Harper uses Haiti speech to note his military spending has made a difference
LEOGANE, Haiti — During a tour of Haitian disaster zones, Prime Minister Stephen Harper touted his government’s military purchases and cited current relief efforts as evidence his approach worked.
The prime minister used an address to soldiers in the town of Leogane, vast swaths of which were reduced to rubble a month ago, to stress his refurbishment of the military.
He singled out the purchase of C-17 transport planes for particular praise, saying those new vehicles helped fly troops and supplies to Haiti almost immediately.
Harper delivered that speech after touring the ruins of a collapsed school that was about to be demolished Tuesday. Nobody in the building died in the quake, which is believed to have killed 200,000 people.
“ The entire planet has been able to witness that Canada is now a major actor when it’s time to intervene in natural disasters,” Harper said in Tuesday’s speech.
“Everyone saw that Canada has the equipment, the know-how, the capacity, and the personnel to intervene quickly and efficiently.
“And Canada now has a considerable advantage — a fleet of C-17s. Thanks to this multi-purpose airplane, Canada no longer has to hitch-hike its way to foreign deployments.”
He went on to address his critics, saying some of them had argued against purchasing those cargo planes as inconsistent with Canada’s “soft-power needs.” Harper said, however, that his government bought them “for the hardpower requirements of today’s world.”
Military analysts agreed the new C17s played a key role in the speedy Haiti deployment. But one interviewed by The Canadi
an Press described most of the Harper government’s so-called “ hard-power” purchases — like tanks for Afghanistan — as irrelevant to a mission like Haiti. At least one other purchase nixed by Harper’s government, a supply ship, could have been especially useful to those aid efforts.
Harper got a close glimpse of that humanitarian work by Canadian soldiers and civilians Tuesday at the end of his two-day visit to Haiti.
After waking up on a Navy ship, Harper toured the ancestral hometown of Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean. The colourful colonial port of Jacmel was severely damaged by Haiti’s earthquake.
Harper strolled from one medical tent to another, joked with soldiers, and chatted with patients in the military clinic where Canadian Forces medics were working.
He exchanged a few words with a male patient, and posed for pictures with two little girls being treated at the makeshift clinic.
He also sipped water at a purification facility set up by the Canadian Forces.
But, Harper joked, there were some things he wouldn’t be trying during his visit. When he passed by the area where soldiers were building latrines, the prime minister quipped: “I don’t think I’m going to do the test run.”
The Canadian Forces and civilian volunteers have handled much of the medical care in parts of southern Haiti since last month’s earthquake.
The neighbourhood by Jacmel’s port was transformed into heaps of rubble by the Jan. 12 temor.
It was in this port’s military clinic that a Haitian baby girl was recently delivered, and named Monique-Lucie by her parents after the two Canadian medics who assisted in her birth.
Harper chatted with Maj. Annie Bouchard, the military doctor who supervised that delivery and who has overseen the other medical services being provided in tents by the shore.
After his stop in Jacmel, the prime minister visited Leogane where he delivered his one major speech of the trip.
Harper began his trip by announcing that Canada would spend $12 million to build a temporary home for Haiti’s national government. Many public buildings in the capital were destroyed, bringing Haiti’s government to the verge of collapse.
Harper witnessed the devastation during a helicopter ride over Port-auPrince, where he hovered over the smashed presidential palace and surrounding government buildings now in ruins.
He was set to return to Ottawa on Tuesday.
In his Leogane speech, Harper told his audience that Canada’s soldiers, civilian workers, diplomats and politicians might all have signed up to serve their country, but they never envisioned scenes like the ones in Haiti.
“I think we all have something in common today,” Harper said.
“ When we chose a career in public service, in service of our country, none of us expected to see such a catastrophic scene.
“I know a lot of you have been to Afghanistan. Some of you have been in the Balkans. Some of you have been to places where, for most people, mere survival is the highest human aspiration.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks with a Haitian man receiving treatment at a Canadian medical clinic in Jacmel, Haiti, Tuesday.