The company behind the F-35 fighter jet is disputing claims made by Canada’s defence minister about the level of interaction between Ottawa and its executives in recent months.
Lockheed Martin is one of only a handful of contenders qualified to provide the next generation of fighter aircraft to the Canadian military. Earlier this week, reports surfaced suggesting the Trudeau government favours the company’s main competitor, Boeing, as the Department of National Defence prepares to replace its aging fleet of CF-18s.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan denied any favouritism of Boeing during Question Period on Tuesday, noting that he even had discussions with a senior executive from Lockheed Martin on a recent trip to Singapore.
“In terms of meeting officials from various companies … in our trip to Singapore the CEO of Lockheed actually was with us at that conference and I met with her, sat with her at that (dinner) table as well,” Sajjan said.
But a source within Lockheed Martin, speaking on background, is now disputing that claim.
Sajjan indeed sat at the same table as CEO Marillyn Hewson during a dinner reception, the Lockheed Martin source said, but the defence minister declined to meet Hewson for a one-on-one and their interactions were very limited.
Lockheed Martin has been attempting to reach out to various government officials in recent months, according to the source. The company sent out letters around Christmas to various ministers requesting a meeting to brief them on the company’s work. Since then, they have allegedly only had one senior advisor come in for what was deemed an informal meeting.
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Lockheed ‘told us to stand down’
A spokesperson for Sajjan’s office noted Wednesday that Sajjan does not generally meet with company executives himself, leaving that to other members of staff. Spokesperson Jordan Owens maintained that Sajjan and Hewson sat at the same table not once, but twice, in Singapore.
“The minister doesn’t make a habit of meeting with lobbyists, and he hasn’t met with any CEOs of aircraft manufacturers in an official capacity,” said Owens.
She confirmed that a request to meet one-on-one did come in, and Sajjan’s staff were considering it, but “Lockheed at the last moment told us to stand down.”
“I was also really surprised by the (statement) that we only had one meeting (in recent months) with members of our staff. We’re in pretty regular contact with Lockheed and with a number of other companies, so I don’t really know what to say about that one.”
A search of lobbying records shows representatives from Boeing have had contact with several government officials in recent months, although it’s unclear precisely what the discussions involved.
The Liberals have said that Canada is facing a “gap” in its military capabilities and that they are working hard to ensure the Canadian military has fighter jets that suit its needs over the next ten years.
The current fleet of CF-18 aircraft was purchased in the early 1980s, and is scheduled to be retired in 2025. The lifespan of the planes was extended thanks to a $400-million upgrade program implemented by the previous Conservative government.