In the last number of weeks, Canada and the UAE are engaged in a trade dispute that has escalated, as the UAE objects to Canada's refusal to grant Emirates Airlines (and Etihad Airways) landing rights for more flights per week, and to more cities than Toronto. These landing rights would facilitate business and tourist travel to the UAE from Canada (and vice versa), by allowing for direct flights that would eliminate stop downs and flight changes that add time (minimum 4 hours) and inconvenience to the journey. They would also result in competition for Canada's national carrier, which is struggling financially, and has a reputation for poor onboard service.
The dispute came to national attention here when the UAE threatened to deny landing rights to Canada in the UAE, and to close the "secret" Canadian Forces Base, codenamed "Camp Mirage", which is the primary supply and deployment route for Canadian Forces in Afghanistan--just as Canadian Forces are supposed to be drawing down and need it most. Since the Canadian government stood squarely against allowing any more flights or city destinations, the UAE has done just that.
There was, in fact, considerable division within the Harper administration about whether to compromise with the UAE or not. Perhaps most understandably the Minister of Defense, Peter MacKay, was for the compromise, while government House leader, John Baird, and Finance Minister John Flaherty were against it. Prime Minister Harper, who fancies himself an economist (MA Economics, U Calgary) sided with the Finance Minister, or more likely determined the financial policy.
I was most impressed with Peter MacKay's savvy media move in protest against a Prime Minister who is particularly rigid about Cabinet unity, and message control (mostly silence). MacKay joined a conversation among a reporter known to him, Finance Minister Flaherty, and Senator Michael Meighen:
Reports suggest it will cost $300 million to close Camp Mirage.Though MacKay's complaints while wearing a "Fly Emirates" baseball cap have been widely reported, including by the CBC as above, others seem not to be commenting on the colour of the cap--which is the best part!
The federal government hasn't "calculated all the costs" yet, MacKay said before boarding a flight to Lisbon for a NATO summit.
"Obviously, we'll look at close-out costs when the time is right. We have had to relocate, as you know, to other bases.
"My primary concern is that we continue to have operational efficiencies. We have to continue to supply personnel equipment going in into the Afghan theatre."
MacKay's comments came one day after he apparently complained in the presence of a radio reporter about the decision to deny the U.A.E. the extended rights, suggesting it had been a bad idea.
The reporter, NewsTalk 1010's Daniel Proussalidis, said he was standing with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Senator Michael Meighen during a fire alarm on Parliament Hill when MacKay walked up wearing a red baseball cap with the words "Fly Emirates" on it.
According to Proussalidis, MacKay said jokingly he was wearing the hat "for [government House leader John] Baird," whose opinion of the U.A.E. situation was opposite to his.
On Thursday, MacKay called that exchange a "private conversation" and refused to elaborate further.
In Canada, Red = liberal + Liberal
In Canada, Blue = conservative + Conservative
Defense Minister MacKay is a former Progressive Conservative
Prime Minister Harper is an ultra Conservative
Fly Emirates caps come in Red, Blue, and Deep Blue
Defense Minister MacKay wore Red
Defense Minister McKay Flies Emirates Out of Cabinet?
Prime Minister Harper brooks no dissent, and Defense Minister MacKay is crossing lines deliberately on this issue, yet so far MacKay still maintains his political position. He recently dispatched the Canadian Forces to the Province of Ontario to rescue drivers stranded during snow squalls. So far, then, he is still flying Air Canada or Department of Defense aircraft.
The Most Recent Salvo
According to the UAE Embassy in Canada website, visas will be required for Canadian travelers to the UAE, beginning in the New Year. This ends, at least until further notice, the ability for Canadians, like Americans, Europeans, and others, to enter the UAE with a passport only. A visa requirement deters tourist and business visitors, or at least complicates their travel, and puts Canadian businessmen at a competitive disadvantage.
FROM THE EMBASSY OF THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATESON VISA ISSUANCE FOR CANADIANS
1. The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Ottawa will issue visas for official visitors only.
2. Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways, travel agencies and hotels in the UAE are able to issue the following visas to Canadian citizens:
- Visit visas
- Tourist visas
- Transit visas (Issued by the above mentioned airlines)
This is not the first time that another country has imposed visa restrictions on Canada as a statement of displeasure. During the "Turbot War" or "Guerra del fletán" of 1994-6, between Canada and Spain (initially), the latter imposed visa restrictions on Canadian travelers. Fortunately, or not (the turbot ultimately suffered as did Canadian fishing), Canada/Great Britain triumphed over the combined Continental European forces, and the humble turbot, that new federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Newfoundlander, Brian Tobin--"Captain Canada", "The Turbotonator"--so eloquently defended from overfishing, was saved; and, Canadians could once again travel visa-free to Spain.
As was reported in the Canadian national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, Canadians have noted the UAE's escalation in the landing rights dispute:
Fen Hampson, the director, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa, said the fight between the two countries has gotten out of hand. “This is unwarranted escalation of a low-grade trade dispute,” Dr. Hampson said.
The UAE is trying to make Dubai a global hub and is using the state-owned carriers to take on the competition, he said. Likewise, he said, Air Canada, which opposed granting more landing slots to the UAE planes, enjoys various forms of indirect subsidies.
“This is a battle of national champions in that our government is defending the interests of Air Canada and the UAE is trying to take on Air Canada in what are potentially very lucrative routes to its part of the world,” Dr. Hampson said.
In reporting the recent visit of Canada's Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II, to the UAE, venerable newscaster Peter Mansbridge, anchor of the CBC's The National news cast, opined: "Good for Her Majesty, she's obviously got landing rights in the UAE". Indeed.
Amusing, no? Amusant, non?
Well except for the >$300 million it has cost Canada to close Camp Mirage, the inconvenience of using bases in Germany and Cyprus, potential business losses, and who knows what step next in this "air battle". Well done (not), Mr Prime Minister.
Your comments, thoughts, impressions?
Emirates Twists Canadas Arm
*My thanks to Zdistrict for making me aware of the new visa regulations, and for the discussion in the comments there.