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This article was published 10/10/2018 (1076 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It may not be the Centre of Excellence originally promised in the aftermath of the legal challenge to Air Canada’s decision to close its heavy maintenance shop in Winnipeg, but there will likely be more companies able to take advantage of the $10 million in federal funding for Manitoba’s aerospace industry announced Wednesday.
Asked if this wraps up the federal government’s commitment in this matter — which has been ongoing for more than two years — Navdeep Bains, the federal innovation, science and economic development minister, said it’s more than that.
"It speaks more broadly to our commitments around economic growth, specifically in the aerospace sector," Bains said Wednesday. "This amount just reaffirms our commitment to that sector. It goes beyond Bill C-10."
Bill C-10, legislation that removed a requirement for Air Canada to retain 2,600 high-paying heavy maintenance jobs in Winnipeg, Montreal and Mississauga, Ont., was passed 28 months ago after the Liberal government confirmed a $20-million commitment for Manitoba.
Originally, Air Canada proposed making its former heavy maintenance hangar near Richardson International Airport available to a consortium of smaller companies to create an aerospace "Centre of Excellence," but that never materialized.
In August 2017, the other half of that $20-million commitment was announced for the expansion of the Centre for Aerospace Technology and Training at Red River College, creating a new entity dubbed the "Smart Factory."
Wednesday’s announcement included $1.8 million for the Composites Innovation Centre to develop a satellite shop of sorts at RRC’s Smart Factory to study novel ways to use composites and to collaborate with manufacturers such as Magellan Aerospace.
Of the remainder of the $10 million, Magellan received $5 million to work on enhanced manufacturing technologies to ensure it remains competitive; WestCard, the non-profit research operation at GE’s aircraft engine testing site in Winnipeg, received $1.6 million to bolster the potential for additionalresearch into engine testing; and the Composites Innovation Centre was put in charge of a new $1.6-million Manitoba Aerospace Fund, whose mandate is to help small and medium-sized aerospace companies in the province develop more innovative products and processes.
Manitoba has the country’s third-largest aerospace sector, employing about 4,600 people and dominated by three large players: Boeing Canada, Magellan Aerospace and StandardAero.
The province’s smaller aerospace companies, numbering close to 50, are to be the beneficiaries of the new fund.
"The smaller players need to scale up," Bains said. "They have enormous opportunities to tap into global supply chains."
Doug McCartney, the CEO of the Composites Innovation Centre, said the terms and conditions for access to the fund are just being worked out. He said, "The plan is to have everything ready in advance of the new fiscal year when we hope to be announcing the projects that we will invest in."
In an email note, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said the federal support for aerospace as a resolution to Bill C-10 worked out well for the province.
"This announcement is a result of some very successful provincial advocacy since 2016, and an example of effective collaboration between governments," Pallister said. "Manitoba’s aerospace sector is a significant part of our economy, and we thank the federal government for following through on its commitment."
But Manitoba Sen. Don Plett, who pushed for his province to secure $20 million in aerospace funding two years ago, questioned why Wednesday’s cash took so long to materialize.
"It’s an entirely unreasonable timeline," the Conservative senator told the Free Press.
Plett and others stalled Bill C-10 until the Liberals "reluctantly" reaffirmed a $20-million commitment for Manitoba in June 2016.
In the meantime, Ottawa gave troubled Quebec firm Bombardier $372.5 million in interest-free loans in February 2017.
Plett said he is confused as to why Ottawa couldn’t get Manitoba’s cash out the door by then.
"Compared to Bombardier, it’s pocket change," he said. "There’s a huge double standard here."
— with files from Dylan Robertson
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.