Pierre Fitzgibbon is Quebec’s Minister of Economy and Innovation.
As private firms such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX invest heavily in the space race, as NASA prepares to return to the moon and plans a trip to Mars, as more and more people the world over travel to discover new cultures and new lands, it would be a critical mistake for Canada to disengage from the aerospace sector.
The Canadian government no longer supports its aerospace and defence sectors with specifically designed programs as it once did. Ottawa instead favours cross-sector innovation programs such as the Strategic Innovation Fund and the Innovation Superclusters Initiative. If Canada is to compete on a global scale in aerospace, it is essential that Canadian firms are on a level playing field with their rivals.
Our aerospace industry is facing international competitors with access to dedicated, abundant sector funds, such as Clean Sky, the European research program aimed at reducing aircraft gas emissions and noise levels. In the United States, the approach is somewhat different. Boeing, for example, receives tens of billions of dollars in contracts, loans and loan guaranties from the U.S. government, and billions more from state and local authorities.
The success of Boeing and Europe’s Airbus are closely linked to one form of government support or another. Adopting the U.S. model would require an unlikely change in Canadian defence spending. Sector-specific funds therefore remain Canada’s best option.
To maintain Canada’s leadership, increase the quantity and quality of our aerospace jobs and increase our competitiveness worldwide, the federal government must reinstate specific innovation funds dedicated to the aerospace sector. The government of Quebec is prepared to collaborate with the federal government to establish such funds.
Governments everywhere support their aerospace industries because they drive innovation and competitiveness. In Canada, aerospace accounts for 24 per cent of total manufacturing sector research and development investment, even though it makes up only 5 per cent of the total manufacturing GDP. Aerospace is seven times more R&D-intensive than the manufacturing sector average.
The aerospace sector in Canada and Quebec is not only a significant source of high-paying jobs and a key driver of research and innovation; it is also a source of pride. Despite Canada’s relatively small population, our aerospace industry is the fifth-largest in the world.
In 2017, Quebec’s aerospace industry accounted for 41,000 jobs and $14.4-billion in sales. That’s 48 per cent of all Canadian aerospace industry jobs and 50 per cent of all sales. Quebec is also where 70 per cent of aerospace research is conducted. It is safe to say that the futures of the Canadian and Quebec aerospace industries are one and the same. That is why we are calling on the federal government to support this strategic industry, as it should support all innovation champions in all leading economic sectors.
This support should include Crown corporation procurements, unlike Via Rail’s recent decision to award a major contract for replacement trains to a supplier that will not put Canadian families and communities to work.
Most Canadians and Quebeckers do not understand why the federal government cannot secure jobs from these contracts, especially when our international competitors do so in such blatant ways. They do not understand how our neighbours can direct contracts to domestic suppliers while Canada hides behind procurement procedure and international agreements to avoid criticism. They believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
I firmly believe that we must work together to ensure that the future of the Canadian aerospace industry and other leading industries remains promising. As Henry Ford noted, “Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”