Canadians Hail Victory After Bombardier Ruling
Posted January 27, 2018 4:06 p.m. EST
MONTREAL — When the United States’ own federal trade agency Friday quashed the Trump administration’s attempt to impose duties of nearly 300 percent on imported jets made by the storied Quebecois aerospace company Bombardier, Canadians could have been forgiven for reacting with a decidedly un-Canadian dose of triumphalism.
This being Canada, a country of chronic apologies that sometimes suffers an inferiority complex when confronted by its swaggering neighbor to the south, the chest-thumping wasn’t exactly loud. But in a province where Bombardier is an inextricable part of the economic and cultural fabric, the surprising decision generated no small amount of satisfaction — and, in some cases, a little snark worthy of President Donald Trump.
“Dear Boeing and Trump Protectionists hurting Canadian and American jobs — take that!!” Marion Bialek, a Montrealer, wrote on Twitter.
Others were more diplomatic.
Bombardier — which can trace its roots to the 1920s when its founder, Joseph-Armand Bombardier, built his first “snow vehicle” to help people travel across rural Quebec — described the decision as “a victory for innovation, competition and the rule of law.”
The ruling by the U.S. International Trade Commission was a heavy blow to Boeing, which had accused Bombardier of breaching U.S. trade rules by unfairly subsidizing its products and undermining sales of Boeing’s Max 7. In retaliation, the Commerce Department had decided to impose heavy duties on Bombardier’s new CSeries aircraft, a move that threatened thousands of jobs in Canada, Britain and beyond.
In Quebec, a proud province of 8.4 million people, where Bombardier is as firmly entrenched in the culture as Celine Dion, poutine and the Montreal Canadiens, the victory was all the sweeter because of perceptions that the company had been bullied by the Trump administration.
“We have a long history here in Canada of being in the shadow of the United States — whatever they do, we follow — but this time, both the provincial and federal governments didn’t back down,” said David Chartrand, a former Bombardier assembly line worker who is now the Quebec coordinator for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The union represents more than 40,000 Canadian workers in air transport, including several thousand who work for Bombardier.
He added: “A decision like this encourages us to say, ‘When you are right, you are right.’ On both sides of border, there is a desire to protect jobs, but you don’t have to trash the other side.”
As it is, the country’s economic and media elite had already been fulminating at the aggressive America First tactics of Trump’s Commerce Department. Writing in Maclean’s, Kevin Carmichael, a senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation, called its behavior the equivalent of “the schoolyard tough smearing a Cheez Whiz sandwich on the face of an innocent.” Boeing, he pointedly noted, earned revenue of about $95 billion in 2016 compared with Bombardier’s $16 billion.
“Before he started picking on ‘Rocket Man’ and the National Football League, President Donald Trump, the bully-in-chief, targeted his country’s closest trading partners,” like Canada, Mexico and Germany, he wrote.
The belief that Bombardier was being picked on had a particular sting in Quebec, given the company’s place in local imagination and history. Before the 1960s and the Quiet Revolution — a political and social upheaval that uprooted a traditional society in Quebec centered on Roman Catholicism — many among the French-speaking majority in Quebec were relegated to agrarian and other menial or low-paying jobs, while the English-speaking minority dominated industry. Then came Bombardier, among the first Quebecois companies to become a national champion and one that grew into a global symbol of Canadian engineering prowess.
“There is a strong pride in Bombardier in Quebec because it is a business with Francophone roots and one of only a handful of even Canadian companies that have attained such a level of international success,” said Karl Moore, an associate professor in the Desautels management school at McGill University, noting that Canadian business had viewed Trump’s populist economic nationalism with growing disquiet.
On Friday, near Bombardier’s sprawling factory, which employs about 2,000 workers, local residents said Trump’s perceived strong-arming of the company had sent shudders through the local economy, from the mom-and-pop shops where factory workers eat to the gas stations that fill their cars.
Robert Denis, a salesman at Budget Propane, said Trump has insulted Quebec’s honor. “We wish that Mr. Trump would go away,” he said. Still, Denis noted, Bombardier had lost some luster in recent months after it had announced plans to award millions to several top executives while cutting thousands of jobs. After a backlash, the company backed down. Working for Bombardier has long been considered a ladder to the “Canadian Dream,” offering the security of a unionized factory job that was handsomely paid.
Chartrand, 48, who began working for Bombardier at age 20, said he was particularly aggrieved by the Commerce Department’s stance since Bombardier workers were the “brothers and sisters” of Trump’s working-class base, buffeted by the same forces of globalization that have hit U.S. manufacturing.
Dominique Anglade, the economy minister in Quebec’s National Assembly, said in an interview that the decision was a victory for open markets, but had resonance in Quebec that extended far beyond economics.
Referring to the CSeries planes, she said, “There is a little piece of every Quebecer in those planes.”