Thursday, March 22, 2007

does politics come before constituents

Grit betrays 'Toba
TOM BRODBECK March 22, 2007

Liberal MP Ray Simard (St. Boniface) is in hot water after voting in favour of a Bloc Quebecois motion in Parliament Tuesday that called on the federal government to give more aerospace contract work to Quebec at the expense of other provinces like Manitoba.

It's a prickly issue in Winnipeg -- indeed in Western Canada -- after Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg lost a bid in the 1980s to a Montreal firm for a lucrative CF-18 fighter jet contract, even though Bristol had a superior bid at a lower cost.

Despite that, Simard voted with his Liberal colleagues in favour of the Bloc motion, which criticized the government for not giving Quebec "its fair share" of a recent C-17 cargo plane contract and to urge government to give Quebec a greater share of work in the future.

"For Ray to put the political interests of the Liberal party in Quebec ahead of Manitoba jobs, I don't know what he could be thinking," said NDP MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre). "That's classic Liberal strategy -- suckhole to Quebec at all costs, even if you abandon your friends and your constituents."

Media reports in January speculated the Harper government was about to give Quebec a greater share of the $3.4-billion C-17 cargo plane contract for political reasons and Winnipeg might suffer as a result. The scenario was compared to the CF-18 debacle.

Simard was quoted at the time as demanding to know whether regional Tory minister Vic Toews would stand up for Manitoba and prevent another CF-18.

But the reports turned out to be baseless and were proven false a week later after government announced Winnipeg would get its share of the work.

Nearly two months later, Simard now believes Quebec should have received a larger share of that contract and a bigger slice of the pie in the future. The motion was narrowly defeated 150-137, but no thanks to Simard.

It read: "That the House denounce the laisser-faire attitude of the government that prevailed in its negotiations with Boeing, regret the fact that Quebec did not get its fair share of the economic spinoffs of this contract given the significance of its aeronautics industry, nearly 60%, and call on the government to provide fair regional distribution of economic spinoffs for all future contracts."

Toews, who is also federal Treasury Board president, said he was surprised a Manitoba MP would vote in favour of the motion.

"I'm surprised that first (Simard) would denounce me personally for not standing up for Manitoba ... and now he basically says the government should have intervened in the contracting process but not in favour of Manitoba, in favour of Quebec," said Toews.

Parliament debated the motion earlier this month and voted Tuesday evening.

During debate, Bloc MPs called on government to get involved in how contracts are divvied up to ensure Quebec gets more work.

"If (Simard) wants a repeat of CF-18, that's exactly what he voted for and the unfairness many western Canadians felt on that issue," said Toews.

Simard said yesterday what the motion meant to him was that Canada as a whole didn't get its fair share of the recent Boeing contract, because most of it went outside of the country.

"I'm the biggest promoter of the aerospace industry in Manitoba," said Simard.

Until it clashes with his party's political priorities in Quebec.

The trouble with Simard's defence is that the Bloc motion doesn't say Canada didn't get its fair share, it says Quebec.

Looks like this one may come back to bite Mr. Simard on the derriere.