A London MP Tuesday sought to allay fears by workers at a giant defence contractor in the city, saying “no decision has been made ” by the Liberal government on the future of a $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and that Ottawa is looking at all options.
But the lack of details on what those options are, or when a decision might be expected on the massive contract filled by General Dynamics Land Systems in London, only fuels the concerns of the thousands of area workers who depend on the contract, said London Mayor Ed Holder.
“If I’m in their shoes, I’m concerned, of course. And a lack of information, I think, causes that really serious nervousness,” said Holder, an MP in the former Conservative government that reached the deal to supply the light armoured military vehicles to a federal Crown corporation dealing with Saudi Arabia.
“There’s nothing, save the prime minister coming out and saying that he will not cancel the contract, that would make London workers feel better, and I think that’s what we are all looking for,” said Holder.
Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos tried to lower the temperature on the file after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday said for the first time his government is looking for a way out of the deal — the largest industrial contract in London’s history, but one that’s long been under harsh public scrutiny due to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
The pressures have only intensified since the October slaying of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His death has been directly linked to the Saudi leadership.
“No final decision on the status ]of the GDLS’s light armoured vehicle contract has been taken,” Fragiskatos, the MP for London North Centre, said during a news conference at his riding office.
“Suspending the contract is only one possibility that is being considered, but all options are on the table, including ones that would preserve well-paying jobs at GDLS and within the local and regional supply chain,” he said.
“It is important that we do not assume or guess what potential outcomes are going to be in this situation. That would only breed further uncertainty,” he added.
But Fragiskatos’s message was short on specifics. He wouldn’t say, for instance, what the other options include or when a decision on the deal’s future might be expected.
The information vacuum left the head of the London Chamber of Commerce sounding frustrated.
“I keep hearing that all options are, indeed, open, but what does that mean?” said Gerry Macartney. “If one of the options is that they shall not cancel the contract, then I would be optimistic, but I haven’t heard that.”
Stopping short of saying the deal should be kept, Elgin-Middlesex-London Conservative MP Karen Vecchio said the welfare of workers should be at the core of any federal decision.
“Whatever the prime minister decides, it needs to be in the best interest of Canada and Canadian workers . . . and this London region,” she said.
While some observers say cancelling the deal could be catastrophic for the region, where more than 200 suppliers alone benefit from it, one political observer says Trudeau’s calculation may not be as negative as some might think, even with a federal election less than a year away.
The Liberals hold two of four seats in the wider London area, part of a 10-riding region dominated by the Conservatives.
“What the prime minister is trying to say is: ‘Look, I’m upholding Canadian values’ and he’s reaching out to the large number of people in Canada who are for morality in politics,” said Kamran Bokhari, a senior lecturer at the University of Ottawa.
“For now, it seems to be that the prime minister thinks that whatever negativity comes from this is negligible . . . And if he’s seriously going to do this, then he thinks this will not cost him the seats.
“I don’t think he has not thought this out,” he added.
Canada isn’t the only country under pressure to register outrage over Khashoggi’s slaying by cancelling controversial business deals with Saudi Arabia. The U.S., for example, has a US$110-billion arms deal with the desert kingdom, which President Donald Trump has said he has no intention of cancelling.