COLUMN: Stop the corporate drug called handouts

Corporate welfare is a tricky subject. Help a company out, save or create jobs. Don’t help, and a company could pack up shop and leave. This has happened many times in Canada over the past 60 years. It is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t game to play. It’s a game that needs to stop being played.

Take the case of Bombardier. According to Industry Canada, that company has received government handouts since 1966, and that’s just from the federal government. That does not take into account money given in Ontario with the UTDC plants in Kingston and Thunder Bay, along with Quebec for all the plants there. That also doesn’t take into account monies from New York State and Vermont for plants in those states. Lucrative government contracts from provinces and states for transit and commuter rail equipment, federal government projects for VIA Rail and Amtrak in the United States.

Add to that the billions in sales from recreational vehicles, aircraft, railway consulting and signaling, financial and engineering services, and research and development. Bombardier is a big player, helped out along the way with handouts and financing through many levels of government. One would think with so many helping hands, Bombardier would be the corporate darling of Canada. The international success story. Canada’s crown jewel.

A contract worth $670 million was cancelled by the city of London (UK), with Mayor Boris Johnson claiming Bombardier has “totally stuffed it up.” The city of Toronto has had their new surface rail cars (trolley) delayed and delayed, much to the hand wringing of mayor John Tory. Calls for legal action there have been getting louder. The C-Series jet project has taken billions to develop, and is only now — with years of delays — starting to get orders.

The government of Quebec has ponied up $1.1 billion to “invest” in Bombardier. The calls are getting louder for the Trudeau government to do the same. If they don’t pony up, then Bombardier will fail. Too late, it already has. It has been on life support for years. Loans, bailouts, incentives. 50 years of it. For what? More money to go out the door. The company has been a financial and governance basket-case for over a decade. There comes a time when throwing good money after bad has to stop, and that time was 10 years ago.

It is not just that government has to stop bailing out Bombardier, but all businesses that are failing. They are failing for a reason and taxpayers, the ones who fund these lucrative bailouts and schemes, cannot afford it. Corporate welfare for large companies like Bombardier, or oil sands companies in Alberta, or “green energy” companies in Ontario, or forestry companies in British Columbia. It is a form of drug for corporations. Corporate heroin. The corporations become addicted to it, rely on it to tide themselves over until “times are better”. Just one more fix.

It doesn’t get better though. The money is given on big promises of a certain product being ready, or the expectation of a certain level of sales. Then things take a turn. Some variable they could not control or take into account occurs. Then they are back at the government-teet, asking for more.

This isn’t the case of just cutting it off for repeat offenders, it just shouldn’t happen. No incentives, no loans, no programs, zero. Yes, government should help workers if they lose their jobs or the plant shuts down. That is the difference though. Help the people in need, not the corporate greed. Any corporation that has executives with million-dollar salaries shouldn’t even darken the doorway of government with cap-in-hand for a bailout.

No business is “too-big-to-fail” and none should be receiving corporate welfare. Taxpayers cannot afford it, and the government should spend our money wisely.

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