Critics say the Quebec government and Bombardier Inc. have given away the province's greatest technical and manufacturing accomplishment in the C Series airliner to save face and a hope of maintaining a couple thousand jobs.
The aircraft, often referred to in French as a fleuron or jewel of Quebec economic achievement, will be handed off to Europe's Airbus Group SE on a promise the plane will swing into full sales and production mode after years of piling on debt and struggling to sell.
Nationalist Quebec politicians and media commentators are aghast that the aircraft and the technology behind it will fall under foreign control. Public finance watchdogs are equally concerned the province has no guarantee it will ever see the $1.3-billion it invested two years ago for a 19-per-cent stake in the program as it moves ahead under Airbus. Bombardier itself spent $6-billion developing the plane over a decade.
The Quebec government and Bombardier have a minority stake in the new endeavour that will end when Airbus buys them out in 2025.
Premier Philippe Couillard made a strategic blunder investing in the aircraft program and not the parent company Bombardier, according to Opposition Leader Jean-François Lisée. The investment made the C Series vulnerable to a trade challenge by Boeing Co. that saw the United States government impose punitive trade sanctions against the aircraft, he said.
"What makes me angry about what happened is the deal is structured so that between now and seven years from now Airbus will own 100 per cent," said Mr. Lisée, head of the Parti Québécois. "As a person who believes in economic nationalism, I can't accept it. In seven years we will no longer own a single per cent of the greatest product we have ever made. How could Mr. Couillard have said yes to that?"
François Legault, the former Air Transat executive who leads the conservative Coalition Avenir Québec, said the valuation of the C Series program appears to have been calculated on the back of a napkin given it has only 360 orders and hasn't had a new one in more than a year.
"I don't believe the C Series is worth $6.8-billion," Mr. Legault said, extrapolating from Quebec's share and investment. "This is very risky with no guarantee. I'd like to know how much we have lost already."
Mr. Couillard told reporters in the National Assembly that the deal was about saving jobs as Bombardier struggled with debt, sluggish sales and U.S. trade sanctions.
"Chances of getting our investment back are much higher today than they were before," he said.
"We could have put $1-billion or $2-billion more into the C Series and it would have changed nothing. It needed a partner who could sell planes or we were headed for very difficult circumstances for workers."
David Chartrand, a union representative for Bombardier workers, said his recurring nightmare was that the C Series would end up scrapped like the Avro Arrow jet fighter program that was ended abruptly in 1959 with mass layoffs and equipment and prototypes destroyed and dropped into Lake Ontario.
The end of the C Series passenger jet would have taken 2,000 well-paying jobs down with it. Still, uncertainty remains and his members have mixed feelings, said Mr. Chartrand, who is with the International Association of Machinists.
"We're pleased the C Series will move forward and won't end up like the Avro Arrow. "We're pleased they're guaranteeing jobs until 2041 but, in life, there are no 100 per cent guarantees. But there's a market out there, Airbus wants to sell the plane, and we're ready to build it."
Economy Minister Dominique Anglade insisted Airbus's job guarantees through 2041 are solid despite the company's plans to open a second production line in Alabama to build the aircraft for the U.S. market and skirt trade sanctions.
While many of Quebec's economic nationalists such as Mr. Lisée dreamed of a day Bombardier would complete with Boeing and Airbus, Ms. Anglade said it was never realistic. "I live in the real world where those companies have major market share, a global network, a long client list and, in the case of Airbus, a 6,000-aircraft order list. People can dream as much as they want but we have to be realistic and focus on what matters now."
She also said the C Series remains an important accomplishment for Quebec. "It's the best aircraft in its category by a mile," she said. "We certainly hope people will note the aircraft was built, developed and assembled here in Quebec."