Why squander a chance to help Haiti? - Macleans.ca

Why squander a chance to help Haiti?

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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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