Bombardier : some turbulence

If you were a Bombardier worker last week and even if you weren’t, you’re probably still exhaling and saying “That was a close one.” On Friday of last week, just about all the experts as well as those employed by Bombardier in Belfast were bracing themselves for the worst. With the Trump administration slapping duties approaching around 220 per cent on imported jets, there seemed no way that the jobs of some 1,000 people here wouldn’t eliminated. Against all expectation, however, the US Federal Trade Agency ruled against President Trump’s planned 220 per cent duty charge. The gasps of relief in Belfast were echoed in Canada, where Bombardier is based. Or, more precisely, in Quebec.


Europeans, including British and Irish, have an unfortunate habit of lumping together Canada and the United States. Just as North Americans sometimes think distinctions between Britain and Ireland aren’t worth drawing, so we tend to blur the Canada/US distinction. And just as Irish people bridle at being classified British or English, so Canadians get a bit tetchy with people who label then ‘Yanks’ along with the neighbour next door.

Living next door to a much more powerful neighbour can lead to all sorts of unhappiness, as we in Ireland know. Britain is around ten times bigger and more powerful than us. Likewise Canadians live next door to a much more powerful neighbour.. “Like a mouse sleeping with an elephant” was how Pierre Trudeau, father of Canada’s present Prime Minister, once described it.

So when the word came out that Trump had been defeated in his duties imposition scheme, a lot of Canadians felt that sense of glee you get only when the little guy has socked it to the big guy. Compared to the elephant Boeing, Bombardier is a mouse: in 2016, Boeing’s revenue was around $95 billion, that of Bombardier around €16 billion.

But there’s a further twist to this story which make it easy for us in Ireland to empathise with. Until the 1960s, French-speaking Quebecois had, for the most part, low-paid and menial jobs in their province: they were agrarian, they were poor, industry was dominated by the English-speaking minority in Quebec. Then in the 1960s along came Bombardier and French-speaking Quebeckers realized they could be “maître chez nous” – masters in their own house. So the Bombardier triumph at the weekend was a triumph for Canada generally over what a Canadian friend of mine habitually refers to as “the mad-house next door”, but it also reaffirmed the pride French-speaking Quebeckers had in the company founded by Joseph-Armand Bombardier, who back in the 1920s built his first snow vehicle to help people travel across rural Quebec.

Bombardier are located in East Belfast but I’m assuming that they are bound by the hard-won MacBride Principles, which see to it that work-forces in the north of Ireland reflect that religious/political make-up of the population generally, not just one favoured part of it.

It’d be foolish to assume the Boeing-Bombardier/Airbus war is over: this is just one encouraging victory which the good guys have secured. There can be little doubt that, as President Trump puts his America First slogan into action, companies like Apple and Google in the south of Ireland will be forced to think again about jobs in Ireland.

Paradoxically, Finance Minister Paschal Sheehy was last weekend being put on the spot about the south of Ireland’s tax arrangement with Apple and other big American companies. Ireland’s relationship to US companies is coming under pressure from Europe as well as the US.

But let’s be grateful for one small victory, however temporary. Bombardier has given President Trump one in the eye. And what sane person would not rejoice at that?


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