Canadian government addresses criticism over Haiti relief

On the six-month anniversary of the devastating Haitian earthquake, the Canadian government addressed criticism that the international reconstruction project is moving at far too slow a pace.

In a joint news conference from Ottawa on July 12, federal cabinet ministers Lawrence Cannon, Jason Kenney and Beverley Oda deflected such disparaging commentary and insisted that progress in the rebuilding efforts is being realized.

Cannon told the press that he understands the frustration many Canadians harbour toward the grave situation still impacting tens of thousands of Haitians. At the same time, however, the foreign affairs minister asked Canadians to be patient with the ongoing efforts as “it is not simply a matter of rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. Rather, Haiti’s key institutions and systems must be reconstructed from the ground up.”

According to Wilfrid Laurier University global studies professor Timothy Donais, while the Canadian public’s criticism is fair, due to the country’s size, “Canada can’t help put Haiti back on its feet again alone.”

After Afghanistan, Haiti remains Canada’s second largest recipient of direct aid – a figure Oda assured Canadians they “can be proud of.” However, Donais believes that “the more complicated question is not are there the resources, it is what’s the plan?”

For decades prior to the earthquake, Haiti, one of the world’s poorest and least developed countries, was plagued by chronic political instability. As such, a broad strategic vision incorporating both physical rebuilding as well as social, political and economic recovery is crucial for any rebuilding initiative to be a success.

“In the absence of a broader strategic picture,” Donais said that he is not yet convinced that there is a coherent way forward for the fragile country.

Regardless, Donais points out that most imperative is whether the international community and the Haitian government are willing to work together over the next decades “to put Haiti, for perhaps the first time, on a stable, sustainable foundation of economic growth and recovery”.

Donais concluded that the Haitian catastrophe is very similar to other disaster contexts before it. “[Situations] where, with all the media coverage, there is an initial flurry of activity and everyone wants to help but as it fades from the headlines, the international community tends to move on and the really hard work is still to be done.”

Since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the Caribbean-island nation on Jan. 12, Canada has committed 400 million dollars for long-term reconstruction and already distributed $150 million for short-term relief.

Read an editorial on this issue