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Talks with UAE in dire need of air-traffic control

Not: UAE relations. Canada's offer to two United Arab Emirates airlines of one more round-trip flight a week in addition to the three they are already allowed is still on the table, according to a source close to the negotiations.

In fact, it has never been taken off the table since it was first presented at a meeting in Paris last month. This proposal, the source says, still forms the basis for any talks between Canada and the UAE. But the airlines, Emirates and Etihad, have asked for much more, up to four flights more a week.

The confusion over the status of the negotiations arose Thursday after senior Conservatives, including International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan and Laurie Hawn, the parliamentary secretary to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, suggested the government hasn't closed the door to granting new landing slots to the two UAE airlines.

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"[The Canadian proposal]was tabled at a meeting in Paris and ... has never been taken off the table as the basis of discussions with the UAE," the source says. "It was when the UAE linked air rights to Camp Mirage and tried to blackmail Canada by threatening the camp's lease that things soured since the PM did not want to get blackmailed."

Indeed, an angry Prime Minister Stephen Harper had shut down any more discussion of the issue around the cabinet table after becoming offended when he heard of the UAE's decision to link its request for more flights to Canada with the military's use of Camp Mirage, the covert Dubai airbase Canada has been using for free since 2001 as a logistical stopover on its way to Afghanistan.

The consequences of the Harper government's decision resulted in the Defence Minister and his top general being prohibited from landing at Camp Mirage or even flying in UAE airspace as they returned from Afghanistan last Monday. The UAE has given Canada 30 days to leave the base.

But another senior source says the UAE's pursuit for landing rights is far from over. "For them preventing Peter's plane from landing was probably more of a negotiating tactic than a final gesture," the source said.

Hot: Julian Fantino. The former Toronto police chief and retired Ontario Provincial Police commissioner is now the newly-minted Conservative candidate in Vaughan.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will visit the Ontario riding Friday for one of Mr. Fantino's first campaign events. The Prime Minister's presence is an indication of how much the Tories want this seat and how much stock they're putting in the former top cop's candidacy.

The riding has been Liberal for 22 years since Maurizio Bevilacqua first won it. But his resignation from federal politics to run for Vaughan mayor has opened it up to a race. The Tories have been making inroads in ridings north of Toronto over the last few elections and it's expected the Prime Minister will call a by-election there soon.

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Not: UN Security Council excuses. The Harper government says it was Michael Ignatieff's fault. This, because the Liberal Leader publicly questioned whether Canada deserved a seat since the Conservatives have ignored the United Nations.

Others say Canada was snubbed by its friends. The United States, India, China and the UAE either did not support our campaign or even vote for us, leading to the defeat. Calls for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon's resignation have begun as a result.

Regardless of exactly how it all went down, the commentary around the loss has been devastating for the Harper government. Even L. Ian MacDonald, who is considered a right-leaning commentator, wrote a blistering column Friday about the bad day that Mr. Harper had last Tuesday. The former Brian Mulroney biographer was particularly unimpressed with the Ignatieff excuse, calling it "the most idiotic communications strategy yet devised by this PMO, and that's saying something."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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