In an exclusive interview with Talk to Al Jazeera, Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird has clarified his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stating that Canada is a "strong supporter" of the Palestinian Authority.
Baird recently faced severe criticism for rejecting early departmental drafts of his maiden address to the United Nations that said Canada is a "leading supporter" of the Palestinian people.
Copies of the draft text of his UN speech, obtained under Canada's Access to Information Act, show the original text was significantly reworked to deliver a more direct address - one that explicitly emphasised Canada's support for Israel.
Indeed, during the wide-ranging interview, Baird did not deny editing the speech, adding: "In Canada, the foreign minister is responsible for his own speech and I get drafts made by the bureaucracy, but at the end of the day it is the elected government that makes decisions."
Excerpt from the interview:
Sami Zeidan [Presenter]: Let's talk about the Palestinian-Israeli struggle. Your government has been described like instituting the most dramatic shift in post-war Canadian foreign policy's history, have you re-aligned Canada's foreign policy to be more favouring Israel rather than playing a balanced approach?
John Baird [Foreign Minister]: We take Canadian policy decisions based on two things: Canadian values, those are obviously liberal democratic, and freedom; and Canadian interests. With regard to Israel - we are good friends and a strong ally and we do not apologise for that. At the same time, we are a strong supporter of the Palestinian Authority; we are a leading financial contributor in developing assistance. We want to see a peace negotiated between the two parties. If you look at the violence that the state of Israel has faced from Hezbollah, from Hamas, that's deeply concerning, and we are not going to take a balanced and honest approach when it comes to two international terrorist organisations and a fellow liberal democracy.
Sami Zeidan: It is interesting you used the word supporter in reference to the Palestinians because some of the criticism levelled at you during your speech at the United Nations on September 26, the allegation is you removed the reference to "Canada being a leading supporter of the Palestinian people" and you left only a reference to your support to Israel.
Baird: In Canada the foreign minister is responsible for his own speech and I get drafts made by the bureaucracy, but at the end of the day it is the elected government that makes decisions.
Sami Zeidan: But why did you take it out then? That's my question.
Baird: I don't know about Draft A or Draft B, I can't say this, the fact speaks for itself, we are a leading financial contributor in support of the Palestinian Authority, we have done a lot to build capacity and security -- we celebrate the huge economic success. I was in Ramallah and had meeting with President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. You have seen some significant improvements under their leadership and Canada will be there to strongly support it. But when it comes to Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in Gaza, we are not to stand by neutral. This is a huge threat to the state of Israel, a huge threat to a liberal democracy by international terrorist organisations and this causes us great concerns and we won't sit back silently on that.
Sami Zeidan: Help people outside of Canada understand Canadian's foreign policy and the perceived shift I referred earlier on in Canadian foreign policy. To what extent is that a result of what is going on within the Conservative Party you are a member of, the fact that you are building an alliance with conservative Christian, Zionist elements, with Catholics, with Jewish organisations. Is that one of the influences or inspirations of Canadian foreign policy?
Baird: No. Listen, any changes real or perceived with respect to peace in the Middle East certainly are not influenced by domestic polices; it is not in our political interest. If you look at the demographics of Canada, the Arab and Muslim population are more than three or four times what the Jewish population is. We take our position based on Canadian values, based on Canadian interests and what we believe right. I have been critical in the past. Too often Canada was too quick to go along, to get along. We have seen people in past administrations who would define Canadian foreign policy as whatever the international consensus was, and that is not good enough. We should take policy decisions based on what is right.