Why squander a chance to help Haiti?


Routine news releases from minor cabinet ministers don’t usually rate much media attention, so I’ll excuse anyone who failed to notice yesterday’s statement from the office of Bev Oba, the Minister of International Cooperation.

But the heading, “Minister Oda Welcomes Delegates to High-Level Talks on Haiti in the Lead-Up to a Major Donors’ Conference,” reminded me of something.

Say, didn’t a recent exchange in Ottawa, on the subject of Haiti’s plight, attract a bit of attention?

Oda’s news release marked the opening a two-day meeting of officials from various countries, sessions meant to set the agenda for a major conference on aid to Haiti, scheduled for April 13-14 in Washington.

Canada’s interest in making that conference a success is substantial: Haiti soaks up more Canadian development aid than any other country in the hemisphere, with $555 million pledged from 2006 and 2011.

Given Haiti’s importance to Canadian foreign aid strategy, wouldn’t it be great if the federal government had—oh, I don’t know— some sort of special in with the leader of the free world on the Haitian file? A personal connection. Then we could really get things done!

Wait a minute. I remember now. Governor General Michaelle Jean talked up Haiti with Barack Obama during their brief meeting at the airport, when the President was in town last month. Apparently, he wanted to pursue the matter with her later, and even invited her to Washington.

But since then, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office appears to have tried to stifle discussion of Jean’s overture to Obama. Shadowy government sources are reportedly playing down the President’s reaction to Jean’s plea for attention to Haiti, suggesting he wasn’t all that interested.

Now, why would the government not do everything in its power to exploit, rather than dismiss, a possible channel with this much potential? Even if Obama was just being polite—and I doubt that’s all he was doing—there’s no way the White House could refuse Jean if she took him up on the offer to continue the conversation. They would at least have to offer up a fairly high-level official to hear her out.

True, a Governor General is an unconventional player on a foreign aid file, but so what? Here’s what a confident government, one with enlightened, opportunistic instincts, would do: brief Jean thoroughly on our priorities for Haitian development assistance and send her to Washington on the first available flight.

When is Canada going to get a better chance than this to project its ideas on a significant foreign preoccupation at the highest level, through a potentially invaluable link to the White House, just in time to help shape the outcome of a major international conference on the subject?

Or there’s the other option: Bev Oda could issue some more news releases.

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Why squander a chance to help Haiti?

  1. It’s just a variation on the theme of this government: they don’t actually want to govern, they merely want to prevent anyone else from governing.

  2. You’ve been “helping” Haiti maintain itself in squalor and corruption for decades now … with hundreds of millions of dollars of Canadians’ hard-earned money … maybe you should give it a rest and let the Haitians sort out their own problems. Or don’t you think they’re capable?

    An acquaintance of mine spent some time in Haiti examining the Canadian foreign aid … I’m going to use a polite term here … racket … and concluded that the “help” being sent down there is so lucrative for the foreign “experts” (evidently mostly Quebecers) working for various agencies, and for the local elites who have the connections, that the situation will never, ever change. It cannot change, because once they’re on the gravy train these people will never willingly get off.

    I was going to say something like, too bad there are no journalists willing to investigate and expose this scandal, but really, what’s to expose? You know that hundreds of millions of dollars have disappeared somewhere in the Haiti/Canada/Quebec nexus, and you know that no substantial benefit has resulted or else the GG would not have had anything to say to the Prez. Speak the truth. If government “aid” worked then Haiti, Nigeria, Bangladesh, etc. would now be the richest countries on earth.

    • $555 million over five years = $13 a year for every man woman and child living in Haiti. What a racket!

  3. “In her State visits abroad, the governor general leads delegations reflecting a broad range of Canadian interests, accomplishments and expertise.”

    — GG’s website

    Perhaps our GG will take Oda along?

  4. “True, a Governor General is an unconventional player on a foreign aid file, but so what?”

    I agree. Just to be brilliantly unconventional, let’s also send the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod as our liason to NORAD, and the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons to take charge of the Afghanistan mission.

  5. considering the disgraceful way in which they tried to remove Mdme Jean from GG-ship i’m not surprised by their sudden disinterest in Haiti (remember, they released “personal” information about Mdme Jean’s health). Mdme Jean could, as the actual head of state of this country do this on her own.

    • You want an absolute monarch unrestrained by Parliament that badly, hmm?

      I don’t suppose the dates 1649 or 1688 mean anything to you, do they?

      • that’s your interpretation; i mean to imply that this current govt (2009) is so insecure if anyone appears “better than” to them they must demonize/diminish them somehow; i comment on the person more than the position.

        • Exactly. You like Jean, and fantasize that she would be a good and just queen, if only she didn’t have that jerk the PM holding her back. That’s not a sound basis for allowing her to claim authority outside the traditional purview of her ceremonial office.

  6. Here’s what a confident government, one with enlightened, opportunistic instincts, would do: brief Jean thoroughly on our priorities for Haitian development assistance and send her to Washington on the first available flight.

    It is precisely a lack of confidence that is preventing our semi-enlightened, opportunistic government from doing so. There are some in the Conservative party who would grumble if Canada’s Governor-General appeared to be engaging in a high-profile lobbying effort with the US President on behalf of a country that isn’t Canada.

  7. I’m sorry, did you say “Bev Oba”? Paging Dr. Freud!

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