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It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark

In April of 2007, the federal government made a commitment to Canadians to invest in aerospace by launching the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative (SADI).


March 23, 2009
By Drew McCarthy

In April of 2007, the federal government made a commitment to Canadians to invest in aerospace by launching the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative (SADI). The purpose of the project was to support strategic industrial research and pre-competitive development (R&D) projects in the aerospace, defence, space and security (A&D) industries.

During the election campaign last October, Prime Minister Harper promised that his party would expand the program by $200 million over the next four years. At a joint gathering of the Canadian Club of Toronto and Empire Club of Canada, the prime minister told his audience, “Let me be clear. These will not be bailouts of yesterday’s problems. We will support the development and
deployment of new technology.”

The intent and direction of that election promise was widely viewed as good news by the Canadian aerospace industry. Then came Budget 2009, and the election promise mysteriously disappeared from sight.

Claude Lajeunesse, head of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), immediately expressed his concern that the government had abandoned its election promise.

On the government side, Industry Minister Tony Clement insisted that the aerospace industry in Canada is in solid shape and is not in need of federal financial aid. This sadly belies the government’s commitment to the industry and suggests an unwarranted level of complacency.

In a recent conversation with Lajeunesse, he explained to me that while he agrees there’s currently no need to panic, it is equally not the time to abandon our investment in the future. Lajeunesse says that if we don’t want the industry to have major problems in two, three, four or five years, then something needs to be done now.

From the AIAC’s point of view, the $200 million election promise is a minimum dollar amount. Recent figures show that the Europeans are investing in the vicinity of US$1.5 billion per year in research and development. American figures are more difficult to come by, but we all know that it’s a considerable amount.

In the world of aerospace, these countries are both competitors and potential partners. In either case, we need to be playing in the same league.

This is not to say that there aren’t good things happening. On Feb. 13, Prime Minister Harper and Public Works Minister Christian Paradis announced that the government of Canada had awarded a $329.5 million contract for a comprehensive aircrew training equipment and service solution to a pan-Canadian team led by CAE.

This is, of course, excellent news, but should not be viewed as an alternative to crucially needed R& D investment. The dual strategies of investment and procurement must be viewed as fundamental and separate. Both are necessary to continuing our role as a global aerospace leader. In order to maintain that goal, we need the minimum investment promised and a total commitment to industry involvement in the procurement process from the very beginning of all government programs. It is imperative that we be proactive as a nation; it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.