Saudi tensions to cause 'major problems' for Canada: John Baird
Former foreign affairs minister John Baird slammed Ottawa’s handling of its relations with Saudi Arabia, and urged Justin Trudeau to meet face-to-face with the Saudi government to resolve the escalating dispute.
“I think the Saudis respect when you take these conversations direct, face-to-face, and you do it in a respectful manner and not like a Trump-style tweet, which has obviously caused great damage to Canadian interests,” Baird - who served as Canada’s foreign affairs minister between 2011 and 2015 - said in an interview with BNN Bloomberg on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia suspended its diplomatic ties with Canada and halted new trade agreements on Sunday, citing remarks made by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland over the arrests of women’s rights activists in an Aug. 2 tweet.
Saudi Arabia’s central bank and state pension funds have also ordered overseas asset managers to sell off Canadian investments, according to a report by the Financial Times.
“What’s really needed is the prime minister to get on a plane and get over to Riyadh and try to resolve this issue,” said Baird, now senior advisor with Bennett Jones. “That’s in the interests of Canada and Canadian workers and the Canadian people.”
Baird added Canada should treat Saudi Arabia like an ally, especially in light of London, Ont.-based General Dynamics Land Systems’ $15-billion contract to supply military vehicles to the kingdom. The deal with Saudi Arabia was struck by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2014.
“I don’t think they’ve handled this issue well,” Baird said. “When you sign a $15-billion arms deal, [Saudi Arabia] sort of expect a thank you, especially from the 3,000 jobs that are really at risk in London, Ont. We should be standing beside a friend and ally like Saudi Arabia.”
Baird also added that geopolitical strategy should be considered in keeping the Saudis happy.
“They have the threat from the Islamic State next door that would love to take Mecca and Medina. We want them to be able to defend themselves,” he said. “We don’t want Iran – they’ve already taken out the government in Yemen – and obviously the Saudis are pushing back against Iran.”
Baird also said that the current regime is working towards modernization.
“We share the same interests as the Saudis, but we disagree on some values,” Baird said. “But there’s no doubt that the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is taking the country in the right direction, pursuing a more moderate form of Islam, reducing funding to Wahhabi proselytization around the world, but also making major reforms on human rights and women’s rights.”