Potential waning of F-35 industrial benefits a time bomb for Conservatives

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - Amid an avalanche of figures, estimates and soothing words about the Conservative government's troubled stealth fighter program, one report is expected to warn about lagging benefits for Canada's aerospace sector.

And experts say it could be more damaging in the long run than the bruising debate about the controversial fighter's eye-popping cost.

Winslow Wheeler, a U.S. aviation expert and long-standing critic of the F-35, says what ends up in the hands of aerospace companies could be very different from what the government has promised.

When the Conservatives announced their plan to buy the Lockheed Martin-built jet in 2010, they predicted aerospace offshoots worth upwards of $12 billion — a number that's since been reduced to $9.8 billion.

Government sources say a forthcoming report to Parliament suggests Canadian companies will struggle to hit the US $9 billion mark in the face of stiff competition from other nations.

Retired air force colonel Paul Maillet says the deal wasn't structured to Canada's advantage. Prime Minister Stephen Harper says aerospace companies have already won hundreds of millions of dollars in work.