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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Liberal Party vowed on Wednesday it would scrap a C$9 billion ($8.7 billion) deal to buy F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin if it won the next general election, widely expected next year.
The minority Conservative government announced the sole-source deal in July but has not yet signed a contract. The main opposition Liberals -- who trail the Conservatives slightly in opinion polls -- said they would hold an open tender instead.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff cited a report on Tuesday by the auditor general, Parliament's watchdog on government spending, which said a separate, C$4.9 billion sole-source helicopter contract with Boeing Co broke government procurement rules.
The auditor general found that, after the initial deal was agreed with Boeing, defense officials started demanding major modifications to the helicopters. As a result, the delivery date for the first aircraft was pushed back by five years.
"These guys were sent out to buy a Chevrolet and they came back with a Ferrari and they still haven't got the keys ... It's an amazing story of incompetence. We have to learn the lessons from that," Ignatieff told reporters.
Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement told aerospace executives that scrapping the deal would bar Canadian companies from competing for rich contracts linked to the jet.
"(The Liberals') pointless politicization of the issue is not welcome and in fact is exactly the opposite of what the industry needs right now," Clement said in a speech.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway