If Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan does his job as directed, the RCAF will have a deal for new fighter aircraft before the next election, assuming the minority government survives a full term. Sajjan got his marching orders from freshly re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a mandate letter this week. Sajjan doesn’t have to have the new aircraft in the hands of RCAF fighter pilots within four years. He just has to sign a contract for them but given the politically fraught nature of past procurement efforts, it could be one of Sajjan’s most difficult assignments. The case in point is that during the previous election campaign, Trudeau promised to cancel Canada’s involvement in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter while military leaders favour the F-35. It’s worth noting that the RCAF would already be flying the F-35 under the original agreement but political interference has prevented that. Nevertheless, the fighter deal may well be one of Sajjan’s easier assignments considering the enormity of the other task that have landed on his lap.
Trudeau has also made him point man on Canada’s involvement in the wholesale reconstruction of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD). The 62-year-old alliance with the U.S. designed to prevent an attack from the North needs new equipment, new weapons and a new agreement and Canada could be on the hook for almost $5 billion of the $11 billion total cost. Sajjan has to stickhandle the politics and get a new deal because NORAD needs “to develop better surveillance (including by renewing the North Warning System), defence and rapid-response capabilities in the North and in the maritime and air approaches to Canada, to strengthen continental defence, protect Canada’s rights and sovereignty and demonstrate international leadership with respect to the navigation of Arctic waters” the mandate letter says.