x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Emirates and Canada in war of words

The president of Emirates Airline hits back at the Canadian government for perpetuating what he describes as a “‘Groundhog Day’ cycle of myths and misrepresentations” over the carrier.

DUBAI // The president of Emirates Airline has hit back at the Canadian government for perpetuating what he describes as a “‘Groundhog Day’ cycle of myths and misrepresentations” over the carrier.

Tim Clark challenged Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister, to produce “one shred of evidence” to substantiate claims that Emirates is subsidised by the UAE Government. The rebuff follows remarks by Mr Harper on Friday that seemed to suggest that he felt both Etihad and Emirates were Government financed.

“We have stated on many occasions that Emirates is not subsidised in any way, shape or form by the Dubai government. It never has been and never will be,” said Mr Clark. “Our financial statements audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the world’s largest accounting firm, confirm that there is no evidence of subsidisation whatsoever.

“These accounts have been made freely available to the public through Emirates’ website and they clearly demonstrate that we do not receive any direct or indirect subsidies.”

A refusal by officials in Ottawa to grant the UAE-based airlines daily landing rights in October led to tensions which were exacerbated when Camp Mirage, which served as a logistics base for Canadian troops in Afghanistan, closed last month. During an interview with the QMI news agency, Mr Harper also accused the UAE of using the base as a bargaining chip in a bid to get landing rights at Canadian airports.

“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 by the agency as saying.

“When we as a country offer to be part of a 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.”

The statement is likely to stoke simmering tensions between Canada and the Emirates, analysts have warned. Some say 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 UAE economy minister, who warned in November that cordial relations had been “destroyed” and complained of “fiery” statements from the Canadian side.

Part of the problem was that Canadian politicians had not considered the culture of diplomacy within the Emirates, said Susan Crotty, an assistant professor at the Dubai School of Government.

“In this part of the world maintaining face is very important,” she said. “For the prime minister to make such inflammatory comments publicly, it is very likely it will be viewed as a serious affront. They are going to take it more seriously than elsewhere in the world.”

The Canadian Liberal MP Bob Rae is currently visiting Dubai and Abu Dhabi and has discussed the matter with officials from both the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Toronto-based Globe and Mail reported.

In an e-mail to the newspaper, Mr Rae was quoted as saying that Mr Harper’s “ham-fisted and confrontational approach” had set back relations longer than the 10 years initially predicted by the Canadian defence minister Peter MacKay.

Though the Canadian embassy in Abu Dhabi declined to comment, a government spokeswoman said the decision not to grant daily flights to the UAE-based airlines was in Canada’s best interests.

“Canada is not prepared to put Canadian workers out of work,” said Melissa Lantsman, a spokeswoman for the foreign minister Lawrence Cannon. “What the UAE was offering was not in the best interest of Canadians. Prime Minister Harper’s comments stand.”

mcroucher@thenational.ae