National Newswatch

OTTAWA — Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan says Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has apologized for not returning her calls as she's sought support for her bid to head an international diplomatic body.

Ataullahjan said the conversation was "very friendly" and Champagne told her they could meet next week.

But the Liberal minister didn't promise that he or the government would support her bid for the presidency of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an organization that promotes co-operation among legislators from the parliaments of 179 countries.

"He tells me, 'Well, I'm waiting for the candidates to declare,' " she said.

Champagne's office didn't immediately respond to a request for his take on the exchange.

The deadline for candidates to come forward is Oct 18, and the elections conference is going to take place between Nov. 1 and Nov. 4. 

"How (will that) give enough time to do canvassing and reach out to 179 countries?" Ataullahjan said.

She said she reached out to Champagne seeking support three weeks ago but had not heard back from him until Thursday.

"He said he hasn't gotten any of my messages," Ataullahjan said. "I said, 'Minister, easy, easy, we have been calling, we have been emailing. I'm surprised that you didn't get any of my messages.'"

Named to the Senate in 2010 on the advice of then-prime minister Stephen Harper, Ataullahjan was a prominent volunteer and activist in Pakistani-Canadian causes in the Toronto area.

She had been a Conservative candidate in the riding then known as Mississauga-Brampton South, losing to current industry minister Navdeep Bains in 2008.

Ataullahjan has held a number of posts in the Inter-Parliamentary Union. She currently heads its committee on "Middle East questions," which has promoted peace between Israel and Palestinians and more recently tried to resolve conflicts in Libya and Yemen.

She said that the head of the Canadian group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Liberal MP David McGuinty, could run for the position. 

"They're just waiting for a man to say no. And then they will offer it to a woman," she said.

Ataullahjan is vice-president of the Canadian IPU group, having been president when the Conservatives were in power in Ottawa.

She said McGuinty has not returned her calls and messages since early September.

Ataullahjan said that's "rude and disrespectful."

"It's not good enough for them to look at the work that I've done, the presence I've had in the IPU," she said.

Ataullahjan said she secured the support of nine of the 12 members of the Canadian IPU group, including three Liberal MPs.  

"If I had gotten the support of my government, and here I stress 'my government' because I'm Canadian and this is my government, I would have won," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2020.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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