OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government, which has been a staunch defender of its participation in Lockheed Martin's costly F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, said on Tuesday that it had not ruled out the idea of withdrawing.
"We have not as yet discounted the possibility of backing out of the program. None of the partners have," Associate Defense Minister Julian Fantino, whose portfolio covers military procurement, told the House of Commons defense committee.
The program has been hurt by delays and escalating costs, with each of the nine partner nations eyeing each other's moves as they could affect the cost of the planes.
"The determinate decision has not yet been made about whether we're going to purchase, buy, acquire the F-35," Fantino said told the committee, adding nonetheless that Canada remained committed to the program.
He later insisted in the House of Commons there was no new development: "Our position has not changed. We remain committed to the Joint Strike Fighter program. A budget has been allocated. A contract has not as yet been signed," he said.
Besides the United States and Canada, the other partners in the program are Britain, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Turkey and the Netherlands.
Fantino hosted a meeting of the partners at Canada's Washington embassy on March 2 to evaluate the state of play with the program, and two sources at the meeting said the countries underscored their full and continued support.
"I think he had a reality check ... and his partners said, 'Look, this plane has serious technological issues and we don't have the money any more'," opposition Liberal Member of Parliament John McKay told reporters after Tuesday's committee testimony.
"And I think that Minister Fantino actually admitted the truth today."
Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Rob Wilson