A couple of weeks ago Macleans magazine ran a story on the secret U.S. dossier about the Airbus affair that everyone in Canada is familiar with by now. I’d like you to read this quote and then my comments below:
“A central thesis of the U.S. dossier is that the Mulroney government tilted the playing field towards the Airbus bid because of the consortium’s plans to funnel parts work for future production versions to Bombardier-owned Canadair plants in Quebec. By 1987, the Tory hierarchy was convinced that “Quebec and Jobs” were the cornerstone for another federal election victory, says the document, and went to great lengths to ensure that the planned investment work take place.”
The article goes on to desribe a meeting between th PM, the Ambassador to France and multiple senior government officials brainstorming in room together about how to get this done.
Now, put aside alleged kickbacks, bribes, power mongering, sleeze, etc. and think about this allegation for a minute.
The Prime Minister and the top leadership of government were so desperate to get high paying jobs in Quebec that they would risk the wrath of the Americans and possibly do illegal and/or unethical things.
I find this amazing. I even find it powerful.
Imagine if the Prime Minister of Canada, the Premier of New Brunswick, the Ambassador to Germany and top government officials were in a room brainstorming how to get that new Volkswagen plant into New Brunswick?
Imagine if the Prime Minister of Canada, the Premier of New Brunswick, the Ambassador to Switzerland and top government officials were in a room brainstorming how to get that 1,500 job Nestle plant (that went to Arkansas) into New Brunswick?
Imagine if the Prime Minister of Canada, the Premier of New Brunswick, the Ambassador to France and top government officials were in a room brainstorming how to get that next aerospace plant into New Brunswick?
It’s laughable prima face but really it shouldn’t be. Aerospace has become a cornerstone of the Quebec economy and continues to receive hundreds of millions in federal funding (consider the Tory $150 million for Bell Helicopters).
While Quebec’s population grew by something like 8% in the last 10 years, New Brunswick’s has actually declined.
Sure, Quebec has economic challenges – major challenges – but having 25,000 aerospace jobs – seeded by government effort – is certainly not the problem.
Now you cynics are going to say that New Brunswick doesn’t have the ‘political’ clout that Quebec has (and had). You will say that there has never been a large scale manufacturing plant supported by the Feds set up in New Brunswick. Ever. You will laugh at my naivete.
But is everything politics? Would it kill the Prime Minister to get on a plane with the Premier, meet the Ambassador to Germany and plot a strategy to attack Volkswagen?
I have an alternate (and niave) view. I think that if the PM took economic development in the Atl. Provinces seriously, it would bolster his image across Canada. It is not healthy in a large and spread out place like Canada to have entrenched areas of underdevelopment – for decades. It threatens national unity. It leads to resentment on all sides. And it is an economic drain on the national economy to require such large scale transfers of wealth from one area to the other.
But that’s just me.