TORONTO — A bid by Qatar to relocate the United Nations’ civil-aviation agency from Montreal to the tiny emirate has angered Canada, where politicians from all sides vowed Friday to fight the proposed move.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which sets international civil-aviation standards, has been in Montreal since its founding in 1946. Qatar presented ICAO with an unsolicited offer last month to serve as the new permanent seat of the organization beginning in 2016.
The proposal included construction of new premises, paying to move materials and employees and paying all expenses resulting from staff terminations and severance packages, according to the U.N. agency.
Qatar did not tell Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird about the bid when he visited the Gulf nation last month.
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“They didn’t do us the courtesy of raising this with us directly when the minister was in Qatar last month,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Rick Roth said. He noted that the way Qatar has acted “demonstrates why they are not a suitable host for a United Nations organization.”
Baird also took a jab at the emirate’s climate. “I, for one, would much rather have four seasons rather than a crushing humid temperature of more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) 12 months a year,” he said, speaking in French during a news conference in Montreal, where Baird presented an unusually united front with a minister from Quebec’s separatist provincial government.
The prospect of losing the U.N. agency from Montreal is so alarming that Jean-François Lisée, Quebec’s minister of international affairs, said Qatar’s bid to take ICAO may have prompted “one of the greatest political reunions in the history of Quebec and Canada.”
Qatar, one of the world’s richest countries with vast oil and gas reserves, has been pushing to become a major player on the global stage in the past few years. It shocked the sporting world by beating out the United States and others to host the World Cup in 2022 and is looking to host the 2020 summer Olympic Games.
It also has taken an active role in Mideast politics, providing weapons and funding to the Syrian rebels fighting the Assad government, promoting peace in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region and pushing for a resumption of Israeli Palestinian peace talks.
ICAO said the offer must be considered at the agency’s triennial assembly meeting Sept. 24-Oct. 4, where 60 percent of its 191 member states must vote in favor of it for Qatar’s proposal to become reality.
Losing ICAO would be a blow for Canada and Montreal, the hub of Canada’s aviation industry. ICAO employs 534 people and says it generates about $80 million annually for Montreal’s economy. Its current headquarters were built in the 1990s at a cost of $100 million.
Opposition parties in Canada say the bid by Qatar is politically motivated and a reflection of Canada’s pro-Israel policy in the Middle East.