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The Quebec Minister of International Relations and of La Francophonie and Minister responsible for the Status of Women, Martine Biron, at a press briefing. (Archive photo)

The Canadian Press

The opening of a Quebec office in Tel Aviv is “in no way” a position taken by the government in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, assured the Minister of International Relations and La Francophonie , Martine Biron.

In no way can the opening of the Quebec office in Tel Aviv, the announcement of which was made well before the start of hostilities, be interpreted as a position taken by Quebec, declared the minister. during a speech on Friday before the Council on International Relations of Montreal (CORIM).

The opening of this diplomatic representation sparked lively debates in the National Assembly. In February, Québec solidaire (QS) filed two petitions totaling nearly 12,000 signatures against the opening of the office.

MP Haroun Bouazzi accused the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) of being complicit in crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. The solidarity remarks were, however, criticized by the Advisory Center for Jewish and Israeli Relations (CIJA).

The conflict has a strong emotional charge in Quebec which welcomes significant Jewish and Palestinian communities.

Middle East, the eternal conflict

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Middle East, the eternal conflict

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Members of the Jewish community have observed a surge in anti-Semitism while critics of Israel say its military intervention violates international law and accuse Canada of turning a blind eye to the suffering of the Palestinians.

On Saturday, nearly 200 civil society organizations will hold a demonstration in Montreal to denounce the Israeli intervention.

In this conflict, Ms. Biron judges that Quebec's position is balanced. I think we are all horrified by what is happening, but we are also horrified to know that hostages are still being held by Hamas, the minister commented in a press scrum after her presentation.

She points out that the decision to open an office in Tel Aviv was taken before the bloody Hamas attack on October 7, which resulted in a military response from Israel.

Ms. Biron emphasizes that the office is not only used for relations with Israel, but with the entire Middle East.

It truly is the gateway to the Middle East. Then, there are businesses being done in Turkey, Lebanon, the Arab Emirates. It's not just Israel.

The office plays a primarily economic rather than diplomatic role, she said. In fact, Quebec supports companies that want to do business abroad. It is certain that we have political contacts, but in this case, what we want is to accentuate economic exchanges.

In this regard, the Israeli economy has assets that work in its favor, according to her. Israel has a lot to offer, especially in cybersecurity and technology.

In fact, the Tel Aviv office is administered from Montreal for security reasons, said Ms. Biron. In fact, when we are able to go there, the office will be in the Canadian embassy, ​​but currently we work from Montreal.

The minister Biron also took advantage of his speech to announce zero-cost changes in the various delegations and offices abroad.

Some representations will be closed or will have their staff reduced, while others will gain ground. Opening projects are also underway.

Quebec will increase its diplomatic force in the United States, by increasing its staff there by 20% . The Washington and Miami offices will be upgraded to delegation status. The minister also plans to establish a delegation in Seattle.

I need people in the United States, she explains in the press scrum. We have protectionist measures coming.

Québec intends to strengthen its presence in Mexico and Colombia, but the office in Havana is Cuba will be closed.

In Europe, the minister also wants to open an office in Stockholm, Sweden. She points out that the projects in Seattle and Stockholm have not yet received the green light from the council of ministers and that these were projects for the moment. When does she hope these offices will open? I would like that next year, she replies.

After analyzing the organization of its activities in China, the Legault government has decided to close its office in Hong Kong. In total, Quebec's workforce will be reduced by six people in China.

Ms. Biron emphasizes that there are fewer hands raised to do business in China given what happened during the pandemic, the repression, etc. She insists that the Quebec's presence there remains profitable and it is essential to maintain relations with the world's second largest economy, which is technologically ahead, particularly in terms of electric cars.

In Asia, Quebec wants to strengthen its presence in the Indo-Pacific region. The offices in South Korea and Singapore will move to general delegation status.

Despite the diplomatic chill between Canada and India, Quebec wants an autonomous presence in Mumbai. The Quebec office was located in the offices of the Canadian consul in Mumbai.

Canada immediately suspended its in-person activities at the Mumbai consulate of the murder of a Sikh activist in British Columbia. Ottawa accuses India of being responsible for the murder on Canadian soil, which New Delhi denies.

Quebec wants to open its own offices in India in order to be operational on the ground. This is a project that is in progress. I met the Indian consul who is based here in Montreal a few times. We are making progress on this issue.

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