Bombardier deal with Airbus brings mix of relief, new questions for Quebec workers

Bombardier’s decision to sell a majority stake in its CSeries passenger jet to European aerospace giant Airbus is being met with “mixed feelings” by a representative for workers at the Montreal-based company.

Agreement will see assembly line for CSeries set up in Alabama, in addition to Mirabel, Que., plant

Quebec Economy, Science and Innovation Minister Dominique Anglade, left to right, Bombardier president and CEO Alain Bellemare and CEO of North America for Airbus Helicopters Romain Trapp speak to the media following Monday's announcement. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Bombardier's decision to sell a majority stake in its CSeries passenger jet to European aerospace giant Airbus is being met with "mixed feelings" by a union representative for workers at the Montreal-based company.

David Chartrand said Bombardier was in a difficult spot, given lacklustre sales of the jet and a round of crippling tariffs imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department. The program, he said, was at risk of shutting down entirely.

"Our priority is always securing the jobs here, securing the aerospace industry over here and making sure we have the industry here for the Quebec economy," Chartrand, Quebec co-ordinator of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Under the agreement, the CSeries headquarters will remain in Mirabel, Que., but a second assembly line for the 100- to 150-seat plane will be set up at Airbus's facility in Mobile, Ala., so the plane can potentially be sold in the United States without being subject to tariffs.

What's next? 

Chartrand said the agreement means workers have a "fear lifted from their heads." However, he's anxious to meet representatives from Airbus to learn more about their plans for the program and the plant in Mirabel, which employs 2,000 people. 

The U.S. accounts for about 30 per cent of the CSeries market, Chartrand said, and he's hopeful Airbus will strike deals elsewhere to drive up production in Quebec. 

Bombardier's CSeries employs about 2,000 people in Mirabel, Que., including those working here on the CS100 assembly line. The aeronautics sector accounts for about 40,000 jobs in the province. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Overall, the aeronautics industry accounts for 40,000 jobs in the province.

Under the deal, Bombardier will own 31 per cent and the Quebec government's investment agency will hold 19 per cent, down from 49.5 per cent when it invested $1 billion US in the program.

Opposition slams deal

The new ownership structure has prompted criticism from the Liberal government's political opponents.

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée told reporters Tuesday that Bombardier "gave away the house to save the furniture."

He said Couillard made a bad strategic decision in putting money into the CSeries instead of the Bombardier consortium.

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée was critical of the deal between Bombardier and Airbus. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

François Legault, head of Coalition Avenir Québec, called for the auditor general to examine the possible drop in value of Quebec's share of the CSeries.

"Quebecers need to know the size of the loss," he said.

On Monday, Quebec's economy, science and innovation minister, Dominique Anglade, said the partnership will ensure the sustainability of the CSeries and consolidate Quebec's aerospace cluster.

"In the current context, the partnership with Airbus is, for us, the best solution to ensure the maintenance and creation of jobs in this strategic sector of the Quebec economy," she said in a news release.

'Best option,' analyst says

David Baskin, president of Baskin Wealth Management, said the deal was likely the "best option" available to Bombardier.

"Let's remember that this is a massively indebted company," he told Daybreak. "It was facing this huge tariff wall."

"It had no good options, so I think this was probably the best solution available to it."

Aeronautics expert Isabelle Dostaler echoed Chartrand, saying that while the financial deal wasn't ideal, "it's better than the program being cancelled, and all the jobs being lost."

"Clearly, it's not going to be a Bombardier product. At the same time, I think we as Canadians should be really, really proud that it's such a great product," said Dostaler, dean of the faculty of business administration at Memorial University.

With files from Angelica Montgomery and Associated Press