11 March 2011
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you, Stephen Woodworth and Peter Braid for kicking off this event today. I also want to pay tribute to colleagues Harold Albrecht and Gary Goodyear. These four representatives are not only outstanding Members of Parliament, but you should know that they really do work together well. This really is a case of a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. They really do contribute to our caucus and contribute particularly for this region, so thank you, everybody, for all of you, colleagues, for what you do, for us and for the people here.
I also want to give greetings to our friends from across the region’s aerospace industry. They do so much day in and day out to make this region, Waterloo region, a leading-edge technology hub - people like David Schellenberg from Cascade Aerospace, Jarrad Morden from Nikon Metrology, Jack Curley from Héroux-Devtek and Rob Micoli from Schaeffler Group. We also have here today representatives from some broader organisations that provide plenty of high-tech jobs here in the region - from Communitech, Steve Farlow, from the Ontario Aerospace Council, Rob Jones and from the aerospace industry’s Association of Canada, Claude Lajeunesse.
And of course, thanks to Hal Osthus and all the team here, our hosts at Virtek Vision. It’s good of you to interrupt your work, and take the time to show us around. This is quite a gathering. Hal, your colleagues and your employees put on quite a show.
This laser templating technology here is quite remarkable. It’s an incredible capability for Canada to possess. The kind of core of knowledge that this represents, and which is so concentrated in this Technology Triangle is very important for us in Canada.
Some might even call it a strategic asset. You know, when we talk about strategic assets, we tend to think of tangible things – oil reserves, a fleet of ships, infrastructure in all its forms, things like that. But, when other people have those things as well, what sets us apart - what alone can give us the edge - is advanced knowledge, which brings me to why we are here.
I’ve recently visited several of Canada’s aerospace contractors in different parts of the country and, it’s been an eye-opener. What I’m seeing is that we have that kind of advanced knowledge and cutting-edge technology here in Canada. I must tell you, as a Canadian, it makes me proud to see what you and the other great people in this industry are capable of.
You are part of a production stream that makes high quality, precisely engineered products that must work, and must work with complete reliability, in the most demanding of environments.
Let me ask you this. If it takes an exceptional piece of machinery to work flawlessly, predictably, dependably, at very high altitudes, under very high G-forces and at temperatures that range from colder than the Arctic to close to the melting point of lead, what kind of people does it take to make it?
Well, it takes people with exceptional skills and exceptional commitment. The people in this room are those kinds of people. So in fact, it’s the people in the room here who are the strategic assets.
Now for you, ladies and gentlemen, we have a task worthy of your skills. It is to help provide our government with the tools it needs to carry out the first duty of any government - to defend our sovereignty.
I’m speaking, of course, of the role of this firm and this industry in building the joint strike fighter, the F-35 Lightning 2. You are part of a story that began a long time ago, so long ago in fact that I think our friends in the Opposition – which was the Government at the time – have forgotten it.
In 1997, Canada signed on to an international consortium to develop the Lightning. It did so after – after, I repeat – an exhaustive consideration of the alternatives for a CF-18 replacement at the end of this decade.
Our predecessors chose the Lightning because they believed it was the best aircraft for Canada. We supported this measure because it was the right thing to do. Sadly, we hear some in Parliament now expressing hesitations about buying the F-35. Some even talk openly about cancelling it, should they get the chance.
Of course, and I’m not going to beat around the bush about this. Of course, it is all political opportunism. But that doesn’t mean that we should not take such threats seriously, because this would not be the first time. In 1993, they cancelled a badly needed replacement for Canada’s Sea King helicopters.
As a result, years and billions of taxpayers’ dollars later, we’re only starting to replace that aircraft. Maybe it was good politics at the time, but I can tell you, it was very bad for the military and very bad for this country. Contract penalties, antiquated aircraft with costly maintenance, constantly rising maintenance costs, lost opportunities for Canadian firms and workers - that’s what it meant in the 20 years that followed. We ended up having to eventually buy the new helicopters anyway.
To do the same today to cancel the F-35 contract would be just as bad for Canada. It would be bad for the men and women of Canada’s Air Force, bad for Canada’s aerospace industry, and bad for the high tech industry to which all of you belong.
The costs would once again involve not only the extra expense of finding an alternative – in this case a second aircraft – to replace the CF-18s, but it would also mean the loss of up to $12 billion in industrial opportunities for Canadian firms.
For the last 13 years, through governments both Liberal and Conservative, Canada has been fully involved in the development, design and initial production phases of this world-class aircraft. Governments, starting with our predecessors have already put $400 million of taxpayers’ money into the development of this aircraft.
The prototypes are in the air. Its once and only serious competitor is now on static display in a Florida museum. So when people talk rashly about cancelling the contract, what exactly is their alternative? Nothing? Nothing is not an option. Nothing is not an option for the Air Force, and nothing is not an option for the Canadian aerospace industry.
I want to talk a little bit more about the role of this industry and this aircraft. The F35 program is the largest cooperative allied program since the Second World War.
There will be a huge production run of literally thousands of aircraft that will mean skilled jobs in this industry for a generation and potentially billions of dollars in production and ongoing maintenance. But this is only if we’re buying the aircraft and only if we’re part of the consortium and only if we’re on the inside. If you’re on the outside, breaking contracts, don’t count on there being anything.
Our Air Force needs the F35. Whenever we ask the Air Force to act, they will need its remarkable capabilities. The one thing I know from all my years in politics is regardless of what parties say about military procurement, regardless of what they say about our military, politicians of all political stripes will not hesitate for a second to ask the men and women in uniform to undertake difficult and dangerous tasks whenever they need to be asked to do that. They will not hesitate. And when that happens, we will be sure that our men and women in uniform have the modern aircraft that they need.
So we will do our part. We will protect the men and women of our Air Force. We will also protect you, who are representatives of the more than 80,000 highly skilled workers. These are high-end jobs employing highly skilled workers like you, who are Canada’s aerospace industry. We will nurture in Canada the kind of knowledge and skills that it takes to keep a modern, industrial country competitive. We will do our part, and I know that I can depend on you to do your part, to keep our men and women in uniform in the air, doing good work and returning home as quickly and as safely as possible.
Ladies and gentlemen, I very much enjoyed visiting with you today. I enjoy all of these visits, and I want to tell you all, we intend very much to keep you all busy. And I want to thank you for what you do for our country.