Camp Mirage closure costs questioned
The government has sidestepped questions about additional costs due to the closure of the facility in the United Arab Emirates used by Canada's military to stage operations in Afghanistan.
Government House Leader John Baird would say only that Canada had negotiated with the U.A.E. and the "offer that was on the table was not in the best interests of Canada."
The original estimated cost of closing the covert Camp Mirage was $300 million, based on a deadline for withdrawal of Canada from Afghanistan in 2011, Liberal defence critic Bob Rae said during Friday's question period in the Commons.
"It's not entirely clear whether the government was aware that in fact they were going to need the base not simply until 2011, but until 2014," Rae said, referring to the new withdrawal date for Canada's military mission in Afghanistan, announced Tuesday.
"Can the government now tell us, how much is it going to cost us in addition to have lost the base in Dubai until ?" he asked.
"We did it because it was in the best interests of Canada," Baird answered. "We did it because to do otherwise would have cost Canada literally tens of thousands of jobs in the years to come."
Jobs loss claim unexplained
"Why will the government not admit that it made a disastrous choice, that it was reckless in its behaviour, and why won't the government come clean with the actual cost?" Rae then demanded. "What is it, 500, 600 million [dollars]?"
"We were negotiating on behalf of Canada … and the deal on the table was not in the best interests of Canada," Baird answered.
Across the Atlantic at the NATO summit in Lisbon, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon did not explain which jobs were included in the "tens of thousands of jobs" Baird claimed would be lost.
"I'm the one that was responsible for the negotiations, and we came to a point that it wasn't in Canada's interest to continue," Cannon told reporters, when asked to explain the claim.
"I made it perfectly clear that we're not prepared to put Canadian workers out of their jobs by allowing a subsidized, foreign airline to literally flood the Canadian market," he added.
Followup questions to Transport Minister Chuck Strahl also failed to produce a precise explanation of Baird's claim.
Canada-U.A.E. relationship needs 'work'
Canada's lease on Camp Mirage was due to expire in June. Both countries agreed to extend the lease until the end of September to allow negotiations between them.
The U.A.E. told Canada in October that it would have to vacate the base after Canada refused to grant two state-run airlines increased landing rights at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.
A Conservative source told CBC News in October that the Conservatives refused to grant the rights because the U.A.E. tried to "blackmail" it into doing so by using access to Camp Mirage as a bargaining chip.
On Thursday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Canada had "some work to do in repairing the relationship with the [U.A.E.] Clearly the circumstances under which we left the base require now some work."
Canada has since made arrangements to use alternative bases in Germany and Cyprus.