Canada continues to lead in the aid and reconstruction effort in Haiti. Food, shelter and medical attention are the immediate necessities, but the federal government is right to also enhance Canada's capacity to respond to disasters, and to help build up the capacity of Haiti's own government.
The Canadian strategy was well illustrated by Stephen Harper in his visit to Haiti this week. He announced $12-million for the rapid construction of a temporary headquarters for the Haitian government in Port-au-Prince.
Offices don't attract many donations. But if Haiti's government and public servants have no place from which to co-ordinate the use of resources that donors provide, and their own efforts, then Haiti will sink back into dependency. Haiti must take the lead in its reconstruction, and that requires a functioning administration. Mr. Harper showed leadership in highlighting this contribution, despite the reputed pre-earthquake corruption of Haiti's government.
How Mr. Harper got to Haiti was also telling - a C-17 transport plane able to carry 70,000 kilograms of equipment. He noted that "the C-17 fleet is a big part of making this response possible. To do soft power, you need hard power. You need a full range of capabilities."
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff sees this comment as "an attack," and Liberal MP Glen Pearson called the comments "politicizing misery." They are off the mark. One of the four C-17s was part of the Disaster Assistance Response Team, a Liberal creation, and was on the ground less than 48 hours after the earthquake. Had Canada delayed the procurement of large transporters, as appeared likely under the previous government, we would have not been as equipped to provide the rapid aid effort Canadians demanded after the earthquake; we might have had to beg for free space on another country's plane.
Canada's presence in Haiti is a display of "smart power," a combination of the hard power underwritten by an effective military and the soft power of effective diplomacy and aid. The concept was developed by "liberal internationalists" in whose camp Mr. Ignatieff is said to reside.
Canada's relief effort to Haiti does not exist to show off Canadian power. But it is undoubtedly a result of that power.
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