The Canadian government encouraged Bombardier to make a deal with Airbus for its CSeries planes to thwart a potential venture with Chinese investors, according to five sources familiar with the matter.
It signaled its preference for Airbus after Bombardier failed to reach an agreement with Boeing earlier this year that would have given the U.S. company a stake in the CSeries jetliners, according to the sources. The Canadian government's role has not been previously reported.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's administration took a calculated risk in steering Bombardier toward Airbus, according to the sources. It helped save a key product for Bombardier and likely resolved a brewing trade dispute with the United States, but potentially set back efforts to improve trade and economic ties with China.
The deal with Airbus came at a critical time for Bombardier.
Its $6 billion CSeries program, already losing money, had become the subject of a trade dispute in which Boeing charged in a complaint to U.S. authorities that the jetliners benefited from Canadian government subsidies and unfair pricing.
Bombardier had considered a Chinese partnership as early as 2015, after talks about a possible merger with Airbus became public and fell apart. This year, as negotiations with Boeing over a CSeries partnership faltered and concerns about the future of the program mounted, Bombardier's interest in a deal with China intensified, two sources said.
The prospect of such a deal raised concern within the Canadian government, two of the sources said, where officials believed jobs or technology could be "siphoned away" to China.
They also expressed uneasiness about what some saw as inadequate Chinese safeguards against intellectual property theft.