Thursday, July 23, 2009

Compare something to the Avro Arrow again and I WILL go work at NASA

I once thought that making references to The Munich Agreement and Neville Chamberlain was the most over-used as an analogy for appeasement was the most overused reference in modern politics. But I think we may have a new winner, at least in Canada: the Avro Arrow.

Lately it seems like everything is being compared to the cancellation of the Arrow, which killed our nascent aerospace industry (sorry Bombardier), scrapped one sweet-ass airplane, and sent our best and brightest down to the U.S. to help land an American on the moon and do other cool stuff.

The Conservative decision to kill the new Maple reactors that could generate medical isotopes? A new Avro Arrow, we were told loudly and often, because it would devastate the Canadian nuclear research industry, an industry in which we're a world leader. OK, I can accept that analogy, and it is a bad decision with wide-ranging negative consequences.

But I draw the line at this, today, in the Toronto Star:

Nortel-RIM could be PM's Avro Arrow
Subsidizing sale of patents to foreigners would earn Harper ignominy to rival Diefenbaker's jet legacy
OK, that is a singularly stupid analogy. I really don't want to go into too much detail here because this begins to bleed into subjects I get into during my day job, and I try to avoid that on my blog.

But I'll just say this: yes, losing any jobs is a concern. But Nortel Networks is no Avro Arrow, it hasn't been close for many, many years. It's one player in a crowded global market for telecom equipment, it has been shrinking in size, breadth, and coverage for many years, and its heyday of the late 1990s is long-since past. Along with many Canadians' mutual funds.

You can try to make a case for government intervention that's jobs-based, but an Arrow-themed argument premised on global leadership in its field and unique and valuable intelectural property just won't fly.

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calgarygrit said...

I'd argue the analogy is apt, if only because the Avrow Arrow deserved to be cancelled.

And there are plenty of records and documents out there to pretty much confirm that CD Howe and the Liberals would have made the exact same decision.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Dan, we can argue another day whether or not the Arrow should have been canceled or not or what Uncle Louis would have done, but the comparison still doesn't make sense.

*The Arrow was a government contract project being developed by Avro, Nortel is a private company that is going banktupt for a range of business and market reasons, none of which have anything to do with government contracts.

*The Arrow was a unique piece of world-leading technology and Avro was the centre of a dynamic world-leading aerospace industry. Nortel is one company among many in its space (Cisco, Avaya, Nokia Siemens, Alcatel, many more), it hasn't been a world leader or innovator in many years, and has already laid off many, many thousands of its best and brightest over the last 10 years.

Murray.B said...

If the Arrow was a great aircraft and a good value then cabinet was not told about it. The relevant cabinet minutes are posted at

Note the total cost per aircraft is given as about $10 million, “The R.C.A.F. now had nine all-weather squadrons and the present programme called for their re-equipment with the CF-105, requiring a production order of 169 in number. These, together with aircraft recovered from the development and pre-production order for 37, would provide sufficient aircraft for nine squadrons. The total cost would be $2 billion spread from 1959-60 to 1963-64.”

Note also the real reason for cancellation, ”Finally, the cost of the CF-105 programme as a whole was now of such a magnitude that the Chiefs of Staff felt that, to meet the modest requirement of manned aircraft presently considered advisable, it would be more economical to procure a fully developed interceptor of comparable performance in the U.S.”

The Chiefs of Staff recommend cancellation and only mention that the performance is “comparable” to U.S. aircraft. Cabinet is not told that the Arrow can fly higher, go faster, or further, than anything else.

If there was a conspiracy to kill the Arrow then it involved the military and not the government.

The Liberals intended to cancel the program too as shown by an article in the Montreal Gazette from Oct. 23, 1963,
"Gen. Charles Foulkes, chairman of the chiefs of staff committee from 1951 to 1960 testified yesterday that the Liberal Government of Prime Minister St. Laurent decided in 1957 it would cancel the Arrow interceptor program as soon as it was returned to power in that years election...Gen. Foulkes confirmed the 1959 statement of Mr. Diefenbaker that the chiefs of staff had recommended cancellation of the Arrow...the chiefs concluded it didn't make sense to produce an $8,000,000 interceptor in Canada when one could be obtained in the U.S. for $2,000,000." [The Voodoo interceptors that were purchased instead of the Arrow were about $2 million each. At no time was the total cost per Arrow going to be less than about $8 million.]

All Diefenbaker’s government really did was to accept the recommendation made by the Chiefs of Staff and the Liberals would have done the same. What was surprising is how easily the issue was spun around and used against the government. Soon after cancellation, lieberals across the continent began screaming about how Crazy old American-lackey Diefenbaker had murdered our precious ‘unicorn’. This lie worked well to defeat “The Chief” and it still works today against any conservative politician. It is one of the best quality fibs ever told considering that it still works after almost fifty years of misuse.

After a half-century it is time for the facts to come out.