Denying UAE landing rights saved jobs: Baird
Nov. 22, 2010, Ottawa - "Literally tens of thousands of jobs" were at stake during negotiations on whether to grant additional commercial landing rights to two United Arab Emirates-based airlines, Government House leader John Baird said Friday.
Baird made the claim twice during question period, in response to criticism of the failed negotiations.
The U.A.E. government ordered the Canadian military to vacate a semi-secret military base near Dubai after the landing-rights negotiations fell through earlier this fall. It also slapped visa restrictions on Canadians visiting the small Gulf country.
The Canadian military had enjoyed rent-free access to Camp Mirage for the past nine years. The base served as a key transit point for troops shuttling to and from Afghanistan. Relocating to a new base, possibly in Cyprus, could cost more than $300 million.
Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae asked whether the price tag for moving to a new military base in the region will jump now that the federal government has chosen to keep a military presence in Afghanistan through 2014.
Baird responded by saying that granting U.A.E. carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways greater landing rights at Canadian airports would have cost tens of thousands of jobs across the country.
It's the first time the government has made that claim, following weeks of political debate over the failed negotiations.
Earlier this month, an unnamed source told The Canadian Press that the negotiations collapsed after Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon was granted an extension on the Canadian government's lease at Camp Mirage last June — as long as he resolved the aviation dispute.
In response, federal officials offered to allow one more flight to Canada each week, the source said, but not to Toronto. A second offer "actually involved a capacity cut from the current agreement."
"There was a sense that Canada was insulting the U.A.E. because they had agreed at the ministerial level to try and negotiate a fair deal on air access and then proceeded to offer nothing of value," said the source, who had a commercial agreement with one of the U.A.E. airlines.