OTTAWA – The Trudeau government appears to have given aerospace giant Boeing the cold shoulder in Paris — the latest sign that the Liberal government’s plan to buy Super Hornet fighter jets could be on the rocks.
Three cabinet ministers are in the French capital this week to promote Canada’s aerospace sector and meet various companies at the Paris Air Show, one of the largest such exhibitions in the world.
Those meetings included discussions with Lockheed Martin, which is hoping its F-35 stealth fighter will replace Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18s whenever a competition is launched. Meetings between Canadian officials and three other fighter-jet makers — French firm Dassault, Sweden’s Saab and European consortium Eurofighter — were also scheduled.
But in separate interviews, Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said there were no plans to sit down with Boeing officials.
Bains specifically cited Boeing’s complaints to the U.S. Commerce Department about Canadian rival Bombardier as the reason for the snub.
“We think that approach makes no sense, and we’ve been very clear about the fact that we reject those allegations that they’re making,” Bains said by telephone.
“Hence that is why we didn’t engage with Boeing at this stage.”
Boeing also had its invitation to a reception hosted by Canadian Ambassador to France Lawrence Cannon rescinded, said one source who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Global Affairs Canada did not respond to a request for comment.
The government announced last November it would purchase 18 “interim” Super Hornets to fill a critical shortage of fighter jets until a full competition to replace Canada’s entire CF-18 fleet could be run starting in 2019.
The government said at the time that the Super Hornet was the only aircraft able to meet its immediate requirements, including being a mature design compatible with U.S. fighters.
But that was before Boeing lodged a complaint with the U.S. Commerce Department, alleging Quebec-based Bombardier was selling its CSeries jet liners at an unfair price with assistance from federal government subsidies.
American authorities are currently investigating the complaint and are expected to decide in the coming weeks or months whether to penalize Bombardier with fines or tariffs.
The Liberal government expressed its displeasure with Boeing by threatening to scrap the planned Super Hornet purchase, which Garneau said Monday is currently on hold.
“The requirement is there,” Garneau said of the need for interim fighter jets, “but our particular discussions with Boeing have been put on hold. So we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks over this.”
The ministers said all options are on the table when it comes to obtaining interim fighters, though Bains said it was premature to start having specific discussions with Lockheed or any other company.
Bains said much of his talks with Lockheed instead revolved around potential opportunities for the company to partner with Canada on space-based projects.
“We’re in the process of developing a long-term space strategy,” he said. “And we want to work with Lockheed Martin because they have some outstanding” industrial participation in Canada.
Bains and Garneau actually had a chance to walk through a Bombardier’s CSeries passenger jet, which was being displayed by Air Baltic, one of the first companies to operate the Canadian-made planes.
“When I was there, it seemed to be getting some interest,” Garneau said. “I’m very proud that Canada started from scratch and put together really the best plane in its class in the world.”
The federal government announced in February plans to lend Bombardier more than $370 million to help its aircraft division, which was on top of a $1-billion investment by the Quebec government.
Both ministers touted Canada’s aerospace industry as a world leader in the interviews, a message they said is evident by the fact the Canadian delegation to Paris is comprised of 420 individuals from 110 companies.