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By: The Honourable Marie Poulin, Senior Project Manager
It is an honour to introduce Mr. Taleb Abidali, the first recipient of the “Babylon Award of Excellence”, which was awarded by the Ambassador of Iraq in Canada. Mr. Abidali, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who is the Principal of Cresco, a successful construction company in NS, spoke with the IOG’s Honourable Marie Poulin about his past, the award, and his hope for Iraq.
This award was developed by the former Canadian Ambassador of Iraq, H.E. Abdul Kareem Kaab, to recognize the accomplishments of Iraqi-Canadians as well as to appreciate their significant contributions to the prosperity of Canada and the well-being of the Canadian community. Mr. Abidali received the award because of his “personal growth and development” as well as the “significant impact and influence he’s had on the lives of others within his community and country at large,” as written by the Chair of the Selection Committee, Anu’a-Gheyle Solomon Azoh-Mbi, Cameroon High Commissioner to Canada.
Taleb Abidali was born in Iraq in 1946. Growing up in the Middle East with no money was a struggle for his family, but Mr Abidali always considered himself rich as he shared his up-bringing with one brother and four sisters. As a teenager, he thrived in sports and won numerous awards for his accomplishments, including the 1500 metre dash. This instilled the competitive nature which drives him to this day to constantly push himself to achieve his goals.
Prior to settling in Canada, Mr Abidali worked in Iraq as a physical education teacher and a school principal. After achieving great success as the owner of a construction company in Kuwait, he established a food production company in Turkey, with distribution throughout the Middle East. Motivated by the desire for something more, Mr. Abidali and his family moved to Halifax in 1992; he had little money and did not have a proficient knowledge of English. He joined the team at Cresco, and with his partner Hossein Mousari, over time he not only grew the business into one of the region’s major developers, but also developed a reputation for loyalty, trust, and hard work.
Speaking over the phone, Taleb explained his decision to immigrate to Canada:
“When war broke out in Kuwait, I was looking for a safe place. So I applied to come to Canada. I had a great feeling about this country, based on what I had heard; what I had read. There were other opportunities in Germany and in England. I chose Canada. And my wife Kabila supported me. She is a dentist. She knows the importance of safety. We find that Canada is a home for immigrants. It’s a big home, a beautiful home.
“I was at a coffee shop in Egypt, a few years ago. There was a picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the counter. I asked to see the manager. I asked why. He said ‘Because Canada opens its arms to newcomers’. Here in Halifax, we have a company called Shaw, a family business following four or five generations. It is one of the oldest companies in Canada. I am in business with Allan Shaw for land development. Every year, he gives a party on the day his company was founded. One day I said to him: ‘Allan, I love Canada better than you. You were born here. You take it for granted. The green, the quiet, the safety, the opportunities – these are normal for you. Not for me.’
“And so I compare Canada to every country in the world. My new country has more value than all the others. But we cannot take it for granted. That is why good governance is SO important. People in charge need to think about the public interest, above all. Politics is not a ‘piece of cake to be divided’. Unfortunately, the system in Iraq is like that. They try to work out the problems between themselves, as a political family. That’s not right. Iraq needs Canada’s support to move to better governance, to build a strong foundation for the next generation. What the Institute on Governance is doing with the Government of Iraq is a real thing. I thank the Government of Canada for choosing the IOG to do this work.”
Mr. Abidali now resides in Halifax. He and Kabila have 6 children, 8 grandchildren. Celebrating Father’s Day this month is especially important to him because he feels that the youth in Iraq are facing serious challenges: “60% of the population in Iraq are youth. As parents, we need to leave strong foundations to our children with good values, strong institutions.” He is very proud of the fact that he has encouraged his children and continues to do so in whatever choices they make: “It is important to jump. When you believe that what you are doing is right, you do it. It serves the community, the country, the area of expertise.”
When asked how issues facing the youth in Iraq could be solved, Mr. Abidali answered:
“Iraq is the richest Arab country with oil, large rivers, mountains in the north, flat lands in the south, enabling it to live on the diversity of its agriculture and exports. Did you know that Iraq was the first country in the world to produce dates? It has 35 million date palms which produce 110 kinds of dates. I am convinced that Iraq has the foundation to do everything that needs to be done: the people, the scholars, the material. It needs good leadership to develop the plan and to carry the pride of the people. I am in a leadership position in business in Nova Scotia and in Canada. My responsibility is to pay back. And I love doing it.”
When asked how he had reacted to the news about the Babylon Award, Mr. Abidali replied with regard to his having a sense of duty to give back, stemming from his appreciation for the opportunities Canada has provided: “I do what I do, as a development and construction entrepreneur because I love it AND because I have to give back to this great land. When I put my head on my pillow at night, I snore because I know that I did the right thing, coming to Canada.”
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