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Dubai base eviction exposes Tory 'negligence,' Liberals charge Add to ...

The Conservative government demonstrated incredible incompetence in its failure to negotiate a deal with the United Arab Emirates to keep Canada's secret military base operating in the Arabian Gulf country, the Liberals said Friday.

The blast from Liberal Foreign Affairs critic Bob Rae came the day after a Conservative official confirmed that it will cost $300-million to close Camp Mirage, which Canada used as a logistics hub for its troops in Afghanistan.

"It is unbelievable to me that this could not have found a diplomatic effective solution. You've got a Minister of Foreign Affairs who refuses to pick up the phone, refuses to talk to ambassadors, refuses to deal with people who are interested in [settling]the dispute," Mr. Rae told reporters.

"It's an unbelievable act of negligence, of arrogance and of incompetence by this Conservative government."

The Canadians were forced to close the base this week as a result of a dispute with the UAE over landing rights at Canadian airports. In retaliation, the source said, the Prime Minister's Office is banning cabinet ministers from flying on Emirates and Etihad Airways, the state-backed airlines involved in the feud.

This is not just an inconvenience, Mr. Rae said. It is a "massive expenditure of time and money" that has left the military scrambling to find a replacement hub in the Middle East. "We still don't have solutions in place," he said.

Mr. Rae also accused the government of being secretive about the costs of moving out of the UAE. "The only thing the Prime Minister could bring himself to say was that to challenge the government of Canada on this file was quote, anti-Canadian, unquote," he said.

"Well, it's not exactly anti-Canadian to want to know facts and information. It's exactly not anti-Canadian to be concerned about the wastage of $300-million. It's not anti-Canadian to want our government to act with competence and to act with intelligence and to act with foresight."

When asked about the costs of closing the base during the Question Period on Friday, Conservative House Leader John Baird said his government always acts in the best interest of Canadians. "What the United Arab Emirates was offering was not of net benefit to Canada and this government always stands up for Canada," he said.

The Canadian government had been using the base for free for nine years. But leaving is complicated - there are huge logistical issues, according to the source, including moving equipment and now having to factor in fuel costs for the longer routes between Afghanistan and the alternative bases in Germany and Cyprus.

There was a dispute within the Harper cabinet over the withdrawal, with Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan pushing for greater co-operation with the Arab ally.

But Mr. Baird, a former transport minister, argued strenuously against allowing the landing rights, according to sources. The Prime Minister ultimately agreed with Mr. Baird, cutting the three other ministers out of negotiations.

With a report from Jane Taber

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