VICTORIA, British Columbia — Boeing had an unfair advantage over other companies in Canada’s competition for new surveillance aircraft, executives at two major firms alleged.
Éric Martel, president of Bombardier, and Joel Houde, vice president of General Dynamics Mission Systems’ international division, wrote in a letter to Canadian Public Services and Procurement Minister Jean-Yves Duclos that the proposed replacement of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s CP-140 Aurora aircraft was biased in favor of the P-8.
The U.S. State Department on June 27 approved a foreign military sale to Canada for 16 P-8A aircraft and related equipment at an estimated cost of $5.9 billion.
But in the Oct. 23 letter to Duclos, seen by Defense News, both Martel and Houde said their companies, along with 22 other firms, responded in good faith to a 2022 request for information from the Canadian government.
The RFI asked for industry input on a new surveillance plane as part of the Canadian Multi-Mission Aircraft project. The aircraft would need to be fully operational by 2040, according to the Canadian government’s request.
Bombardier of Dorval, Quebec, as well as General Dynamics Mission Systems-Canada of Ottawa, Ontario, proposed a Global 6500 special-mission aircraft.
But in their letter to Duclos, the two executives noted government procurement officials on Oct. 17 told lawmakers the request had the “hallmarks of deliberate activity to orchestrate a particular outcome.”
“Worse, their testimony also revealed that requirements were withheld from Canadian industry, thus providing an advantage to an American company and seemingly resulting in a biased outcome,” the letter added, citing testimony before a House of Commons defense panel.
Procurement officials acknowledged to the panel they never sought input from Canadian firms or examined aircraft other than the P-8.
“It is inexplicable how Canadian government officials can conclude there is no Canadian solution [to meet aircraft requirements] when they have not had a single aerospace expert meet with Canadian industry to review the detailed engineering behind Canadian industry alternatives,” Martel and Houde wrote.
Duclos’ office didn’t respond to the specific issues raised in the letter but noted a final decision on a new surveillance aircraft has not yet been made. That decision “will be based on the capability offered, availability, pricing and benefits to Canadian industry,” according to a statement from the minister’s office.
Boeing, which declined to comment, has conducted a public relations campaign to support the proposed P-8 deal, noting it has more than 550 Canadian suppliers across Canada, with 81 directly contributing to the P-8 program.
The Canadian military originally planned to launch a competition in 2024 to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force’s CP-140 Aurora fleet. The deadline to submit bids was set for 2027.
Apart from Boeing’s P-8 and Bombardier’s Global 6500, Japanese firm Kawasaki pitched its P-1 aircraft.
But in a surprise move in March, Canada requested pricing from the U.S. government for a fleet of P-8 Poseidons. Public Services and Procurement Canada, the federal contracting department, announced at the time that the P-8 was the only aircraft able to meet Canada’s needs.
That sparked a lobbying campaign by Bombardier and its industry partners, prompting the premiers of the country’s two largest provinces to call for an open competition that would allow Canadian vendors to bid.
Quebec Premier François Legault and Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued a joint statement July 12 calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to allow Canadian firms to compete to provide the Royal Canadian Air Force with a new maritime patrol aircraft.
“These domestic firms should be able to compete in open, transparent tenders for important Canadian procurements, such as Canada’s Multi-Mission Aircraft replacement,” the premiers noted. They also called on Trudeau and other ministers in the ruling Liberal government “to stand up for the Ontario and Quebec aerospace and defence sectors and allow our firms to compete in an open CMMA tender.”
Ontario has the largest economy in Canada, followed by Quebec. The latter is the largest of Canada’s 10 provinces in area and is second only to Ontario in population.
“It’s an important contract, and we can understand the U.S. government must put a lot of pressure on the Canadian government. But we have a Canadian company, Bombardier, having plants in Ontario and Quebec that can supply what is needed,” Legault told reporters July 10 in Winnipeg, where he was meeting with other premiers.
Industry sources anticipate the Canadian government will to review and approve the purchase of the P-8 in November. However, government officials have not provided details on the final decision or an announcement’s timeline.
David Pugliese is the Canada correspondent for Defense News.