Friday, April 16, 2010

Saudi/Canada Relations: Friends, Business Partners, and More

There I was taking a lunch break while reading the morning paper, when I almost choked on the mushroom chicken on rice--or at the very least had a chopstick mishap. Happy to see that there was an article on Saudi/Canada relations (how could I have missed it over the breakfast tea?), I turned to the inside pages, looked to the very bottom of the indicated page, and there it was--sort of.

The Mulroneys with President and Mrs. Reagan in Quebec, Canada, March 18, 1985, the day after the famous "Shamrock Summit", when the two leaders sang "When Irish Eyes are Smiling".

Above the title was the dreaded name Brian Mulroney. Mulroney was Canada's answer to Ronald Reagan, with whom, as  two descendants of Irish immigrants, he loved to sing in harmony "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling", notably at the "Shamrock Summit" for one,  while organizing the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, still a subject of political debate, as in Obama promising the Americans during the election campaign to tell Canada to revise it, or else, and then writing Canadian officials that he was only bluffing for votes.

(NAFTA Initialing Ceremony, October 1992 From left to right (standing) President Salinas, President Bush, Prime Minister Mulroney (Seated) Jaime Serra Puche, Carla Hills, Michael Wilson. Source: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

Later he continued on with George HW Bush, in signing NAFTA--the North American Foreign Trade Agreement that returned Canada to its role as supplier of raw materials, move manufacturing to Mexico where minimum wage was $5 a day, not $5 an hour, and workers' rights, and labour and environmental laws a non-issue, then had the US importing and exporting at a clear benefit. One might argue that the current problems in Mexico, and across the Mexican-US border were caused or at least exacerbated by NAFTA. If Mexicans had decent work opportunities they would be more likely to stay in their own country, but that would be a problem for an economy based on very cheap labour. Canada lost so much manufacturing then that we have weathered the invasion by Chinese goods rather well (that and much better bank and corporate regulation).

Peter Mansbridge, CBC news anchor, reporting on the 1991 Gulf War

1991 was a banner year for Prime Minister Mulroney. On January 1 he created the Goods and Services Tax, so despised by Canadians, and which was never part of his electoral platform. Then on January 12-13 woke up in the middle of the night to call Parliament to get us in to the 1991 Gulf War as soon after George Bush I called as possible. Thanks to Brian we had 2 destroyers in the Gulf, an air base in Qatar, army based in Manamah, Bahrain, and a field hospital behind UK lines in Al-Qaysumah, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia, and our first combat mission since the Korean War. Though there were no Canadian casualties, as a result of Operation FRICTION and our participation in the Joint Forces Command North, along with the US, UK, France, Italy, and Australia, some returning soldiers complained of Gulf War Syndrome. Canada's reporting on the war, at least by the CBC, is archived here. French sociologist Jean Baudrillard's remarkable, short, book on the marketing of the war is worth reading: La guerre du Golfe n'a pas eu lieu/ The Gulf War Did Not Take Place

Now--after putting in a woman, Kim Campbell, to take the 1992 election fall for him, destroying his own party (contributing to the rise of the far right), being still involved in a monetary scandal started as he was exiting office, and spending most of the intervening years treated as a pariah by his own political right wing--what could Brian possibly have to say about Saudi/Canada  relations? Okay, I will admit that my studies of Canadian and American history, and my political leanings, make me just a tad biased against "the jaw that walks", "Byron Muldoon", Mila's husband and Ben's father, so read it for yourselves:

Saudis, our friends and business partners

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney The Canadian Press

Both countries seek to boost entrepreneurial, knowledge-based economies

From Friday's Globe and Mail Published on Friday, Apr. 16, 2010 5:00AM EDT Last updated on Friday, Apr. 16, 2010 12:47PM EDT

This June, during the summit of the 20 largest economies in the world, Canadians will watch with interest the interaction between our country and the biggest of the big, including China and the United States. But as important as these relationships are, other countries in the Group of 20 also deserve our attention.

Take Saudi Arabia, a country with a dynamic economy that offers tremendous opportunities for our businesses and institutions. More than $1.4-billion in Canadian exports flowed into Saudi Arabia last year, making it Canada’s second-largest export market in the Middle East and North Africa. Two-way trade between our countries surpassed $2.6-billion.

“ ... this relationship is about more than trade.”

However, this relationship is about more than trade. The shared commitment to innovation and education is growing quickly. About 10,000 Saudis study in Canadian universities each year, including 800 medical students. Integrated postsecondary learning is about sharing ideas, knowledge and understanding. High-quality education and the bright minds that result will fuel many commercial and social partnerships between our countries.

Saudi Arabia and Canada are both poised for continued success. The countries have enormous and challenging geographies and the largest and second-largest oil deposits in the world. Moreover, we are each making strong efforts to broaden our economies.

Since 1984, Canada has embraced a new approach to governance and economic policy. The government has implemented free-trade agreements, a low-inflation policy, significant tax reform, extensive deregulation and spending reductions. These policies continue to be the basis of the country’s impressive economic performance today.

How strong was our performance? Through the recent global recession, Canada fared better than any other country in the G8. The stable Canadian financial system, recognized by the World Economic Forum as the best in the world, has shown the results of strong management. Leveraging this strength can produce continued growth for Canadian banks and businesses. But we must make conscious efforts to work more closely with countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has demonstrated that it offers fertile ground for growing strategic alliances. In 2008, for example, SABIC Innovative Plastics, which is 70-per-cent owned by the Saudi government, opened its state-of-the-art research laboratory, the Centre for Manufacturing Innovation, just outside Toronto. In March, 2010, the MaRS Centre in Toronto hosted senior executives of Saudi Aramco to meet with Canadian researchers and business leaders. Just last June, contracts were signed between three Canadian and Saudi companies. There is much more room to maximize the value of our petroleum and human resources by shared investment, innovation and research.

The recognition of the potential benefits of a Canadian-Saudi partnership by the leaders of both countries is encouraging. There have been six major Canadian ministerial visits to Saudi Arabia since 2008. I have been leading a delegation of senior business leaders on a mission to the country this week. I am inspired by the interest government and business leaders there have shown in Canadian companies as sources of, and partners in, investment. Saudi interest is bolstered by our government’s focus on maintaining an open climate for investment, reducing corporate tax rates and diversifying export markets.

Saudis know that Canada possesses not only vast natural resources, but also an outstanding investment climate and an open-minded, diverse, well-educated and motivated population. Just as Saudis are putting aside old myths about Canada, so too must Canadians realize that Saudi Arabia is about more than oil. Both countries seek to boost entrepreneurial, knowledge-based economies with the capacity and zeal to create profitable long-term partnerships.

Our different histories, cultures and systems of government can generate contrasting points of view, but we should be able to address them in a manner that does not jeopardize or undermine the underlying strengths of our partnerships.

Saudi Arabia’s influence on global issues, such as peace and security, will continue to grow in importance. When we share common objectives on these issues, there will be even greater scope for a political and commercial partnership with Saudi Arabia.

Clearly, Saudi Arabia and Canada can go forward – together.

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney is a senior [law] partner at Ogilvy Renault LLP.

U of Windsor Vice-Provost, Dr. Clayton Smith and CUAC Managing Director, Lalit Jagasia, with prospective students at the annual International Exhibition for Higher Education in Riyadh

I learned about partnerships I wasn't aware of before, although I am aware of the Saudis studying in Canada, particularly in medicine. While the similarities between the 2 countries are somewhat exaggerated (no offense, but ours really is bigger; and our economy probably less oil based), it is true that we should strengthen ties, and move forward together (as opposed to apart?). Mostly I agree with the mutual intellectual and cultural enrichment.

What, if anything did you learn from this article?
What would you agree/disagree with?
Are there other areas of similarity/difference beside those mentioned?
What myths do Saudis hold true about Canada?
What myths do Canadians hold true about Saudi?
What future political and economic partnerships might Saudi and Canada engage in?
What educational and cultural exchanges might be mutually beneficial?
If you are Saudi what is your experience of Canada?
If you are Canadian what is your experience of Saudi?
If you are neither, what are your impressions?
What are your country's relationships with Saudi like?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?


Susanne said...

Nice to read an article about Canada/Saudi relations. I'm glad you didn't choke to death on your lunch so you could share it with us. :)

Wendy said...

Chiara, I did not know that we did so much business with KSA. Goes to show I need to brush up on what Canada is up to. I am so used to Canada being considered an insignificant little country when I travel that I did not give much thought to this.

Considering the trade we do I certainly heard no mention of it in KSA. We have friends and relatives involved at many levels with Aramco and they made no mention of Canada. Of course they may not have thought to discuss such issues with a woman. :)
Many school children I spoke with did not know where Canada was located and I'm talking about some even in University. Some had us in South America and others had us near China. Some thought we were the same as the USA. :( Then there was my 12 year old nephew who named all the provinces, capital cities, wildlife, etc. and he could do that with just about every country. I guess that shows that it doesn't matter what country you are from you will learn about things if you are interested and in not ....

Generally when I am in the Middle East or Africa people ask if I am American and when I tell them I am Canadian they grow big smiles so I guess even though people don't know much about us they do think we are a 'pleasant' country.

Khalid said...

True, there are many Saudis studying medicine in Canada, and it's also true that about 2 years ago the Canadian gov decided to raise thetuition for medical students who are from petroleum countries --in other words, getting more money from Saudi students. What do you think
of this tuition raise?

I spent 2 years in Canada, and I shall say that I consider it a
positive experience overall (LOL except for the lack of decent
services in Canadian banks and cell phone companies) By far, KSA has much much better bank ervices, and better cell phone services and

Why Canadian are obsessed when it comes to Tim Hortons? Does Tim
Hortons represent a Canadian national identity? Anyway, I heard about couple years back that it has been bought by Americans, is it true? and if yes, why the obsession then? :)

We used to have several Second Cup branches in KSA for about 5-6
years. Just earlier this year the last branch has been closed. It's
strange because most of the time the cafe used to be full of people.

Chiara said...

Susanne--thank you for your comment, and I'm glad too. Brian isn't worth asphyxiating over! :)

Wendy--thank you for your comment. I was pretty unaware too of the business exchanges Saudi-Canada, though I was aware of some Canadian expats there.

Interesting about general awareness of Canada. I have been asked in France if I arrived by train. In Morocco, because of the influence of TV5 there seems to be a belief on the part of many, including the well-educated and well-traveled that Quebec is all of Canada and there are a few small English bits stuck on the sides. It is hard to dissuade in the face of television proof; as I learned when trying to explain that marauding polar bears were only a problem in the far north. It seems I should be setting polar bear traps in the back yard, even if the closest ones are in a zoo.

I have always understood the broad grin when I explain that I am not American but Canadian to mean "silly fool, you are exactly the same". Most often I let it go. If we are actually in a comparative discussion I point out fundamental differences in history, social structure, etc, and then they still think we are the same but are more careful in chosing their words... LOL:)

Chiara said...

Khalid--thanks for your comment and sharing your experience and perspective. I wasn't aware of the change for petroleum countries specifically. There is a general concern about physicians who come for specialty training here and don't return home, as they are an asset here, but much needed at home. Also some countries want to block their nationals from training in countries where it is too easy and advantageous to stay. Now that students can apply for permanent resident status after 3 years on a student visa it is much easier to gain the right to work here and then to have full citizenship.

I disagree with a high differential in international vs national student fees and particularly targetting certain countries which is discriminatory and exploitive. Because nationals or their parents have paid a lot of taxes into the education system I can see there being a slight increase for international students (although one could argue that out of province students should also pay higher fees for the same reason) but certainly not the type of 3X the usual fee that is the current norm. This differential steepened sharply as a direct way to increase revenue in the face of government cutbacks to university funding. Some universities prefer international students, supposedly to get the best in the world, particularly at the graduate level, but I think it is also motivated by financial considerations.

Tim Horton was a famous defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team when it was still one of the original 6 teams, and later played for the expansion Buffalo Sabres. He died tragically on the highway between Buffalo and his home in Toronto, when he lost control of the car due to excessive speed and road conditions.

He and a friend started the first Tim Horton's doughnut shop on Ottawa Street North in the industrial end of Hamilton, Ontario (near Toronto) where the friend was from. It eventually expanded into a franchise, and on Tim Horton's death there were financial and ownership problems which his wife seemed to recover from. However, the chain was bought out by Dave Thomas of Wendy's fame. I was recently bought back by a Canadian corporation so all is right with the world.

I was a Tim Horton's non-attendee until North African students insisted on meeting at one for study sessions, since it was well lit, had internet access, and was a 24hr one in keeping with their diurnal rhythms. I almost had an incident there with a Saudi who thought I was staring at him, when in fact I was looking past him to where one of the North African students was sitting, and who noticed and intervened nicely. He also gave me a rundown on the Arab student demographic of that location: North Africans = med students; Saudis = engineering students; Levant = graduate students.

On the other hand the Second Cup with the patio is an Iraqi refugee haunt. One thought I wouldn't know that there are Iraqi Christians, was disappointed I did, and tossed in the term Maronite--hah! I have had Maronite patients! On the other hand I will be more careful than to look amused at someone using the term "baksheesh" for tip, or suggesting it translates better to "small change" which one might indeed use for "tip". A friend of mine doesn't like that Second Cup, and I finally figured out that she doesn't like being in the presence of so many Arab men (who totally ignore us, I might add, since they are there to gather in large groups, smoke, have coffee, tell jokes, and exchange news, just like on a patio in any hot climate). She is sadly in the "I'm not really a racist, and I help people to acculturate, but acculturate they must" category of Canadians.

I'm glad that overall your 2 years in Canada were positive, and with the new cell phone company, Wind?, Air?, something, perhaps services will improve! The banks alas have been vindicated through the recession and so shall probably continue in their evil ways! :)

Chiara said...

I hope others will share their impressions on reading Mulroney's article, and their Saudi/Canada experiences or perceptions! :)


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