OTTAWA - A Canadian expression of goodwill toward the Palestinian people was left on the cutting-room floor when Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird addressed the United Nations General Assembly last fall.
Baird rejected early departmental drafts of his maiden address to the UN that said Canada is a "leading supporter" of the Palestinian people and outlined major spending that backed that assertion, The Canadian Press has learned.
Baird ended up delivering a much tougher address than envisioned by his speech writers, one that unequivocally emphasized Canada's support for Israel — a position for which he makes no apologies and which has generated much criticism of the Harper Conservatives.
Copies of the draft texts of the speech, obtained under the Access to Information Act, show Baird used a radically reworked text when he represented Canada for the first time at the General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2011.
In his address, Baird drew a parallel with pre-Second World War appeasers of Nazi Germany, saying: "Canada will not accept or stay silent while the Jewish state is attacked for defending its territory and its citizens. The Second World War taught us all the tragic price of 'going along' just to 'get along.'
The only direct reference to the Palestinian people in Baird's address was to emphasize Canada's opposition to the Palestinian Authority's stated plan to seek recognition of statehood at the assembly.
The Palestinian statehood issue dominated last fall's session of the assembly, and Canada's opposition — mirroring that of many countries, including the United States — was well known at the time.
Indeed, the first draft of Baird's speech noted that "Canada has been very clear that it does not support the recognition of Palestinian state." The early drafts as well as the final version also urged the Palestinians to get back to the negotiating table with Israel.
But a lengthy paragraph that expressed positive Canadian sentiments toward the Palestinians was eventually trimmed over the course of a handful of early revisions and was eventually cut altogether.
"Canada is a leading supporter of the Palestinian people, having committed $300 million over five years to assist the Palestinian Authority to build capacity in the key areas of justice sector reform, security, and sustainable economic growth, as well as providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza, including refugees," the first draft stated.
It went on to say that Canada provided $64.61 million in development and humanitarian assistance in 2009-10.
"Our support for the West Bank and Gaza demonstrates Canada's ongoing commitment to assist Palestinians in building the foundations of a viable, independent, democratic and peaceful Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel," the excised paragraph concluded.
Three days before Baird's address, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally announced his intent to pursue the Palestinian statehood bid in his own general assembly speech.
Two days before Abbas's speech, Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN. The two leaders expressed their mutual admiration and friendship.
Last month, Baird travelled to Israel, accompanied by an orthodox Jewish rabbi from his Ottawa riding, and repeatedly told his hosts that Israel has no greater friend than Canada. Baird told Netanyahu he was proud to watch his UN speech last September.
On a trip to the West Bank, Baird told Abbas in a separate meeting that the Palestinians should get back to the bargaining table with the Israelis — without preconditions — to search for a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict.
Baird's office declined to comment on the UN speech writing process.
"The speech he delivered is Canada's foreign policy," said spokesman Joseph Lavoie.
Baird's speech clearly bore his own personal stamp, and reflected his characteristic penchant for fiery oration.
He injected the speech with previous quotes from Harper, Conservative icon Margaret Thatcher, and former Conservative Canadian prime minister John Diefenbaker as well as Winston Churchill.
Baird also changed the fact that the speech writers did not directly mention the government's plan to set up an Office of Religious Freedom in the department, a promise the Conservatives made in last spring's federal election campaign. Baird emphasized that point in his actual address.
As an example of religious persecution, both drafts cited violence against Coptic Christians in Egypt. But in the final version, Baird added some pointed criticism of China, adding the example of, "Roman Catholic priests and other Christian clergy, and their laity, driven to worship underground in China."
Baird also added criticism of Burma for discriminating against Buddhists and Muslims.
And he singled out the East African country of Uganda, a country he has since come to repeatedly criticize for criminalizing the activities of gays and lesbians.