TORONTO — The U.A.E.’s flagship airline wants to “set the record straight” after the federal government argued that tens of thousands of Canadian jobs were at risk if it granted more landing rights to airlines from the Middle-Eastern country.
Dubai-based Emirates is rejecting the claim that Government House leader John Baird made twice in the House of Commons on Friday.
“With regards to the potential for ’tens of thousands of jobs’ losses, Emirates has difficulty in understanding this assertion,” said airline president Tim Clark in a statement sent to The Canadian Press Sunday.
“We can assure the Canadian government that the increased presence of Emirates in Canada will only deliver favourable benefits to the Canadian economy and in particular to the travelling public.”
The dispute over landing rights between Canada and the U.A.E. escalated into a financial, diplomatic and military headache for the governing Conservatives that eventually resulted in the Persian Gulf coast country refusing to renew the lease of a critical Canadian military staging base near Dubai.
The Canadian Forces had been using Camp Mirage rent-free for the past nine years to get troops and equipment into Afghanistan.
Moving to a new base is expected to cost Canadian taxpayers at least $300 million.
The U.A.E. has also imposed visa restrictions on visiting Canadians since the flap over landing rights.
An existing decade-old deal gives Emirates and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways three flights each a week to Toronto. A source close to the negotiations had said the Emirates government was seeking daily flights for each airline to Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Canada came back with a counter offer, said the source, that actually reduced the current carrying capacity of the U.A.E. airlines.
In responding to Ottawa’s claims, Clark said evidence proves that “wealth and job creation” follow from an increased airline presence. He also pointed out that Emirates has never been subsided in any way by the Dubai government.
“Emirates does not seek to swamp Canada with large amounts of capacity; in fact, a fair approach to frequency growth was the proposal recently tabled,” he said.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay made it clear this week that the government’s decision on the landing rights issue caused a rift in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet. MacKay also suggested it will take 10 years to heal relations with the U.A.E.
But Baird maintained that the U.A.E’s offer was “not in the best interests of Canada.”
When asked to explain the estimate of job losses, Baird said major unions, Air Canada and airport authorities all opposed giving the Emirates expanded landing rights.
Opposition critics had lashed out Baird, with Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae dismissing the claims as “outlandish” and “fear-mongering.”
Rae had said his understanding of the negotiations was that Canada put a “take it or leave it offer on the table and they’re the ones who effectively walked away.”