Aerospace and air transport crisis: Canada, one year behind the rest of the world due to lack of federal political will

  • National Newswatch

At this time last year, the COVID-19 pandemic plunged air transport and the aerospace industry into an unprecedented crisis. The golden age of international commercial aviation in recent years quickly turned into a nightmare. Aware of the strategic and socio-economic importance of these two industries, countries such as France, Germany, the United States, Singapore and China have all deployed contingency plans to try to protect them from the crisis. While some of these countries are planning the second phase of their response plan, Canada has been in the works since March 2020. So, we are a year behind the rest of the world in terms of air transport and aerospace assistance. If the Federal Government does not respond in the coming months and an election puts the government's activities on hold for much of 2021, which is still a possibility with a minority government, the consequences could be catastrophic for air travel and the aerospace industry.  That would be a blow to hundreds of thousands of workers and several regions, and the main culprit would be the Liberal government. Although there is a strong consensus in favour of an aerospace industrial policy and a plan to revive air transport, we are at a standstill. Opposition parties, trade unions, and all stakeholders in both industries are stepping up their interventions with the Trudeau government, but nothing concrete is happening. After months of being told, "We are aware of the situation, we hear you, we understand you, we are working on solutions," we wonder if this government really intends to take action now or whether it is just trying to buy time. This attitude gives us the impression that it is not important to them; that it is not so bad if the planes and helicopters we make here today are manufactured elsewhere tomorrow; that leaving control of our airspace to foreign airlines poses no risk to Canada; that we collectively have the means to deprive ourselves of all the wealth that it represents! However, this is far from the case. While emergency measures to support air transportation activities have emerged around the world since the first months of the crisis, the Trudeau government is slow to finalize its strategy. While the majority of countries with an aerospace industry on their territory have wasted no time in adding a contingency plan to their national policy for the sector, Canada has neither. Having made presentations to the members of the transport and the industry committees, we had the opportunity to present our solutions to ensure that aerospace and air transport are relaunched in a sustainable manner and that they contribute to prosperity and the development of our economy. In the short-term, we recommend a rapid response to help the aerospace industries to keep their workers and adapt their activity to the post pandemic environment. In the long-term we demand the implementation of a pan-Canadian aerospace policyHere is an overview of the goals attached to our recommendations for aerospace:
  • Ensuring the survival of aerospace and making it a strategic industry for Canada.
  • Mobilize and increase the level of cooperation among actors in the industry
  • Protect and create good jobs.
  • Increase Canada's attractiveness to key companies.
  • Review our Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) Policy.
  • Expand the scope and enhance the support already provided by the provinces.
  • Effectively stimulate and coordinate innovation projects.
  • Favour the transformation of our production capabilities.
  • Enable greater coherence and synergy between our national investment policies and our public policies.
  • Encouraging direct involvement of governments and trade unions in aerospace industry decisions
  • Relaunching our aerospace sector in the context of a post-COVID-19 economy.
  • Conduct periodic consultations to assess the impacts of the policy and modify it as necessary.
  • Energize our economy by focusing on effective and responsible development.
  • To ensure the leadership of our aerospace industry on environmental issues.
For Air Transportation we suggest:
  • To provide direct funding such as low interest loans, and subsidies. Stimulating aerospace through incentivizing and subsidizing narrow body aircraft that is more energy efficient should also be captured.
  • The establishment of a Sector Council Working Group consisting of government, industry and union representatives. Consultations with unions will help ensure government funding is tied to creation of well-paid and safe jobs.
  • To create a repatriation plan that secures jobs of Canadian maintenance workers. The IAMAW represents maintenance workers across the country and their main concern is that work that would have been done by them, is now done outside of the country.
  • A collaboration between federal and provincial governments to finance training of workers in industries at highest risk of labour shortages. We also propose incentivizing mentorship programs through tax cuts for companies that facilitate on the job training programs. Incentivizing on the job training not only provides an opportunity for young workers to gain skills and experience, but also allows mature workers to stay on the job.
Nevertheless, we still have some time to react. There is always the possibility of a pan-Canadian aerospace policy and an air transport recovery strategy that will enable these two pillars of our economy to adapt to their new realities and contribute effectively to the reconstruction of a prosperous and modern economy. All we need to get there is the federal government! The ball is in your court, Mr. Trudeau. David Chartrand Quebec coordinator of IAMAW