By: Daniel Leblanc, The Globe and Mail
Ten Canadian-based aerospace companies are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stop blocking the purchase of 18 Super Hornet fighter jets, arguing they stand to suffer from the government's unwavering support of Bombardier Inc. in a trade dispute with Boeing Co.
"Prime Minister, we ask for your co-operation as we work with Boeing to keep our collective growth and innovation story unfolding here in Canada. Our partnership is deep and enduring, but it needs your engagement," said the letter sent on Tuesday by senior executives from firms such as Héroux-Devtek, L-3 MAS, CAE and GE Canada.
The letter, which calls on the government to advance "aerospace for all of Canada," is the most recent development in an increasingly bitter dispute between the Canadian government and Boeing. Ottawa is holding the Super Hornet contract as its main bargaining chip in its fight on behalf of Quebec-based Bombardier, while members of the "Boeing team in Canada" want to convince the government that its strategy will actually hurt Canada's aerospace industry as a whole.
Read more: Ottawa seeks second-hand jets from Australia amid Boeing, Bombardier dispute
"There is a bright opportunity in front of us that can be harvested, in a successful and mutually beneficial win for Canada, our Canadian companies, and Boeing," said the letter sent to Mr. Trudeau, his two key aides, Katie Telford and Gerald Butts, and five federal ministers.
At the heart of the dispute is Boeing's complaint against Bombardier over allegations of illegal subsidies and dumping that was filed in April with the U.S. Department of Commerce. The matter is currently in front of the U.S. International Trade Commission, with Boeing asking for tariffs to be imposed on Bombardier C Series planes sold in the United States.
Ottawa responded by lambasting Boeing for its actions against Bombardier, which is seen in the Liberal government as the crown jewel of Canada's aerospace industry, quickly putting the Super Hornet deal on hold.
A Canadian delegation recently travelled to Australia to see whether second-hand fighter jets, which are being placed on the market by the country's military, could instead fit Canada's needs for an "interim" fleet.
"Australia has flown a very similar F-18 to ours, it is one of the reasons why we have sent a team down to take a look at various options," Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told reporters at a caucus meeting in Kelowna. "Our engineers will take a look at all the specs to make sure the airframe is worthy enough, making sure we look at the systems that are also employed. ... They will provide an assessment in short order."
Mr. Trudeau has himself sought to put pressure on Boeing to drop its complaint against Bombardier. On Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau called Eric Greitens, the Governor of Missouri, where Super Hornets are assembled, to highlight the billions of dollars and thousands of jobs that are now in play.
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"Canada is reviewing current military procurement that relates to Boeing, as Boeing is pursuing unfair and aggressive trade action against the Canadian aerospace sector. Meanwhile, Boeing receives billions in support from U.S. federal, state and municipal governments," the Prime Minister's Office said on Tuesday.
Still, the president of Boeing International has told Canadian media that Boeing will not back down in its fight against unfair subsidies.
"We recognize the Canadian government might be upset with us. We don't intend to upset anybody, but we plainly have to do what we believe is right," Boeing International president Marc Allen told The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Allen urged the federal government to stop making a link between Boeing's case against Bombardier and the Super Hornet contract. "If you ask me my opinion, I wouldn't want the U.S. government trading national security for trade," he said.
Mr. Allen added the federal government should not forget that Boeing does $4-billion a year of business in Canada, with 560 suppliers and an overall impact of 17,000 jobs.
Bombardier has denied any wrongdoing and is currently defending itself in front of the U.S. International Trade Commission.
"The bottom line is that Boeing's petition is meritless and based on false assumptions, citing a campaign in which they didn't even compete," Bombardier Commercial Aircraft spokesman Bryan Tucker said. "Boeing's petition is a direct attack on innovation, competition, development and jobs on both sides of the border."