No way to treat a friend

There’s nothing like a wall, real or virtual, to make a point about the promise to “Make America Great Again” even if it means offending an entire nation on its southern border, or hitting your best friend and ally to the north with a sucker punch.

Even the giant U.S. aircraft maker, Boeing, was surprised by the 220 percent “anti-dumping” tariff the U.S. Commerce department recently inflicted on the prospective sale of Bombardier’s new C-Series passenger jets to Delta Airlines.


Two, beautiful, Canadian-made Bombardier C-Series passenger jets

Bombardier is a Canadian company that has signed a deal with Delta Airlines in the U.S. for the sale of 75 of Bombardier’s new C-series, 100-passenger jets. Delivery was supposed to begin in 2018. But Boeing said the jets were being sold below cost with the help of Canadian and Quebec government subsidies, and asked the U.S. Commerce department to investigate. The protectionist administration of President Donald Trump was only too happy to oblige, and then some.

Boeing would have been happy enough with 80 percent. After all, the U.S. company doesn’t even make 100-passenger jets similar to Bombardier’s C-Series, and, therefore, won’t be materially damaged by the deal the Canadian company has signed with Delta. But the tariff, if it remains in effect, jeopardizes the deal and thousands of jobs, not only in Canada and the U.K. but also in the U.S.

It’s as if the Trump administration simply objects to the very idea that Canada could produce something to fill a demand in the U.S. air-line industry that so far isn’t being filled by an American-made product.

The new, exorbitant tariff is temporary, pending a final decision later this year on its ongoing anti-dumping investigation, the U.S. Commerce department said. But some observers have noted Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross took the unusual step of taking the opportunity to make a strongly-worded public statement himself, when the punitive tariff was announced.

“The U.S. values its relationships with Canada, but even our closest allies must play by the rules,” said Secretary Ross, as he highlighted his departments hefty increase in anti-dumping investigations since Donald Trump took presidential office.

“The subsidization of goods by foreign governments is something that the Trump Administration takes very seriously, and we will continue to evaluate and verify the accuracy of this preliminary determination.”

It also appears the U.S. has decided to beat up on Canada and Bombardier to send a tough-trade message to the rest of the world: “America first” means not open for business that isn’t made in the U.S.A., even if the U.S.A. doesn’t make it.

It’s also pretty clear what the final outcome of the alleged, anti-dumping investigation will be in a process that’s clearly not fair. Or, as Trump himself might say, it’s rigged.

The unfortunate turn of trade events got me to thinking about the ill-fated history of Canada’s aeronautical/aerospace industry: it can’t seem to catch a break, or, just when things are starting to look promising, the rug gets pulled out.

It also got me thinking about the great, the huge, the beautiful contribution Canadian expertise has made to making America great. Indeed, it’s not an overstatement to say the greatness of the American achievement in getting its world-renowned and popular space program off the ground and beginning in the 1960s is to a large extent a function of Canadian expertise.

Coincidentally, earlier this month, members of a Canadian search team managed to find what they believe is one of the long-lost test models of the AVRO Arrow lying at the bottom of Lake Ontario.

What’s that, I hear my millions of American readers asking? Well, let me tell you:

Beginning in 1953, in the midst of the Cold War, A.V. Roe Canada Ltd began work on the design of a new fighter/interceptor aircraft to respond to the then-perceived threat of a nuclear bomber attack from the Soviet Union. The company was already making the CF-100 jet, the mainstay at the time of Canada’s Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). The Arrow was to be the CF-105.

The roll-out of the first Arrow took place on Oct. 4, 1957 before a large crowd of invited guests. It was supposed to be a major media event, but attention in Canada and around the world was overtaken that day by the Soviet launch of the first earth-orbiting satellite, sputnik, by a powerful, ballistic rocket. Suddenly the emphasis was no longer on the threat of manned bombers, and it began to look like the Arrow might already be obsolete.

On Feb. 20, 1959, known as “black Friday” in Canadian aeronautical history, a newly-elected Progressive-Conservative Canadian government under Prime Minister John Diefenbaker cancelled the Arrow project, even ordering destruction of all plans, equipment, and, by that time, several operational prototypes. The decision led to the immediate loss of 14,000 jobs at A.V Roe, and the company, a subsidiary of Hawker-Siddeley in the U.K., soon shut down. Canada opted to buy less advanced U.S. fighters, and Bomarc anti-aircraft missiles that were useless without nuclear warheads.

The Arrow has since been increasingly recognized as an aircraft way ahead of its time in design and performance. In its first test flights it flew at close to twice the speed of sound, and by all accounts was a dream to fly.


The first AVRO Arrow in flight

There’s no telling now what wonders that kind of aeronautical expertise might have led to for Canada. But one need only look at the success of the U.S. space program to get some sense of what might have been.

It’s telling that many of the engineers who worked on the Arrow project became lead engineers, program managers, and heads of engineering in NASA’s manned space programs -Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. The Space Task Group team eventually grew to 32 Avro engineers and technicians, and became emblematic of what many Canadians viewed as a “brain drain” to the United States, according to Wikipedia.

It’s ironic, to say the least, that a big part of what would certainly be regarded as one of America’s greatest achievements was due in large part to Canadian expertise.

I can’t resist mentioning here my own tiny contribution to the NASA shuttle, space program.

In 1978 I was working on commission as a self-employed driver for a Toronto-based courier company when I got a call one day to go to Spar Aerospace in Toronto to pick up a shipment bound for the National Research Centre in Ottawa. It turned out to be part of one of the first prototypes for the Canadarm developed and built by that now-defunct company. The Canadarm was one of the most vital pieces of on-board equipment in the space-shuttle program.


The Canadarm at work in space as seen from the International Space Station

Of course, nowadays that would be considered anything but a secure way to transport what I presume was a top-secret piece of equipment – or should have been – even in my discreet, unmarked cargo van. But the crate was duly loaded and delivered without incident; and I got a nice little pay-day, thank you very much.

I heard this week a corporate successor to Spar Aerospace was moving its operations to the U.S. from Brampton, near Toronto.

And so it goes. Millions of Americans, including Donald Trump, no doubt, would be surprised to know how much Canada has done for and given to the U.S.

A good friend shouldn’t be bullied.

Maybe it’s time we stopped being so nice.

A version was originally published in The Sun Times September, 2017.


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