Gov­ern­ment not at fault

Res­cued tourists shouldn’t be grip­ing

Penticton Herald - - OPINION - — Vic­to­ria Times Colonist

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has not apol­o­gized for its ef­forts in bring­ing Cana­dian tourists home from hur­ri­cane-rav­aged Caribbean re­sorts, nor should it.

The dis­com­fort and in­con­ve­nience of trav­ellers who know­ingly and will­ingly chose to va­ca­tion in a hur­ri­cane zone at the height of the storm sea­son should not have been a gov­ern­ment pri­or­ity.

That doesn’t mean the gov­ern­ment should ig­nore the plight of Cana­di­ans who are at risk of death or se­ri­ous in­jury. And it’s com­fort­ing to know that em­bassies and con­sulates have staff who watch out for the wel­fare of Cana­dian cit­i­zens in for­eign coun­tries in times of emer­gency. We ex­pect that kind of sup­port from our gov­ern­ment.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment came un­der crit­i­cism from trav­ellers and the op­po­si­tion when Cana­di­ans were stranded at re­sorts after hur­ri­cane Irma lashed the Caribbean last weekend.

Tourists were forced to stay in their ho­tel rooms or wait at air­ports un­til flights could be ar­ranged to bring them home. There were com­plaints about how long the ar­range­ments took, the dis­com­fort of be­ing con­fined in rooms with­out air con­di­tion­ing and about poor com­mu­ni­ca­tions with of­fi­cials dur­ing the cri­sis.

Mean­while, thou­sands of peo­ple who lived in the Caribbean have lost their homes and are try­ing to cope with­out water, elec­tric­ity and food. They need help, and the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment has been cal­cu­lat­ing what to do, in­clud­ing load­ing a C-17 Globe­mas­ter with hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­plies to send to the re­gion. The plan was to use the mas­sive plane to bring home any Cana­di­ans who still wanted to be evac­u­ated.

For­eign af­fairs and In­ter­na­tional Trade Canada has a man­date to pro­vide, on be­half of the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment, as­sis­tance to all Cana­dian cit­i­zens abroad. But how far should that man­date go? There is no sin­gle an­swer — it varies with each sit­u­a­tion, and the re­sponse in any emer­gency should be in pro­por­tion to the cri­sis.

By Tues­day, nearly 700 Cana­di­ans had been flown out of the hur­ri­cane re­gion, and the feds said the ma­jor­ity of those who were stranded had been able to re­turn home. For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land said the gov­ern­ment is re­view­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence to see how it can bet­ter han­dle such sit­u­a­tions in the fu­ture, but the gov­ern­ment re­sponse ap­pears to have been ap­pro­pri­ate.

Peo­ple should not com­plain when as­sis­tance does not come as quickly and as con­ve­niently as they like. In­stead, they should be grate­ful for what­ever as­sis­tance was ren­dered. And if pub­lic money was used for that as­sis­tance, they should make ev­ery ef­fort to pay it back.

The for­eign af­fairs depart­ment pro­vides plenty of ad­vice and in­for­ma­tion for trav­ellers, of­ten is­su­ing warn­ings about coun­tries where the risk is high. That does not ab­solve peo­ple of the re­spon­si­bil­ity to look after them­selves. They should not go know­ingly into a risky sit­u­a­tion with the idea that the gov­ern­ment will res­cue them if things go sour.

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