MONTREAL — The federal government, the province of Quebec and the city Montreal, are rallying to prevent the city from losing the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency, to Qatar.
The Gulf emirate is making an aggressive bid to become the new world headquarters of the ICAO, which has been located in Montreal since its founding in 1947.
Qatar’s fellow Arab states are reportedly coalescing to help Qatar obtain the needed 60 per cent majority among the ICAO’s 191 member countries.
Long dissatisfied with the Harper government’s strong support of Israel, they are said to be especially motivated on this issue because of anger over Baird’s meeting with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in east Jerusalem during his Middle East trip last month.
The lease is due on the ICAO’s downtown University Avenue premises in 2016, and Qatar is expected to formally present its proposal by May 13 so that it can be considered at the ICAO general assembly to be held in Montreal this fall.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird “will fight tooth and nail to keep the ICAO in its rightful home of Montreal,” said his press secretary, Rick Roth.
Roth told The CJN that Baird spoke to Qatar’s prime minister, Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani, twice in the last week to express Ottawa’s opposition to the Qatari bid.
“He has contacted counterparts in other countries seeking their support,” Roth said. “And he is working with representatives of the provincial and municipal governments, because all three levels of government have a role to play.”
A senior government source, who wished to remained unnamed, told The CJN that the way Qatar has gone about this demonstrates why it’s not a suitable host for a UN organization.
“Look at how Qatar has come and put this bid together at the 11th hour. It raises serious concerns about them buying off countries with bribes and bags of cash – something any country that respects the rule of law would never do. We will continue to promote a principled foreign policy.”
Oil- and gas-rich Qatar has reportedly sweetened its bid by offering to build a new ultra-modern facility in Doha, its capital and largest city, and to subsidize the agency’s operations.
The ICAO oversees standards related to civil air transport and its development worldwide.
The presence of the ICAO brings both prestige and considerable economic benefits to Montreal and Quebec.
Roth noted that the ICAO provides 600 direct and 1,200 indirect jobs to the city, and more than $100 million in spinoffs. Its University Avenue building, which opened in 1996, was constructed especially to accommodate the growing agency and is now the hub of the growing Quartier International.
Roth said Baird phoned Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum and they have agreed to work together with the province, business and other interested sectors to promote the city as the best place for the ICAO.
“By every means at its disposal, Canada will fight to highlight the benefits and advantages of staying in Montreal,” Roth said. “The ICAO has been in Montreal for as long as the UN has been in New York. It’s a natural home.”
On May 2, Baird received unanimous consent from the House of Commons for a motion endorsing Montreal as “the rightful host” of the ICAO’s headquarters.
The U.S. representative on the ICAO’s governing council, Duane Woerth, said his country will opposed any relocation.
Support for the status quo has also come from the industry. On May 2, Aéroports de Montréal (ADM), which manages Trudeau and Mirabel airports, delivered an impassioned plea against any move, noting the economic benefits and that the presence of the ICAO has attracted other international bodies in the field of civil aviation to Montreal.
“If the ICAO’s headquarters were to move to Qatar, this would severely penalize Airports Council International [a body that represents all the world’s major airports, which recently moved to Montreal] and the many other aviation-related organizations established in Montreal,” stated ADM president and chief executive officer James Cherry.
“We are an aviation and aerospace city, and the headquarters of the ICAO must remain in Montreal where it belongs.”
The National Airlines Council of Canada, which speaks for Canada’s major airlines, also came out against any change.
The International Transport Workers Federation has forcefully voiced its opposition, raising the matter of the emirate’s repression of human rights.
“How can an organization that has to defend the rights and safety of workers and passengers be moved to a state whose citizens’ pleas for democracy are answered with batons and buckshot?” asked ITF general secretary David Cockroft.