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As the Harper government's feud with the United Arab Emirates escalates over air landing rights, the Alberta government is sending a senior minister to the Middle East country this week to promote trade and investment.

An Alberta official says the province "can't sit back and wait" for the federal government to resolve its dispute. "We need to continue expanding trade," Bill Strickland told The Globe and Mail, adding he hopes the two nations can work out their differences.

Alberta's International and Intergovernmental Minister Iris Evans is heading to the UAE Friday for a week-long trade mission - the province is trying to strengthen ties with the oil-rich and innovative country by expanding trade and attracting foreign investment.

Last year, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach travelled to the UAE for the World Future Energy Summit; the Alberta government also signed an agreement on economic co-operation.

But it isn't the only province looking to strengthen its relationship with the UAE: Last year, the Nova Scotia government signed a memorandum of understanding on education and training.

And the national law firm, Bennett Jones, has recently opened an office in Dubai with five senior partners.

"Dubai is still the regional hub, lots of Canadians in the UAE, it's still an easy place to do business," said the law firm's CEO Hugh MacKinnon, who was there three weeks ago.

He would not comment on the dispute or whether the federal government is missing an opportunity. But he says he has not detected any "negative repercussions or hostility" as a result of the feud between the two governments.

"Business goes on. Business is resilient," he said.

The landing-rights dispute, meanwhile, has bubbled up again with the Prime Minister's "Give me a break," comment last weekend. He was referring to the UAE's decision to charge Canadians visa fees, and its refusal to allow the military to use Camp Mirage, a strategic air base, after the Harper government decided not to allow the extra landing slots to two UAE airlines in three Canadian cities.

Pouring even more gas on the fire was this week's visit by Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae, who posted a blog criticizing the Harper government's position and accusing it of protectionist policies regarding the airlines.

"The UAE is an important hub and a potentially larger economic partner for Canada," wrote Mr. Rae. "Whatever additional landing rights might be negotiated could be phased in over time, and should continue to be watched closely for any potential impact."

He argued that "Canadian public policy on Air Canada and open skies needs to be clarified," suggesting that the Harper government is favouring Air Canada, which competes with the UAE airlines in Middle East travel.

The Harper government has argued that expanding UAE landing rights would cost "tens of thousands of jobs."

"It is surely an ironic twist that the old Reform Party and Stephen Harper have become advocates of closed skies and pure and simple protectionism," wrote Mr. Rae.

The PMO expressed concern about Mr. Rae's visit, suggesting that when Canadian MPs travel abroad they represent Canadian interests.

And Air Canada chief operating officer Duncan Dee took issue with Mr. Rae's suggestions, arguing that the Liberal MP 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."

Mr. Rae's comments came as the Harper government delivered a little jab at the UAE by announcing a new air agreement with Algeria.

On a visit to Algeria and Qatar, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon Tuesday highlighted air-travel agreements to point out that there are other places in the region to which Canadians can fly. He announced that one more flight will be added to the twice-weekly flight schedule from Algeria, upping the competition, in a sense, for the Dubai air-travel hub.

This did not go unnoticed by critics of the government's refusal to grant the extra landing rights to the UAE. They pointed out that Algeria was the 45th largest export market for Canada in 2009 - total exports of $351-million - compared to the UAE, which was the 17th largest export market for Canada, with total exports of $1.3 billion.

The Algeria agreement follows the government's December announcement that it had expanded its open-skies agreement with Egypt, whose exports are much smaller than the UAE's.

With a report from Campbell Clark