A common boast running through both government and industry statements supporting Canada’s purchase of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is that Canada’s aerospace industry will do well in the global competition for F-35 contracts. According to Industry Canada, for example, “in order to maximize affordability, the partner countries [in the F-35 program] agreed to a best-value approach to industrial participation which awards work to the most competitive companies. Canadian industry is well positioned and companies are gaining long-lasting, high quality business.”
The Canadian Autoworkers Union — whose members make up about 30 per cent of Canada’s aerospace manufacturing workforce — expresses a different view. In a June report submitted to the Aerospace Review (announced in the 2011 federal budget), the CAW suggests all is not well with the industry in Canada. The report notes that aerospace manufacturing employment has fallen 26 per cent since 2000, and now stands at its lowest level since 1994. In 2009 the Canadian industry dropped from fourth- to fifth-largest worldwide. The report asks if the industry may be trapped “in a stall.”
The report offers recommendations in stall prevention. It predicts that “the future is commercial aerospace” as government spending cuts result in a decline in defence procurement. It calls for Canadian aerospace companies, with government support, to take advantage of the upturn in commercial markets. The report describes Canada’s “gamble” on the F-35 program in particular as “misguided” since under the bidding system established by F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin, Canadian aerospace sub-contractors are not guaranteed contacts. Instead, the CAW calls for a return to standard industrial regional benefit (IRB) requirements for any program to replace the CF-18.
More immediately, the CAW report turns its attention to the long-overdue program of the Department of National Defence to buy fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft. It stresses that this program is “an opportunity to use domestic procurement or IRBs to create aerospace jobs in Canada.” Indeed, the search and rescue program may be a more realistic “win-win” situation than anything likely to emerge from the Joint Strike Fighter. Canadians will benefit from sorely-needed enhancements to the national search and rescue capacity and Canada’s aerospace industry will benefit sooner from new jobs, technologies and production to take into a growing commercial market.