New technologies and social media platforms have advanced the way we communicate but it has also caused some pause for concern. All too often, careless posts or tweets have serious repercussions that were not contemplated by the originators. Case in point – Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland’s tweet that the Government of Canada was gravely concerned about the arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi, and called for their immediate release.
As a result of this rather innocuous tweet, during the week of Aug. 6, Saudi Arabia announced that it would suspend new trade and investment with Canada, in addition to giving the Canadian ambassador 24- hours to leave the country and recalling its own ambassador to Canada. The Saudi government has also directed the selloff of all Canadian assets and purchases of Canadian wheat and barley, which will be of serious consequence in Western Canada. They have also given Saudi students enrolled in Canadian universities four weeks to leave the country, stopped all medical treatment programs in Canada and are working to transfer all Saudi patients from Canadian hospitals. The recall of the medical students will negatively impact the Canadian economy, as this will remove about $2 billion in annual investment. Reports indicate, however, that the dispute will not impact Saudi oil supplies to Canada.
Canada, particularly the Maritime provinces, wouldn’t need Saudi oil if the Liberal government would restart the Energy East Pipeline Project. Annually, we import $2.2 billion worth of oil from Saudi Arabia, which is refined in Saint John, New Brunswick at the Irving refinery. If Energy East had been built Western oil was heading to the New Brunswick refinery and Canada was destined to become more energy independent.
While we wait for the Liberals to resurrect the pipeline project they killed, which will take some time, we could increase our import of oil from the United States. As a Calgary radio host recently pointed out, agreeing to buy an additional $2.2 billion of crude annually from our major importer of oil and largest trading partner could restart the stalled NAFTA negotiations. Canada remains excluded from the negotiating table and the U.S. does not appear to be willing to resolve the dispute anytime soon.
Similarly, Prime Minister Trudeau is not willing to apologize for Minister Freeland’s ill-advised tweet nor seek economic retaliation. Our allies have refused to intervene in the dispute with Saudi Arabia while the Badawi family has spoken out and criticized the Liberal government for the tweet, saying that the public dispute will make matters worse for Raif and Samar Badawi.
A Conservative Government has and will always raise human rights, gender equality, and religious freedom with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We will also continue to call for clemency in the case of Raif and Samar Badawi. What we will not do, is using social media in place of proper diplomatic engagement to advance Canadian values and interests.
I sincerely hope the Liberal government will quickly bring about a positive resolution to this crisis that protects human rights and the rule of law. Equally important, I implore people, particularly, those in powerful positions, to think before tweeting. Social media cannot and should not replace open verbal conversations or negotiations.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this or previous columns you may write me at 4945-50th Street, Camrose, Alberta, T4V 1P9, call 780-608-4600, toll-free 1-800-665-4358, fax 780-608-4603 or e-mail Kevin.Sorenson.firstname.lastname@example.org.