Mark Collins – Boeing Super Hornets for RCAF, Jobs for Bombardier…and a Pipeline?

Postmedia’s well plugged-in John Ivison speculates about possible linkages that are all about politics, not about what’s best for Canada’s defence. Sadly ’tis all too often thus (headline from print story):

Economic linkages a tricky game

Let’s take the CF-18 fighter jet replacement program. Navdeep Bains, the economic development minister, is said to be heading to the world’s biggest air show at Farnborough, England [website here], next month (his press secretary could not confirm his itinerary). It’s understood he will meet representatives from Boeing, the manufacturer of the Super Hornet, which the government is thought to be considering as an interim purchase to plug a “capability gap” in the fleet [see 2) here].

…the hot speculation in the industry is that the feds will sweeten the purchase of 20 or so Super Hornets by offering industrial benefits to Bombardier.

The two companies are deadly rivals in the [lower-end] mid-size commercial jet market [see “Bombardier Loss-Leads CSeries to Delta–Big Time (plus Canadian politics)“], but have a history of co-operating when it comes to the industrial benefits that Canada requires accompany all major defence procurements.

Bombardier was part of the industrial benefits program when Canada bought four Boeing C-17 airlift planes in 2006; more recently, Bombardier’s Challenger business jet was chosen as the platform for Boeing’s new maritime surveillance aircraft program [not that recently: “Boeing Teams with Bombardier [and Field Aviation] on New Maritime Patrol Plane, Part 4“; see also: “Boeing, SAAB Promoting Military Versions of Bombardier Bizjets“].

The Liberals have promised not to buy the politically toxic Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter and to hold an open competition to replace the CF-18s. When the decision was taken, it was deemed a principled position. Unfortunately, the Liberals’ principles are not currently heading in the same direction as the government – a state of affairs they might be able to bluff their way through, particularly if the announcement to buy the Super Hornets is made at Farnborough in mid-summer, with the vague promise that a competition for a longer-term solution will be held at some distant point in the second mandate [when the F-35 may well be quite reasonably priced compared to the Super Hornet–see “F-35 and Canadian Election: Liberals Loose With Fighter Costs“].

But Lockheed has called that bluff, pointing out that 2,400 Canadian high-tech jobs are at risk, if the government chooses the Super Hornet [see “New Canadian Fighter: F-35 vs Super Hornet–Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! Hit the Fan“]…

So Ottawa needs to prove Boeing’s claim that it pushes more work through Canada per plane than Lockheed…What better way to do that than to grease that squeakiest of wheels, Bombardier [emphasis added]?

Going back to the idea that each of these policy areas are merely tiles to be moved into position by a benevolent government, the bolstering of Bombardier’s fortunes carries more significance than merely jobs in Montreal. The price the federal government is likely to seek for supporting Quebec’s aerospace industry is the provincial government’s quiescence on the Energy East pipeline [see “Canadian Hydrocarbon Heartbreak: Energy East Pipeline vs Quebec First Nations and Others“]…

Two things I have said before: “hell of a way to run an air force”; “what a tangled political web is being woven”.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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