mr. Mulcair said.

In response to Tuesday's Auditor-General's report, the government has announced it will spend no more than $9-billion to purchase new fighter jets, give annual updates to Parliament on the program's progress and shift lead responsibility for procurement of the jets from Defence to the Public Works Department.

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