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Two senior members of the Canadian government were strongly optimistic on Nov. 7 about the future of Bombardier’s C Series, not only in U.S. markets but also globally, after Airbus acquired a major stake in the ongoing development and production of the single-aisle, narrow-body platforms.
Andrew Leslie and Steven McKinnon, respectively the parliamentary secretaries to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Public Services & Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough, were participating in a panel discussion at the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) annual summit in Ottawa.
Leslie, whose specific role is as a stand-in for Freeland on Canada-U.S. relations, said that while the relationship has been “taken for granted for some time,” he suggested that “those days are gone.”
He also said that U.S. President Donald Trump’s promise to “tear up” the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)–as head of the most protectionist White House since the 1930s–has had the effect of unifying federal and provincial governments as well as industry in how they approach trade issues with Washington.
Where aerospace is concerned, Leslie acknowledged that the “protectionist tendency” in the U.S. has caused “a certain amount of friction,” and he said some interests are “taking advantage” of this. Without initially naming Boeing, he noted that the U.S. giant had persuaded Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to impose “ridiculous” 300 per cent countervailing and anti-dumping duties in the hope of blocking U.S. carriers from buying the C Series.
Leslie also said Trump administration’s preference to have trade disputes resolved in U.S. courts rather than through the more neutral dispute resolution mechanism provided for in NAFTA Chapter 19 is not acceptable. Even so, he said overall relations with the U.S. are positive despite “a certain divergence of opinion” and “a certain unpredictable element in all of this.”
The panel was asked by moderator Leona Alleslev, a former Royal Canadian Air Force officer who went on to work with IBM Canada and Bombardier and is now a Toronto-area MP who chairs the Liberal aerospace caucus, about what lies ahead for Canada-U.S. ties.
Leslie acknowledged that the situation is murky, but he expects to find common ground. “What businesses such as yourselves don’t like is uncertainty,” he pointed out. “Uncertainty tends not be conducive to investment . . . It’s all our hope that NAFTA will continue.”
Nor did he expect current NAFTA exceptions for trade in defence technologies and products to disappear.
McKinnon, who represents a Quebec riding bordering on Ottawa, said Canadian industry must continue to develop “superior technology” if it’s to keep building on its success to date. He noted that although the C Series plan is still subject to review by Investment Canada (the deciding factor being the net benefit to Canada), “the partnership that we hope and expect will be enduring . . . and it will continue to be an export product . . . for decades to come” with continued government support.
Leslie added that the C Series “could be the herald of things to come” because “the world wants what we have.”