OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped the gloves Monday in his fight with Boeing, saying the government won’t do business with a company that he’s accusing of attacking Canadian industry and trying to put aerospace employees out of work.
Trudeau’s broadside represents the strongest Canadian rhetoric yet against the U.S. aerospace giant since Boeing launched a trade dispute with Montreal-based rival Bombardier earlier this year.
It also leaves little doubt that the Liberals are serious about walking away from a controversial plan to purchase 18 so-called “interim” Super Hornet fighter jets from Boeing if the company doesn’t stand down.
Indeed, Trudeau also appeared to leave the door open to excluding Super Hornets entirely from any future competition to replace more broadly Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18 jets with 88 new planes.
Such a move would be difficult given international trade laws, but if successful, it could represent a major blow to Boeing: the 88 new jets are expected to cost between $15 billion and $19 billion.
The U.S. State Department estimated last week that it would cost Canada more than $6 billion to buy 18 interim Super Hornets.
“We have obviously been looking at the Super Hornet aircraft from Boeing as a potential significant procurement of our new fighter jets,” Trudeau said during a news conference on Parliament Hill.
“But we won’t do business with a company that’s busy trying to sue us and trying to put our aerospace workers out of business.”
Trudeau was appearing alongside British Prime Minister Theresa May, who said Canada and the U.K. would work together to defend Bombardier, which has a factory in Northern Ireland.
May said she has already made her feelings clear in a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, someone Trudeau also said would be hearing from Canada on the matter of Boeing vs. Bombardier.
“I will raise the issue of Bombardier when I meet with him again later this week,” said May.
“I will be impressing upon him the importance of Bombardier to the United Kingdom, and particularly, obviously, to jobs in Northern Ireland.”
Bombardier president Alain Bellemare was one of several Canadian business representatives who later took part in a roundtable with May organized by the British High Commission in Ottawa, but it wasn’t clear whether the two had a chance to discuss the matter.
Boeing has accused of Bombardier of selling its CSeries passenger jets to a U.S. airline at an unfairly low price with help from government subsidies, and says the case affects its long-term economic health.
The U.S. Commerce Department is currently investigating the complaint, and is expected to release its preliminary findings next week and a finding against Bombardier could result in fines or tariffs.
The federal government and Boeing had been in secret talks to try to find a negotiated settlement, but those discussions broke down in August. Since then, the dispute has escalated publicly and in dramatic fashion.
“We will continue to stand up for jobs and stand up for the excellent airplane that is the Bombardier CSeries aircraft,” Trudeau said.
“The action that Boeing has taken is very much in their narrow economic interests, to harm a potential competitor, and quite frankly is not in keeping with the kind of openness to trade that we know benefits citizens in all countries around the world.”
In a statement released Monday, Boeing accused Bombardier of a “classic case of dumping” by offering the CSeries for sale in the U.S. “at absurdly low prices” after it “sold poorly in the marketplace.
“No one is saying Bombardier cannot sell its aircraft anywhere in the world. But sales must be according to globally accepted trade law, not violating those rules seeking to boost flatlining business artificially,” the statement said.
“We all have a shared interest in a level playing field. That is what this dispute is about.”