Some seven months ago I speculated that the Liberal government might be considering using the CF-18 replacement fiasco as a way to subsidize Bombardier. I explained that I am not opposed to using defence production as a (legal) industrial subsidy too and, also, that I’m not qualified to say what is or is not the better fighter plane for Canada.
But, a few weeks ago, the well informed Aviation Week said that “As the Royal Canadian Air Force struggles to meet its military commitments to Norad and NATO with 77 worn out CF-18 Hornets, the government in Ottawa is reaching out to fighter aircraft manufacturers and other nations such as Denmark, France, Germany and Sweden to figure out the best way to replace its 34-year-old fighter,” and the suggestion was that senior officials, a few RCAF generals (and, perhaps even a minister or two) would be at the Farnborough Air Show looking for some sort of deal. (A report from the Commons Defence Committee calls on the government to make a decision within a year, because, as Aviation Week says, the CF-18s are ‘worn out.”)
Both the French Rafale (left) and Swedish Gripen (right) are reputed to be good “fits,” if the F-35 is, indeed, off the table, and …
… if regional (read Quebec) industrial “benefits” are to be given a high priority then either might be willing to direct considerable work to Bombardier.
In my considered opinion, based on considerable exposure to the inner workings of defence procurement, albeit over 25 years ago, there are no such things as “industrial benefits.” It is possible to arrange for offsets but companies never “give” anything … every regional industrial benefit is paid for, often at considerably more than 100% of its value.
The Liberals cannot (honestly) square the circle of their promises to have a fair and open competition for a new aircraft while, at the same time, excluding the F-35 from consideration. But, maybe they can reframe the debate in terms of revitalizing the Canadian aerospace sector ~ which is, really, all about contracts for Quebec ~ and paint the outcome as a “win-win.” Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberals are still riding high, in the polls, eleven months after the election, so if he’s going to have to break some promises now would not be a bad time, and given Canadians general antipathy towards defence and their expectation that Quebec’s “squeaky wheel” will always get the “grease” of federal largesse then the CF-18 replacement might be a not too bad promise to break.
As I am about 99% certain that Jean Chrétien will have told him, doing things to the military is almost always a safe bet … they rarely fight back. One thing Prime Minister Trudeau can count on, 100%, is that so long as he gives the RCAF a half decent aircraft they will fly the hell out of it and get more from a “less than the best” aircraft than any other air force can from the very best.