Business leaders joined Premier Brian Pallister at the Legislative Building Tuesday to call on Ottawa to assure Manitobans that federal policies will not undermine the local aerospace industry.
Government and industry are worried about pending federal legislation (Bill C-10) that would remove a requirement on Air Canada to keep heavy aircraft maintenance jobs in Winnipeg. They are also concerned Ottawa will make an untendered purchase of F18 Super Hornet fighter jets over the F-35, the construction of which has received considerable local investment.
"I think there’s ample opportunity for the federal government to step up and demonstrate that it has a real commitment to the aerospace industry in Manitoba and Western Canada," Pallister told a news conference.
"As one of the largest aerospace hubs in the country, the continued growth of Manitoba’s critical mass of equipment and expertise is dependent upon investment, innovation and the continuation of fair and open procurement policies," he said. "Combined, these factors will allow firms to maintain their local presence and global competitiveness."
Accompanying Pallister and and three cabinet ministers were: Nick Bevilacqua, director of government, community and business relations with Boeing Canada; Barry Rempel, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Airports Authority; Wendell Wiebe, chief executive officer of Manitoba Aerospace Inc.; Bob Hastings, CEO of WestCaRD; Loren Remillard, incoming president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce; and Don Boitson, vice-president of North American operations with Magellan Aerospace.
Last week, members of the Manitoba legislative assembly unanimously supported a government motion in opposition to Bill C-10, an act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act. The act ensures a certain level of aircraft maintenance work is carried out in Winnipeg.
Pallister also wants assurances that if Bill C-10 becomes law — it is now before the Senate — Manitoba's industry will be adequately compensated. He said he discussed his concerns with Justin Trudeau when the prime minister visited Winnipeg earlier this month.
"I have been told that Air Canada will provide us with compensatory job opportunities. These are not commitments that I have seen in reality. I have just heard the words. I need to see and our government needs to see the deeds," the premier said.
He said the establishment of a $20-million "transition fund" to provide training in the aerospace sector would be "a positive first step."
The local aerospace industry and the province said they are also concerned that Ottawa may move ahead with the purchase of an aircraft other than the F-35 without an open and transparent tendering process.
Pallister said large investments made by Magellan Aerospace in the production of components for the F-35 may be threatened by a federal decision to order the Super Hornets.
"In the past, the aerospace industry in Manitoba has suffered heavy losses when defence projects were cancelled after significant capital investments had been made in both human resources and equipment," he said.
Boitson, Magellan Aerospace's vice-president, North American operations, said the company employs more than 150 in Winnipeg, and that number could hit 300 to 400 in the next few years.
Ottawa's aircraft purchase decision could have a significant impact on Magellan's business, he said.
"Pardon the pun here, but aerospace jobs don’t land overnight. Really, it’s a long term commitment, a long-term investment by all parties to make sure we’re meeting the needs and the requirements (of purchasers)," Boitson said.
He said his company has invested more than $80 million to make parts for the F-35, $65 million of which has been invested in Winnipeg.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.