MONTREAL, Quebec—Canada will keep its only UN agency now that Qatar has abandoned a bid to get the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to move its headquarters to the Middle Eastern country.
ICAO confirmed the news Friday morning as did foreign affairs minister John Baird, who announced it on Twitter.
Qatar has offered no explanation for its decision to back off.
ICAO secretary general Raymond Benjamin learned of Qatar’s withdrawal in a letter Thursday evening and advised the body’s council on Friday morning.
“Montreal has been our home for many decades,” he said in a statement.
“While the offer to move us to Doha was extremely generous, ICAO is also very pleased to continue its global mission with the support and co-operation of the Canadian and local governments who have hosted our headquarters for so many years now.”
Qatar had wanted to move the headquarters, starting in 2016.
The organization has been in Montreal since it was founded in 1947. Its current headquarters were built in the 1990s at a cost of $100 million.
Qatar’s offer would have needed the approval of at least 60 per cent of the 191 member states.
Intense lobbying had characterized the bid by Qatar to get the headquarters and Canada’s efforts to keep it.
It came to a point where the two countries criticized each other’s weather.
Qatar argued it would be nice to escape Montreal’s bone-chilling winters while Canadian politicians asked if delegates really wanted to have to endure Doha’s blistering year-round heat.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper weighed in, pointing out that Canada had been a good host and suggested it only seemed natural that the civil aviation authority be in a hub of the international aerospace industry.
Canada was also supported in its efforts by US ambassador David Jacobson, who said his country would not support any move.
The Qatari bid had been seen by government critics as being politically motivated and a reflection of Canada’s pro-Israel policy in the Middle East—although Baird has characterized Canada’s relationship with the Arab world as “excellent.”
The rift between Canada and some Arab states extends to issues beyond Israel. The two sides have only just started to patch up holes in their relationship that were the result of long-standing aviation issues.
Both Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been lobbying Canada vigorously for more landing rights for their airlines, only to see their efforts continually blocked by domestic airlines. Baird said using ICAO as a bargaining chip wouldn’t work.
Losing ICAO would have been a financial and political blow for Canada.
Montreal is the hub of Canada’s aviation industry, and its international reputation as a major player is partly based on ICAO’s longtime residency.
The organization also feeds the city’s economy; it employs 534 staff and says it generates some $119 million annually and 1,200 direct and indirect jobs.