Canadian opposition enters row with UAE

The foreign affairs figure leaves the Emirates after talks on diplomatic spat with ministers and airline officials in Dubai.

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DUBAI // Canada's opposition foreign affairs spokesman has left the UAE loaded with political ammunition to fire at his government over a diplomatic spat with the Emirates that started with aircraft landing rights.
Bob Rae, from Canada's opposition Liberal party, had talks with ministers and airline officials in several meetings in Dubai as part of an unofficial tour of the region.
Mr Rae said he had not anticipated solving the crisis during his visit, which was made at his own expense and without the sanction of the government, or of the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper.
"I didn't have huge expectations from the trip," he said. "I simply wanted to hear clearly from the authorities in the UAE as to their views, and do what I can to keep things on the rails. It's in Canada's best interests to do just that."
The visit, which has drawn criticism from Conservative MPs, follows a diplomatic row that has been simmering since October, when officials in Ottawa refused to grant daily landing rights to Emirates and Etihad Airways.
Relations reached new lows in November, when UAE officials issued an eviction notice to Canadian military personnel based at Camp Mirage, a crucial logistics base outside Dubai that supplied the war effort in Afghanistan.
Then the UAE announced that from January 2, Canadians who wanted to travel to the UAE would no longer get free visas. They must now pay 250 Canadian dollars (Dh1,000) for a non-renewable 30-day visitor's visa, $500 for a three-month stay or $1,000 for a multiple-entry six-month visa.
Dimitri Soudas, Mr Harper's spokesman, told QMI Agency that it would be regrettable if Canadian interests were undermined by Mr Rae's visit, adding it was "surprising" that the Liberal party had taken the UAE's side in the dispute.
Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, parliamentary secretary to Canada's heritage minister, was quoted by The Globe and Mail as saying: "If Bob Rae wants to play the part of international doormat rather than take a principled stance supporting Canadian workers and industry he is once again demonstrating the kind of skills we saw firsthand during his bleak term as the premier of Ontario."
However, Mr Rae said that he would not let what he called "partisan noise" get in the way of his effort to repair relations, adding that it could take a long time.
He said that there was "deep concern" in the Emirates over comments made by Mr Harper last Friday, when he accused the country of using Camp Mirage as a bargaining chip to secure landing rights for the airlines.
"That's just not how you treat allies and I think it tells us 'you better pick your friends pretty carefully in the future'," Mr Harper was quoted as saying by QMI.
"When we as a country offer to be part of an international mission to help protect global security [and] then somebody comes along and uses that to try and leverage demands on our domestic airline industry, I don't think that's a situation we as a country want to be in."
In the interview, he also suggested that both Emirates and Etihad were government subsidised, a claim that was rejected by both airlines.
Tim Clark, the president of Emirates, accused Mr Harper of perpetuating a "Groundhog Day cycle of myths and misrepresentations" and urged him to examine the company's external audits online.
The statement was likely to stoke simmering tensions between Canada and the Emirates, analysts warned. Some said the diplomatic damage may be permanent.
"These sorts of comments are definitely going to add to the gulf of misunderstanding between the two countries," said Taufiq Rahim, the managing director of the advisory firm GlobeSight. "I don't see any restoration in good relations between the UAE and Canada in the near future, if at all."
That opinion was shared by Sultan al Mansouri, the Minister of Economy, who warned in November that cordial relations had been "destroyed" and complained of "fiery" statements from Canada.