Sajjan blasts Boeing over trade spat

OTTAWA — As he highlighted the defence industry as a driver of economic growth, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also used a major speech Wednesday to blast American firm Boeing for picking a trade spat with Bombardier.

Sajjan said Canada is disappointed by the “unfounded” action by one of its major partners in the defence industry and he delivered that message to hundreds at a breakfast speech at a major trade show for military contractors in Ottawa.

Boeing has petitioned the U.S. Commerce Department and the U.S. International Trade Commission to investigate subsidies for Bombardier’s CSeries aircraft that it says have allowed the Canadian company to export planes at well below cost.

Sajjan said Boeing is not behaving like a “trusted partner” and the government wants the company to withdraw the complaint.

The minister stressed the military’s links with industry in a speech that also gave new details about the defence policy review that he will unveil next week — it will be linked to the government’s broader innovation agenda.

He said the military wants to help foster a partnership with the defence industry that allows for the development of cutting-edge equipment for Canadian soldiers. He identified four areas of focus: alternative fuels, surveillance tools, remotely piloted systems and systems to counter IEDs.

“We will establish world-class research clusters, comprised of academics, industry leaders, government scientists,” Sajjan said, adding that cutting edge research and development “will determine the outcome of tomorrow’s conflicts.”

The Canadian Forces will help companies field test new products to ensure they meet military needs. “It means we give business the experience and exposures they can use to pursue opportunities in global markets.”

The military’s newly installed second-in-command, Lt.-Gen. Alain Parent, said the Canadian Forces will make innovation a priority because it is a “strategic imperative” in the world’s complex security environment.

“To prevail in that environment, we need to exploit every decisive advantage over potential adversaries,” Parent told the same large CANSEC military trade show.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, in a separate CANSEC speech, underlined the contribution of the defence industry to the Canadian economy — $9 billion a year of economic activity and 63,000 skilled jobs in small and large firms.

“To remain competitive, Canada must be committed to innovation,” Bains said. “I appreciate this industry’s long history of finding new and better ways to accomplish the mission.”

Boeing, however, was singled out for pointed criticism.

Sajjan repeated the Canadian government’s thinly veiled retaliation threat to scrap the planned purchase of 18 Super Hornet fighter jets from the Boeing.

“A productive relationship between industry and government is crucial,” Sajjan said.

“That is why our government — and I stress this — our government is disappointed in the action of one of our leading industry partners.

“We strongly disagree with the decision of the United States Commerce Department to initiate a trade remedy case in response to Boeing’s petition against Bombardier.”

Scott Day, a spokesman for Boeing, defended the company’s trade action, suggesting it should not be linked to its military relationship with Canada.

“It’s more of a commercial issue with regard to the Bombardier case,” he said. “We’re going to continue working with the U.S. navy, providing information on the Super Hornet that will be provided to the government of Canada.”

Day said Boeing operations in Canada account for 14 per cent of the country’s aerospace industry. That includes 560 companies that provide parts to Boeing commercial airplanes and 2,000 company workers in the country.

“We value Canada as a supplier-partner.”

Sajjan also made a pitch for the defence industry to help Canada with its broader agenda with the U.S. — keeping borders open to trade in the face of possible protectionist action by the Donald Trump administration.

“We call on all of our industry partners to speak with one voice about the interconnectedness of the defence industry supply chain between Canada and the United States,” Sajjan said.

“We need your help in making the clear case of ensuring goods continue to flow freely across our two countries. We need your voices to articulate the consequences should our borders be closed. The government will continue to deliver this same message.”

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