History holds many lessons for those of us who care to remember. It shows us the outcome of decisions and the unintended consequences they generate. So it is fitting that we pause, reflect on the actions of past governments and ensure that previous mistakes are not repeated today.
As the country prepares to embark on what’s sure to be contentious negotiations over NAFTA with our neighbours to the south, it will be critical for the Trudeau government to continue to stand tall and defend the interests of Canadian industry with passion and conviction.
As if to remind ourselves of how vital it is to support Canadian manufacturing excellence, media outlets reported recently on attempts to recover scale prototypes from Lake Ontario of the Canadian aerospace industry’s greatest historical achievement, the Avro Arrow.
The fighter jet was a magnificent achievement of engineering, ingenuity and performance that was cast away — a story of opportunity lost and potential unrealized.
The demise of the Arrow in 1959 led to the near collapse of Canada’s aerospace industry: tens of thousands of Canadian jobs were lost and the flood gates for an unprecedented brain drain of talented Canadian aerospace engineers and manufacturers to the United States were opened.
The Arrow was no ordinary plane. It represented the pinnacle of Canadian aerospace and technological achievement in its day, pushing the physical limits of what was deemed possible by engineers across the world. But, the Arrow’s moment in the sun turned swiftly dark as the John Diefenbaker government caved to operational integration with American defence interests, opting for U.S. manufactured missiles over Canadian built fighters.
The wrong decision about a single aircraft program had massive ramifications for the Canadian industry and would haunt the legacy of the prairie lawyer turned prime minister. For many Canadians, the death of the Arrow was unforgivable.
Fast forward to today. What does that experience teach us? Apparently, a lot.
The Trudeau government has moved swiftly and decidedly to defend Canadian interests and Canadian innovation against ludicrous U.S. Trade Law challenges against Bombardier’s C Series program by Boeing.
Like the Arrow, the C Series is reinventing a category, and redefining single-aisle jet travel through technological innovations in fuel efficiency, noise reduction, environmental footprint, and cabin comfort. Canada has developed its passenger jet of the future. And like the Arrow — thousands of jobs and an enormous domestic supply chain, both in Canada and the United States, are supported by its components and assembly.
But drawing upon lessons from the cancellation of the Arrow program, Trudeau and his ministers have been consistent in their position — Bombardier is following the rules, and Boeing’s claims are self-serving and unfounded. And, rather than cave in to the powerful forces south of the border, Canada is standing firm.
In fact, the Trudeau government has even threatened to scrap talks with Boeing on a potential contract from Canada for a fleet of Boeing-produced CF-18 fighters. Trudeau has thus far made it clear that a Canadian defence aerospace deal will not take place with a firm that at the same time seeks to dismantle Canada’s world class commercial aerospace industry. Boeing seems to have severely miscalculated. This government knows its country’s history.
Aerospace conjures images of technology and innovation. Yet, its story includes the greatest missed opportunity in Canadian history. It’s time to write a new, confident and forward-looking story — for Canada, and for the thousands of people who have invented greatness yet again.
Aziz Guergachi is a professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management and is the academic adviser, MBA internships, in the aerospace industry at Ted Rogers MBA. He is also an adjunct professor at York University, mathematics and statistics department.