Rae defends U.A.E. meetings

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae is hitting out at the Conservative government over criticism of his meetings with officials in the United Arab Emirates.

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae is hitting out at the Conservative government over criticism of his meetings with officials in the United Arab Emirates.

The meeting took place amid a simmering dispute between the Middle East nation and Canada. 

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae has drawn criticism for meeting with United Arab Emirates officials this week as part of a self-funded personal visit to the Middle East. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))
In a blog post on the Liberals' website on Tuesday, Rae dismissed criticism from government MPs in media reports, saying any claims he is being "disloyal" to Canada are "patently ridiculous."

"Forgive me for refusing to dress in pom poms and join Mr. Harper’s chorus line," Rae wrote. "Sitting down with another sovereign country and its institutions to hear their point of view is part of national leadership. It’s an example of patriotism and not the reverse."

Rae, who has been vocal in his criticism of the government's handling of relations with the key Mideast trading partner, met with U.A.E. representatives earlier this week in Dubai during a self-funded personal visit to the Middle East.

In a blog post after the meetings, Rae accused the Conservatives of playing favourites with Air Canada and said Prime Minister Stephen Harper "further poisoned the atmosphere" between the two countries by insisting the U.A.E. is to blame for the spat.

The comments prompted Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro to call Rae Canada's "international doormat."

Meanwhile, Dimitri Soudas, the prime minister's communications director, has said Canadians expect all MPs to represent Canada's interests while travelling abroad, adding it would be "extremely regrettable" if Canadian interests were "undermined."

But Rae wrote the Liberals will continue to defend Canada’s international reputation and traditions, and won't be "cowed or intimidated into silence."

"Funny, did the same logic apply when Stephen Harper and Stockwell Day wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal attacking the Liberal government’s decision not to join the United States in its decision to invade Iraq?" he wrote.

This month, the U.A.E. slapped expensive visa requirements on Canadians headed to the country amid a growing diplomatic spat between Ottawa and the U.A.E. over landing rights for its two state-owned airlines at Canadian airports.

The row culminated into Canada being evicted from Camp Mirage, key military base in Dubai that the U.A.E. had allowed the Canadian Forces to use without charge as a key transit point for staging operations in Afghanistan.

Air Canada executive slams Rae

Canada has been involved in an escalating spat with the United Arab Emirates since refusing its two state-run airlines more landing rights in Canadian airports.
The Conservative government has defended its stance on the landing rights and said the U.A.E. was in the wrong for linking access to the base with landing rights negotiations.

Rae also called it an "ironic twist" that the "old Reform Party and Stephen Harper have become advocates of closed skies and pure and simple protectionism" in the landing-rights dispute.

Rae's comment drew a sharp rebuke from Air Canada's chief operating officer, Duncan Dee.  

The airline's executive told the Globe and Mail that "instead campaigning for votes in Dubai or Abu Dhabi," Rae should be "speaking up for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians whose livelihoods depend directly or indirectly on a strong and vibrant Air Canada and Canadian airline industry."

A 1999 agreement allows Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways to fly up to six times a week into Canada.

Air Canada has objected to increased service to Canadian destinations, saying the current agreement between Canada and the U.A.E. "allows more than enough capacity to carry all the point-to-point traffic" between the two countries.