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World Canada draws on deep ties to Philippines in pledging millions for typhoon relief

Local and foreign medical teams prepare to board a Philippines air force C-130 transport plane in Manila, Philippines, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, in search of victims in the areas devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Haiyan, one of the strongest storms on record, slammed into six central Philippine islands on Friday leaving a wide swath of destruction and scores of people dead.

Wally Santana/AP

Canada has deep connections with the Philippines that could affect the size and speed of federal relief efforts as the scope of the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan becomes more clear.

The federal government announced two separate aid packages on the weekend: a promise of up to $5-million to assist with humanitarian aid in typhoon-affected areas and a new fund that will see Ottawa match the money donated by individual Canadians to typhoon relief during the next month.

The typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday, causing a series of landslides and cutting off power to several provinces. Hardest hit was Leyte Island, where there were estimates of about 10,000 dead. But the death toll could rise as officials say it remains difficult to measure the extent of the devastation because of a widespread power outage in the region and limited access to many communities.

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The Philippines is the largest source country for immigrants to Canada, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Manila in November, 2012, signalling Ottawa's interest in improving ties with the rapidly growing Asian economy.

"There is a fairly strong economic relationship between the two countries, and that makes it important for governments to pay attention" during a disaster like the typhoon, said Diana MacKay, director of education and immigration with the Conference Board of Canada.

In addition to the funding announcements, Canada sent an interdepartmental team to the Philippines to assess the damage and may send in the Disaster Assistance Response Team, according to International Development Minister Christian Paradis. He told reporters on Sunday that Canada would "stand ready" to provide further aid if it is needed.

Leslie Gatan, the Philippine ambassador to Canada, said the Philippines was pleased to see the funding announcement from Canada to help the country recover from the typhoon. "We are, of course, delighted about this gesture," he said in an interview on Sunday.

Mr. Gatan said the relationship between Canada and the Philippines is "in an excellent state," in part as a result of the Prime Minister's recent visit. Mr. Harper also invited the president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, to visit Canada early next year, the ambassador said.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba both have memorandums of understanding with the Philippines in a bid to fill labour shortages in those provinces. The Philippines is currently renewing labour agreements with Alberta and British Columbia and is beginning talks with the Atlantic provinces for a similar deal, Mr. Gatan said.

"There's clearly a lot of very worried people in [Canada's Filipino] community who are undoubtedly wanting to see the federal government act," said Philip Kelly, a professor of geography at York University in Toronto who studies Filipino migration and labour issues.

"I think where there is a significant immigrant community from a particular place, then the interest is always going to be heightened in the Canadian context."

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