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Feds announce details of sweeping aerospace review, due to report this year


The newly-appointed head of a sweeping review of federal aerospace and space policies says he has no interest in producing a report that will just end up in a filing cabinet.

“I intend to ensure that we look out 20 or 30 years and have a very good understanding of the kind of global economic environment we’re going to be dealing with in the future,” David Emerson said.

Emerson, a former Liberal and Conservative cabinet minister, is due to report his findings to Christian Paradis, the current federal industry minister, by mid-December.

His appointment as chairman of the review was announced by Paradis during a recent news conference held inside the hangar of an aeronautics school south of Montreal.

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“I want to make sure that the report is one that is acted upon and helps to develop a strong and competitive aerospace sector going forward,” Emerson said.

Paradis said the review will examine how government, industry and other key stakeholders can address key issues facing the aerospace and space sectors. Ottawa provides numerous subsidies to the aerospace sector, a major employer in the Montreal area with such companies as Bombardier, CAE and Heroux-Devtek.

The review will also explore trends in the global aerospace industry and how they will impact the Canadian industry.

It will also look at strengths and weaknesses, as well as key opportunities and challenges in both sectors.

With the loonie above par with the U.S. dollar, Canadian aerospace companies are finding it tougher to compete in the key U.S. commercial aircraft market.

Meanwhile, an expected decline in U.S. military spending could also squeeze Canadian companies who rely on defence contracts for much of their business.

Paradis told reporters the review demonstrates the importance the government gives to the industry, despite a period of global uncertainty.

“We are talking about fiscal constraints, but we are also looking to targeted investment to make sure that we have economic growth and job creation,” he added.

Paradis also stressed that the Conservative government’s plans to acquire the F-35 fighter jet aircraft will not be part of the review, and it’s going ahead as planned.

“The F-35 was a decision that was made by our government,” he said. “We are still proceeding with this decision. We want to equip our men and women in uniform.”

The aerospace review, Paradis added, is about the future of the industry.

Emerson, a former Liberal who remained in cabinet by jumping to the Conservatives immediately after the 2006 election, has also been a federal and B.C. civil servant, forestry executive and businessman.

A three-member advisory council will assist Emerson in fulfilling his mandate as head of the review.

Jim Quick, the president of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), is one of the three council members.

The two other members are Sandra Pupatello, a former Ontario minister of economic development and trade, and Jacques Roy, a former director at the Montreal-based International Aviation Management Training Institute.

Quick says the review is all about global competitiveness and how Canada can compete globally in the defence, civil aviation and space platforms.

“Let’s look at the globe, and let’s look at international competitiveness,” he said in an interview.

“We’re number five in the world right now (and) what do we need to do from a government support standpoint to increase that position.”

Steve MacLean, the president of the Canadian Space Agency, welcomes the co-ordinated review, even though the space sector is lumped in with the aerospace industry.

“I feel that anytime you do something like this, you’re going to educate people about the importance of our (space) sector…and how our sector can shape the future of improving the quality of life here in Canada.”

MacLean added that the review is “cost-neutral” and there’s no change in investment until the review is complete.

Philip Murphy, vice-president of government affairs for MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, says there’s a lot of overlap between aerospace and space.

“What we hope that this particular review will accomplish is it will allow the government to create a policy framework from which to operate for the next generation with respect to space,” he said.

The Canadian aerospace industry has annual revenues of more than $22 billion and employs nearly 80,000 Canadians at more than 400 firms across the country.