Sgt Craig Fiander / Canadian Forces
A C-130 military cargo plane on the runway at the military’s “secret” base, Camp Mirage.
Canada’s loss on Tuesday of a UN Security Council seat was a humiliation for the history books, but it was not the nation’s major diplomatic breakdown of the last week.
Long after the UN embarrassment fades, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper stops trying to blame it on Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, the negatives from losing the Camp Mirage military base in the United Arab Emirates, and the resulting economic tensions with this fabulously wealthy sheikdom, will linger on.
It has the potential to punch a billion-dollar hole in Canadian exports to the region.
In a remarkable tit-for-tat exchange, Canada’s refusal to allow more UAE-based airline flights into Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary turned into the UAE’s petulant blockade and military eviction. Some say the UAE went so far as to lobby its Arab neighbours to vote against Canada’s security council seat.
There are no angels in the air over this dispute.
Transport Canada has been needlessly protectionist in refusing sister carriers Emirates and Etihad Airlines more than their thrice-weekly landing rights in Toronto; this from a Conservative government that has campaigned worldwide to eliminate barriers to trade and commerce.
But the UAE is not playing fair in evicting Canada from Camp Mirage on 30 days notice, and then denying Defence Minister Peter MacKay and his top general permission to land there over the weekend.
The way it’s been explained to aviation insiders, the dispute began when former transport minister John Baird demanded continued route protection for Air Canada’s one-stop hop to the Middle East. That position was supported by Mr. Harper, who became infuriated when the UAE decided to use Camp Mirage as a bargaining chip.
Canada’s largest carrier has argued the UAE airlines simply want to use the Dubai hub to connect Canadian passengers to other destinations in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, eroding Air Canada’s business and that of its Star Alliance partners in the process.
But tempers really flared after a trio of Transport Canada bureaucrats went to Dubai last summer to offer the airlines more flights but with the seat count capped below the existing limit.
It’s not nice to jerk around megabillionaire sheiks ruling an energy superpower.
The rulers of this New Brunswick-sized country perceived it to be an insult to their intelligence, and set to work making life miserable for all things Canadian.
By ordering Camp Mirage emptied of Canadian soldiers, they’ve forced our military into an unnecessary and costly scramble for alternative staging areas in far less strategic locations.
A trading relationship with an energy superpower that’s hungry for Canadian exports is also at risk. Of the $1.8-billion in two-way trade, $1.2-billion goes from Canada’s canola fields and gold mines into the UAE market.
Here’s hoping saner heads prevail on both sides of the world. To sacrifice so much trade in one of the world’s fastest growing economies and a military partnership with the most Western-friendly Gulf state to help a domestic airline seems an expensive airfare subsidy.
Provided Air Canada is granted equal air access to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Transport Canada should open up our skies and let consumers make the choice of which seats to fill. That is supposedly the Conservative mantra.
After the past week, Canada needs to stop turning a red face to the world, or its solid profile on the world stage could disappear like, well, a mirage.
UN not the worst Canadian foreign policy failure this weekIn Canada on October 13, 2010 at 02:52