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Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne won't say whether the process to replace a fleet of aging military patrol planes will be an open-source bid, as Bombardier Inc. and the heads of Canada's two biggest provinces urge him to "level the playing field."
On Tuesday, Champagne told reporters in Ottawa the federal government has so far steered clear of a determination on whether Montreal-based Bombardier Inc. will have a chance to submit a tender on new reconnaissance aircraft.
“There is no decision made,” Champagne said in French. "In military acquisitions, it is rarely very, very fast. It's complex, too."
Citing cost, availability and capability, he said, "We will make the best decision in the interest of Canadians."
For months, Bombardier CEO Éric Martel has been pushing Ottawa to put out a request for proposals as he promotes the company's still non-existent surveillance plane over a Boeing Co. alternative — the apparent frontrunner.
Bombardier joined forces earlier this year with U.S.-based General Dynamics on a patrol aircraft, a modified version of its Global 6500 business jet with submarine-hunting technology.
Both partners have called on the government to launch an open procurement process to supplant the Royal Canadian Air Force's 14 CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol planes, built by Lockheed Martin and set to retire in 2030 after a half-century of service.
However, Public Services and Procurement Canada describes Virginia-based Boeing's P-8A Poseidons as "the only currently available aircraft that meets all of the CMMA (Canadian Multi-Mission Aircraft) operational requirements" — particularly around intelligence gathering, surveillance and anti-submarine warfare.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier François Legault renewed their demand from July to "level the playing field" and launch an open bid.
"While Canadian manufacturers are stepping up and have responded to their call, the federal government continues to signal its intent to lock these companies and workers out of its procurement process," the premiers said in a joint statement.
They called on the House of Commons to ask the parliamentary budget officer to review the costs and "consequences" linked to the decision.
Earlier Tuesday, Bombardier's CEO lauded his plane's benefits, claiming it would be 30 per cent to 40 per cent cheaper than Boeing's and noted it would be built and assembled in Montreal and Toronto.
"You wouldn't hear me try to bid on a fighter program. We don't have that expertise," Martel told reporters after a speech to the annual Canadian Aerospace Summit in Ottawa. "But on this one, we do. We can do it and we can actually deliver a superior product."
Boeing, like Bombardier and General Dynamics, has sought to tout its Canadian bona fides.
The aircraft giant's P8-A would sustain more than 2,900 jobs and generate $358 million in economic output in Canada annually, according to a Boeing-commissioned study by management consultants Doyletech Corp.
The federal government has also noted the P-8's prevalence among Canadian allies.
“This platform is a proven capability that is operated by several of Canada’s defence partners including all of its Five Eyes allies — the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand — as well as Norway and South Korea. Germany has also recently purchased this platform,” the procurement department said in a March 27 statement.
On Tuesday, Champagne touted Canadian aerospace suppliers' links to a range of manufacturers — not just Canadian ones — suggesting that a contract with a foreign firm could still have lucrative ripple effects at home.
“Quebec is the third-largest platform in the world for building aircraft,” Champagne said.
“Never forget that there are suppliers who supply both Bombardier on one side and Boeing on the other … in Quebec,” he said.
“Our duty to taxpayers is to make the best decision for taxpayers, for defence, for national security but obviously for the ecosystem.”
Quebec plays host to 61 per cent of Canada's jobs in the aerospace sector, according to the U.S. International Trade Administration.
The industry contributed over $27 billion to Canada's GDP and nearly 212,000 jobs to its economy last year, the trade administration says, though most of the output goes toward civil aviation rather than defence.