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Canada blasts effort to woo UN

As Qatar tries to lure away ICAO, big guns band together in Montreal

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UNITED FRONT: Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum (from left), federal Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, and provincial Minister for International Relations Jean-Francois Lisee leave the International Civil Aviation Organization headquarters Friday.

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UNITED FRONT: Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum (from left), federal Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, and provincial Minister for International Relations Jean-Francois Lisee leave the International Civil Aviation Organization headquarters Friday.

MONTREAL -- Canada's big guns threw cold water on Qatar's bid to lure away the International Civil Aviation Organization on Friday, ripping the Middle Eastern nation's blistering year-round heat.

Qatar has begun to woo the United Nations agency to get it to move its Montreal headquarters to Doha, with one of the country's main complaints focusing on the city's bone-chilling winters.

Canada's weather riposte came on Friday when Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Quebec cabinet minister Jean-Franßois Lisée held a news conference with Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum to announce a common front against the Qatari bid.

"For my part, I prefer by far to have four seasons instead of an excruciating and humid temperature of more than 40 degrees -- 12 months a year," said Baird.

Lisee also alluded to the Middle Eastern climate.

"If we have to compare between snow and sand, all the representatives who have families here know that children can make snowmen, but it's very difficult to make sandmen," said the international affairs minister and the minister responsible for the Montreal region.

"Winter is something that you can enjoy and it doesn't last all year -- when you look at the heat in Doha all year."

The Parti Quebecois minister, who is also responsible for the Montreal region, later explained his comment by saying he always makes jokes to de-dramatize a situation.

"But the fact that we are all here, all three, shows the seriousness with which we approach the situation," Lisee added.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper also weighed in on the ICAO tug-of-war, saying he doesn't think a strong case can be made to move the civil aviation authority out of Montreal.

"It's been based in Montreal for a very long time," Harper told a news conference in Quebec City. "Montreal, Quebec, Canada have been very good hosts from everything I understand.

"I'm certainly not aware of any serious complaints about how we host the organization. Montreal's a sophisticated city that is a hub of the aerospace industry around the world.

"There is absolutely no reasonable case to move the centre out of Montreal."

The Qatari bid, meanwhile, is seen by government critics as being politically motivated and a reflection of Canada's pro-Israel policy in the Middle East.

But Baird characterized Canada's relationship with the Arab world as "excellent."

"I've visited the Arab world eight times (in 10 years) and I've been warmly received wherever I've gone," he said.

The rift between Canada and some Arab states extends to issues beyond Israel. The two sides have only just started to patch up holes in their relationship that were the result of long-standing aviation issues.

Both Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been lobbying Canada vigorously for more landing rights for their airlines, only to see their efforts continually blocked by domestic airlines.

Baird said any strategy by Qatar to use the ICAO issue to pressure Ottawa on landing rights won't fly.

"I'd just be charitable and say that request is on hold while we put all of our energy into Montreal," he added.

Baird pointed out that Qatar is offering a lot of cash to lure the agency to Doha, but said that shouldn't be a factor.

"Qatar is a small country with a very small population with a lot of money and they want to build a world-class city," he said. "We're so fortunate that in Canada, in Montreal, in Quebec, we already have a great world-class city."

Canada also received a vote of confidence from its neighbour to the south.

"The U.S. sees no reason to move ICAO out of Montreal and would not support such a proposal," David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, said through a spokesman Friday.

Canada has played host to ICAO since the 1940s. Its current headquarters was built in the 1990s at a cost of $100 million.

Losing ICAO would be a financial and political blow for Canada.

Montreal is the hub of Canada's aviation industry, and its international reputation as a major player is reflected in the ICAO's longtime residency.

The organization also feeds the city's economy: it employs 534 staff and says it generates some $119 million annually and 1,200 direct and indirect jobs.

The economic impact on the city is contained in a study published last year using data from 2010-2011.

A vote on whether to move the headquarters to Qatar will be held in September. If at least 60 per cent of ICAO's 191 member states sign off on the transfer, it would take effect in 2016.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2013 A19

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