They say timing is everything in politics, and more than likely in journalism as well.
The recent confluence of events in Ottawa and abroad was striking: while Parliamentarians on Parliament Hill and Canadians debated the merits of SNC-Lavalin benefiting from a deferred prosecution agreement, or DPA, a few blocks away at Ottawa City Hall, a $1.6-billion contract was being speedily approved by councillors for the second phase of the city’s light rail transit (LRT) system. Especially notable about the contract was the winning bidder: Canada’s SNC-Lavalin.
Let’s put aside for a moment the coincidence of SNC-Lavalin being awarded the contract while doubt has been expressed about its capacity to operate in Canada if it is found guilty of corrupt practices. Last week, the CBC reported that the company hadn’t met the technical threshold to qualify to do the LRT project, though city officials defended how the process played out.
Another company, France-based Alstom, which provided the trains in the first phase of the light rail system, which is nearing completion, has not endeared itself to the people of Ottawa with constant LRT delays and the revelation the new trains may not operate in heavy snow.
Alstom made the news in 2014 when the United States Department of Justice fined it about $1-billion for bribing officials in Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Bahamas, and Taiwan after it pleaded guilty.
The fine was paid as part of a deferred prosecution agreement of the kind SNC-Lavalin has been seeking from the Trudeau government. Note that the fine was administered by an American government led by Democrat Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, the tragedies of crashes of Boeing 737 Max 8 planes in similar circumstances in Indonesia and Ethiopia have a Canadian connection. The Boeing 737 Max was rushed into production to counter sales of the innovative, but maligned, Bombardier CS300.
With enormous fuel efficiency and advanced computer electronics, the CS300 was a leader in its class, despite delays in getting it in the air. As investor enthusiasm cooled and the plane’s production was sold to Airbus, C Series sales were overtaken by the 737 Max, thanks to Boeing’s deep pockets.
Bombardier’s rail division has been the subject of criticism for delays in delivery of Toronto streetcars, and it took another hit when the new REM (Réseau express métropolitain) transit network in Montreal chose Alstom to build its trains.
However, Bombardier has been building subway cars for New York City and recently secured a contract in New Jersey, worth around $900-million. My hope is that more contracts will mean the company may be able to hire back laid-off workers at its plant in La Pocatière, Que., near my home in Kamouraska.
All these coincidental news items lead me to conclude that we do not appreciate what we have in Canada: a world-leading transportation company that produces quality planes and trains, and always has.
I remember the day the de Havilland Dash 8 was rolled out of the factory in Toronto by 5,000 proud employees before dignitaries including Pierre Trudeau. The plane went on to be a world leader for safety, fuel efficiency, and capacity to land pretty well anywhere. The heir of the little de Havilland Beaver bush plane, it was the precursor of the Bombardier Q400, which is hugely popular in Africa, and is the mainstay of Porter Air.
I look at these successes, and the constant carping of critics, many Canadian, about Bombardier. And yet, this is a company that has a good track record, which has always hired and promoted Canadians, produced innovative products, and is global in scope. And yet its strongest market is outside of Canada.
At some point, we have to stop running down our own, and realize that “Made in Canada” on our products is a reason for pride—not contempt.
Andrew Caddell is retired from Global Affairs Canada, where he was a senior policy adviser. He previously worked as an adviser to Liberal governments. He is a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a principal of QIT Canada. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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