Federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer says the Official Opposition is firmly opposed to any move by the Liberal government to cancel exports of Canadian light-armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Scheer told The Globe and Mail he believes Canada could far more effectively signal its disapproval of Riyadh’s murder of a dissident Saudi journalist and its ruinous war in Yemen by blocking all imports of crude oil from the kingdom.
“That would send a stronger message and actually have an impact on the Saudi regime,” he said.
“To me, the real dirty oil is from Saudi Arabia. It is from countries that don’t recognize human rights, don’t treat women and girls in the same way, that don’t support democratic principles and the rule of law.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday the government was considering ways to permanently stop all shipments of the light-armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Riyadh to protest the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia’s role in the devastating conflict in neighbouring Yemen.
Mr. Trudeau’s comment came days after the U.S. Senate officially blamed the Khashoggi murder on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, and voted last week to withdraw military aid for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Mr. Scheer said scrapping the armoured-vehicle deal would exert no influence over the conduct of the Saudi regime, one of the world’s biggest buyers of military hardware.
“Cancelling the sale would have an impact on Canadian workers,” Mr. Scheer said in an interview. “To me, that is not the optimal way to send a message to Saudi Arabia.”
The Saudi deal was brokered by the former Conservative government. The Tories when in power celebrated the sale as a coup, calling it the largest advanced manufacturing export deal Canada had signed. It has been valued at as much as $15-billion over 14 years, directly supports about 1,850 jobs in London, Ont., and thousands more indirectly.
General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, the Canadian arm of a U.S. defence contractor which is assembling the combat vehicles in London for Saudi Arabia, went on a public-relations offensive this week, releasing a statement warning that cancelling the deal would incur billions of dollars of penalties for the Canadian government.
Saudi-Canada relations were already severely strained before Mr. Khashoggi, a fierce critic of the Saudi Crown Prince, was killed Oct. 2, because Canada had publicly urged Riyadh in July to immediately release jailed civil-rights activists.
In August, the Saudis expelled the Canadian ambassador, froze new trade and investment dealings with Canada in retaliation for what it called "blatant interference" in its domestic affairs. It suspended Saudi Arabian Airline flights to and from Toronto and began to withdraw thousands of Saudi students from universities, colleges and other schools in Canada as part of what Saudi Arabia's Education Minister described as an effort to "cut its dealings with the Canadian government."
Mr. Scheer said that, if he wins next year’s federal election, he would revive efforts to build the Energy East pipeline to carry oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to the Irving oil refinery in New Brunswick and for export to foreign markets.
The Conservative Leader is not the only Canadian voice calling for replacing Saudi imports with more Canadian oil. So far this year, Canada has imported nearly 115,000 barrels of oil a day from Saudi Arabia into New Brunswick – or about 5.7 per cent of the Canadian oil supply.
Former Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay, now president and chief executive of the Canada West Foundation, says that the commercial and political relationship between Canada and Saudi Arabia is not just about armoured vehicles. Canada pays the Saudis a significant amount for this oil.
“We send on average about $4.3-billion each year to Saudi Arabia,” Ms. Hall Findlay said. “That is more than three times greater than the annualized value of the armoured-vehicles contract.”
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, along with some other premiers, is also pushing the proposed pipeline even though Quebec remains opposed and original proponent TransCanada Corp. says the $15.7-billion project is defunct.
However, Mr. Scheer said he is convinced the project can be viable and is willing to campaign on the issue even in Quebec, where the Energy East proposal is unpopular.
With files from The Canadian Press