The politics of disaster -

The politics of disaster


The Winnipeg Free Press’ Mia Rabson isn’t much impressed with the government’s public relations.

Late last night we got a photo from the prime minister’s office of Stephen Harper on the telephone, presumably with UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, discussing the situation in Haiti. Today Defence Minister Peter Mackay is posing in Halifax as the HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Halifax leave for Haiti. At about the same time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, were staging a photo op making a donation to the Canadian Red Cross.

Enough already. Stop posing for photo ops and just get on with the business of helping Haiti.

Much like Jean Chrétien was heavily and rightly criticized for getting in the way in a photo op of him throwing a sand bag onto a dyke in the middle of the 1997 flood in Winnipeg, these kinds of photo ops smack of political opportunism and are out of place.

CBC’s Janyce McGregor is searching for signs of politics put aside. I would note only that Lawrence Cannon and Denis Coderre managed today to sit beside each other at a news conference in Montreal.


The politics of disaster

  1. Hey look! I'm being contrarian in the face of overwhelming facts! Aren't I great?!?!?!?!

  2. "Stop posing for photo ops and just get on with the business of helping Haiti."

    What does she expect them to do? Photo ops are all governments have been doing for the past 20 years. And government staying away from disasters is helping because, as Reagan use to say, the nine scariest words in the english language are' I'm from the government and I'm here to help'.

    • is the new slogan you are promoting "Stephen Harper: Not actually in the way, just opportunistic as all hell!"

      that should clear up that poll problem in no time!

      • "Stephen Harper: Not actually in the way, just opportunistic as all hell!"

        Sounds about right. For about twenty years now, governments spend more time marketing themselves than they do governing. Bureaucracy runs the country and MPs are dog and pony show.

    • And yet they still want to try to eke out the same credit for helping that he did with the same photo op, just more manufactured.

    • This is exactly the type of situation a government should be helping with. Quoting Reagan in these circumstances is stupid.

      As to the photo ops, the first two are clearly political, but as you say, they aren't getting in the way, so whatever. As to the third, the one with the PM and his wife donating to the Red Cross, this one is arguably quite useful as it raises awareness and profile of making charitable donations that will actually do some good.

      • I'm calling bullshit on this one.

        It is no help to anyone but himself. The best thing the government can do to inspire donations is to do what it already has done: Guarantee to match them, dollar for dollar.

        A photo-op from harper is cheap opportunism, and it's frankly disgusting.

  3. It's what PM's do.
    As long as there are no pictures of the PM loading aid bundles or oversized cheques with Conservative logos, then this is to be expected.
    Y'know, if I saw a pic of one of the party leaders pulling a sawbuck or two out of his pocket and stuffing it in an donation jar, I'd be a lot more impressed.

    • Did you read the above?

      Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, were staging a photo op making a donation to the Canadian Red Cross.

      • Well don't I feel bloody stoopid!
        Well done Stephen

  4. Tell you what Wherry. Let's pretend that Harper was slow off the mark or was offering aid that was pathetically insufficient. Do you think you'd "put politics aside" and give him a break for it?

    No? Didn't think so. And (for once) you'd be right not to.

    So when he and his government does something good for the people of Haiti, and does well by them as he appears to be doing, why is he not entitled to take a measure of credit and schmooze for the cameras a little bit?

    • "He and his government…"?

      Its *our* government and *Canada's* government.

      • Er – wait a mo – I just watched Obama line up a pretty impressive lineup of senior secretaries, generals etc. – and hand over $100 million. Oh – and I didn't see him (unlike his predecessor) standing on a carrier with some sort of banner
        Meanwhile – PM Harper on behalf of Canadians – commits $5 million (half percentage wise what the Yanks committed) and still found time to eke out a photo op or three…
        No wonder we are jaded – John G – Jolyon and no doubt jarrid – will be stalwartly defending Harper…as he digs himself in deeper.

        • $100 million from the US is the equivalent to $10 million from Canada. So O gave twice as much as Harper, I imagine the $5 million was just a quick number to get things rolling and if more is needed there will be more. Canada has been involved in Haiti for quite a while and we won't turn our backs on them now.

          • The Canadian government has now committed up to $50 million, matching private donations. That's the equivalent of the Americans offering $500 million, for those keeping score in this pointless little game.

    • It's *our* government and *our* money, you moron.

  5. Well, it's an interesting attempt to throw the "and what are YOU doing to help Haiti!?!" line back in the Conservatives' face, but I suspect (especially in light of the comments above) it's fallen flat.

    I mean, hey, the Tories are just trying to follow the oft-memed "Pics or it didn't happen!"

  6. This is quintessential Harper. Crass, clueless, and brazen.

    Using the dead in Haiti as a political trampoline – why not?

    Hide behind the troops when the going gets tough – sure.

    Slam a career diplomat for disagreeing with you – check.

    Ridicule the PBO for telling the truth – done.

  7. An now you're reporting on the reporting on the useless photo-ops, and now we're all talking about them.

  8. I doubt it.

      • Glad you brought that up as I was just going to find that article.

  9. What PM photo ops – all I have seen in the media are the GG and an oaasional Cannon – then we have the punitds copy pasting old pictures harper up – quite frankly our GG and the PM SHOULD be on the cover of all news outlets and should be asking for the BUCKS$ folks .. but god forbid our chattering classes to really give ahoot about real tragedy instead posting on web forms some of the worst stuff I have read in years – unbelievable .. but an occasional post by someone with emapthy and common sense so all is not lost!

  10. If Harper was not visible in the media,
    Wherry would have up a
    'Why is Harper Hiding during this disaster'
    'Harper hides behind the GG'
    (from Spector blog)

    The Government of Canada has responded amazingly.
    EVERY department competently preformed their duties,
    and Canadians see that.

    • No, the $50 million government donation match is a great plan. I am a hardcore anti-Harper partisan, but I am happy with that one.

      What I am not happy about is the "photographers only" staging of his f**king personal donation.

  11. p.s. Liberals past and present could not have,
    and did not do any better in response to a disaster.
    If that bugs you guys, that's your problem.

    • But it is all non-partisan, right?


  12. The supine media has been slow to criticize the PM on this. Yesterdays staged breifing where they took over Michelle Jeans public statement was one of the most disgusting things I have seen this guy do.

    These guys have zero class. Its why they will never form a majority government. Most Canadians have the good sense to smell sleaze from a distance.

    • I noticed that too.

      They must really hate her. She does media so well, so naturally, so genuinely.

    • Actually, it is not the Governor-General's role to make a statement. The fact that the governemnt has allowed her such a high profile is to the credit of the government. I say good for them. The GG has done a good job. And the PM has moved quickly in a very impressive way. I think all Canadians should be glad that our governemnt has responded so well.

    • Though I only caught a highlight of the GG's statement, and noticed the PM there, I thought it was very effective in sending the message that Haiti REALLY needs help. The presence of the PM with Michaëlle Jean lent a lot of gravity to the message. Whether I agree with our political direction or not, Stephen Harper is our Prime Minister.

      • Boy i'm amazed at how liberal hacks and liberal media manage to jam in there hate for the PM everywhere, devasation in Haiti ,it must be Hapers fault he offers help, he is using it to score political points,someone i read actully said he's happy it happened so now its not about closing down parliment anylonger ,you people need to really get some professional help,i have never in my 40 years of life witnessed a more ignorant self serving group of people as i see continusly on these comment boards when it come to bashing Harper.You'd think he raped and murdered their whole families or something, it just doesn't matter what the man does its some how meant to gain political favor,he could not possibably be even half as bad as they make him out to be,because if he was he'd be behind bars long ago.The worst thing is liberals have done and continue to do exactly what they accuse Haper of ,well maybe it's just that they can't beleive their can be someone honest running the country, because god knows honest liberals don't exist.

        • I agree with Ex pat.
          If Harper was out of sight, this board would be lit up with comments on how uncaring the conservatives are. They react quickly, and they are criticized for opportunism. Seriously, I don't know how much faster our government could have responded. Canadian military transports are already landing, providing supplies, and evacuating victims, some of whom are arriving in Mtl tonight. Ships with supplies are enroute after being recalled yesterday and deplyed today. DART will be mobilized shortly, once information on where it is needed and logistical support is in place. Let's not forget that it took 28 days for DART to arrive in onsite after the tsunami in 2004. Fortunately the conservatives had the foresight to invest in our heavy lift capacity.
          I for one am pleased with the government competent response.

          • Agreed. As to to getting criticized whatever you do, that's hardly confined to Harper…i'm not defending it, but it's the nature of partisan politics…if the libs were in there Ex pat would be saying the same thing about them. The response does seem good…so well done Canada, well done Harper[ god that cost me something :) ]

            Not that approve of the photo ops, the one of the Harper's donating was fine, and useful – sets an example. The others discussed here are frankly distateful…but nothing we haven't come to expect from politicians.

          • Hmmm, i see TY makes a good point or two about the other photo ops…they do send the message the govt is on top of things and involved, no matter how contrived. This would of course have to apply to Chretien too…he may have literally been in the way, but again the message was even a PM canpitch in. The poltical optics of it all we're stuck with i guess, the overrriding factor being is it a useful message in the context of this appalling tragedy…sometimes the consumers of politics have to think a little larger too.

  13. "and Canadians see that. "

    Quick! commission a poll wilson!

  14. I support Mia's interpretation. With previous evidence to work from, I truly believe that the PMO's first and only reaction to this disaster is how they can use it to prove that Cabinet is working hard despite the prorogation. If the polls weren't where they are, I don't believe you'd be seeing any of this aside from a quick statement and the deployment of DART.

    That is how far, and how deep, they have sunk in my eyes.

    • I find it difficult to respond to such idiocy, but I will try.
      Beyond what you believe, does it matter to Haitians the motivation of our government, or is the rapid response beneficial? Can you point out where our government responded faster and more competently than in the present instance? Seeing as you obviously find the Cdn government's response lacking something, care to elaborate on what might have been done better?

      • "Beyond what you believe, does it matter to Haitians the motivation of our government … "

        Perhaps not, but it certainly matters to Canadians. That's a lesson you are going to learn the hard way.

  15. Michaelle Jean, I think, has been by far one of the most gracious and amazing Governor Generals we have had in my lifetime.

    She has taken on controversial matters with a grace that has, instead of dividing Canadians on an issue, spoken directly to the heart of the divisive issue and actually brought us more together.

    When her patriotism was attacked by certain opposition quarters, she spoke eloquently about the need to put nativist notions of Canada aside. No politician since Trudeau has spoken so directly in opposition to Quebecois parochialism and separatism.

    • Ditto from me Ted! I think the GG is a rare and special treasure. I was especially impressed with harper for not using this disaster as a partisan platform – WOW! who would have thought but letting the GG stand up and out in front as she should have was a defining moment for canada – most important was her sharing her grief and concern about her family and friends as watching her become so emotional was almost a shared intimate experience the like I have never seen in Canadian politics – the sad part is how many people use this disaster to score poltical cookies – these people like Usanj and such ought to be ashamed of themselves.

  16. [cont.]

    She spoke out forthrightly on the reasons why we were in Afghanistan when Chretien, Martin and Harper reduce their statements to predictable talking points and meaningless politician speak that end up being nothing more than 'we are in Afghanistan because… well, if you disagree with that reason you don't support the troops'.

    And yesterday she brought me to tears. Most of all when she was asked about her family members and, after a 5 second answer and clearly holding back tears she wanted to let out, she quickly said "But this is not about me" and started talking about Haitians again.

    That is the very definition of the role of Governor General right there. And so much classier and genuine and gracious than any of the politicians around her.

    • Forgot about the seal hunt thing too. Another good example. She didn't make a great big political speach or try to claim that if you didn't share her position you were anti-Canadian or try to start up some ribbon ceremony or make the issue bigger than it was.

      She just simply but directly joined some Inuit and ate raw seal meat on camera. By doing so, saying it is part of our culture, there is nothing wrong with it, and showing support. It was a genuine moment. I don't think it was too planned or scripted but it certainly didn't come off as a staged event, which made it all the more powerful.

      A real class act she is.

      • Totally agreed, Ted.

      • I agree with Mulletaur. This is very well said, Ted.

      • Could not agree more. Well said. It was more than a little disappoiting to see usually reasonable people here taking pot shots at her for speaking out about this tragedy.

  17. Wherry: this is really disgusting. Shame on you.

    • It is disgusting – PMO behaviour that is. It's also obvious to every sentient Canadian and being reported by multiple sources. (e.g., .

      Wherry just reports the facts.

      • I checked out you link Chris, and that blogster is under some illusion that Parlianent be sitting now.

  18. I don't want our politicians to "put politics aside" on this. I want them to take ownership of Canada and Canadians helping Haiti and Haitians. I want to see them leading by example. We're paying their salaries anyway, I would be quite happy for all four of our federal leaders to be sent down there with DART and start digging people out. It's not as if they have to be here for Parliament's sitting.

    Going beyond the only slightly fanciful, for a start, the political party leaders can tell us how much they are donating to relief efforts from their own funds.

    • I don't know about current political leaders, but a former PM just gave Glen Pearson a personal cheque for $100,000 to help with his efforts in the Sudan. Maybe it's time we stopped talking about politicians in general terms because there are definitely exceptions like Paul Martin and Glen Pearson.

      • Good on P Martin, for sure. But most PM's don't have a personal fortune of some $500 million. Let's keep some perspective.

        • It's not the amount of Martin's contribution that matters, it's the fact that both he and Pearson are doing good things under the radar of the press and most Canadians. Too many people spend too much time condemning all politicians for the behaviour of a few bad apples. There's nothing wrong with my perspective – it's long past time to make a distinction between the good people in politics and the ones who are in it for their own self interest.

  19. Well the Liberal party has put out an email urging Canadians to donate to help Haiti and mentioning the fact that the government has agreed to match donations. That is all the email says and I am glad that is all it says.

    • I was really impressed with that email, too, Diane. It really wasn't about politics in spite of being from a political party leader. Just, "hey, can you help?"

  20. The public will see the ministers of the gov`t and their families hard at work to ensure that their is a swift and compassionate employment of Canadian resources to help Haiti. That is why we send our MP`s to Ottawa.

    In contrast the Libs and NDP want to have a mock Parliament. Unlike some of the commenters above, let`s hope the leader`s of the opp. parties know enough to drop the partisan stuff for now.

    • Actually, they have ruled out a mock Parliament – mocking Parliament is Harper's schtick anyway.

      But I don't quite get your partisan juxtaposition here.

      it seems to me that aiding Haiti and having a functioning democracy are not mutually exclusive.

      • I did not know the Mock was off; what about the Facebookers Rally on Jan. 23 ? Is it still on ?

        And I must have fell asleep for a hundred years or so. I did not hear that we are no longer a functioning democracy.

        When you use the overkill rhetoric, like a non-functioning democracy, it`s difficult to be taken seriously.

        • The mock Parliament was never on. Ignatieff and the Liberals are going to Parliament on the 25th as they were supposed to be. They will hold information sessions and the like – not clear what all they will be doing in public – but holding a fake Parliament is something Ignatieff said from the outset he would not be doing.

          The rallies are still on. And despite the mockery from some disconnected commenters and pundits and politicians claiming we're all a bunch of elitists, they are real and they will be happening in dozens of cities across the country. I'm off to another planning session this afternoon in fact.

        • As for the "non-functioning democracy" comment, I stand by that.

          We do have a non-functioning democracy. The Prime Minister is firing civil servants who don't promote him, shutting down committee after committee when the majority don't do as he says, his MPs promised that shutting down the special committee on Afghanistan was just because of the Christmas break and they would receive Colvin's testimony in the new year… but then Harper shuts down Parliament altogether to avoid accountability. Even arch conservatives like Tom Flanagan can see that.

          I'm not saying we have no democracy or that Harper is a dictator. I'm saying our democracy is not functioning properly. That is not overkill.

  21. Then you need to read "The Commons", his daily feature when Parliament isn't shut down by Harper to avoid accountability.

    Instead of cut and paste, it is humurous equal opportunity slash and burn of those who purport to lead us.

  22. Not being much of a Harper fan, I have to say that I'm favourably impressed that from all appearances he and his colleagues have resisted trying to politicize this tragedy. I would expect that he and his relevant ministers would make public announcements to tell us about what Canada is doing to assist. The absence of their usual hyperbole is commendable.

  23. You just know the PMO is all fist bumps and high fives as a major natural disaster and resultant massive human suffering pushes prorogation out of the media and off the blogs.

  24. C'mon – the "invited/stage" photo-op of a meeting with GG and all the Cab Mins? Who does high level meetings on camera. Harper can even beat former PM's a crass and distasteful.

    • Leadership of a nation involves not just making decisions and implementing action, which the government has ably done on this occasion. It also involves letting the public know that something is a matter of public importance and showing them the country is involved at the highest levels. Leaders of all democracies are doing that (such as Pres. Obama). It is simply partisan nonsense for anyone to criticize the current government for putting a public face on Canada's efforts to help Haiti.

      • Unfortunately the Harper-bashers in this country such as Wherry cannot help themselves.

        Even when the governemnt does the right thing, as in this case, they seem unable to hold back making a partisan comment. If our Liberal friends would find it in themseles to suck it up when the government does the right thing, the Canadian voter might be willing to take them more seriously when they criticize the government. This governent takes enough actions that deserve criticism, the opposition doesn't need to pile it on when the government does something right. Until the opposition cheerleaders learn this lesson, voters will ignore them.

      • Unfortunately the Harper-bashers in this country such as Wherry cannot help themselves.

        Even when the governemnt does the right thing, as in this case, they seem unable to hold back making a partisan comment. If our Liberal friends would find it in themseles to suck it up when the government does the right thing, the Canadian voter might be willing to take them more seriously when they criticize the government. This governent takes enough actions that deserve criticism, the opposition doesn't need to pile it on when the government does something right. Until the opposition cheerleaders learn this lesson, voters will ignore them.

        • Can you quote me this "comment" that Wherry is supposed to have made.

          • He rarely writes anything. He's a clipping service for all the lefties on here.

          • So the cutting and pasting of media commentary like this is only a veiled attack on Harper and not a critique of a reporter. I see.

            And the many cut and paste jobs that are critical of the Liberals, like the one yesterday on Iggy promising not to do anything about prorogation powers, or praiseworthy of Harper, like summing up all of the glowing end-of-year coverage for Harper… that must have just been cover so he could "claim" no bias. I guess.

            Conservative rules on media and bias are so confusing and liquid, I sometimes oftentimes need a refresher course.

          • You said it… "many cut and paste jobs". Wherry might well have some writing talent, but it's not be seen here.

  25. You know, there may be a chance that by posing for these photo ops, somebody who's not so politically inclined and still shows some sort of respect for the Prime Minister may make an effort to donate to the Red Cross, or help out in some sort of fashion. There sometimes IS something in a gesture or a photo.

    If he didn't have a photo op, then you would accuse of him of doing nothing! The Prime minister doesn't make every single decision about everything maybe he didn't have to do anything at all besides say, "Hey guys lets spend 5 Million on this, okay?" Then the government goes to work and figures out what to fill that ship with.

    I mean I dislike Harper as much as the next left minded individual, but give the man a break.

  26. I have no problem with any of our politicians in respect of helping Haiti. I think, at least from what I've seen and heard, they have all behaved quite well. Not like they were somebody else, but like our politicians at their most responsible.

    Ted, I loved your posts on GG.

  27. I have a new name for you pal: Airhead Whiney.

    • I bet you giggled quite awhile over that one. You in grade 3?

    • I guess we should only have journos who praise Stevie's every tactic.

  28. The speed of response by the government has been astonishing. Now that Canada (finally) has heavy-lift capability with the purchase and 2008 delivery of the four C-17 Globemaster III, our actions can mirror our rhetoric.

    BTW. Aaron, seek help.

    • Astonishing?

      They did what the country wanted them to do. In other words, they did their job. I am satifisfied with their performance. They will get a "met expectations" when we get to "disaster response" on their performance review.

    • Or did you mean you are "astonished" our government was able to act quickly. That is a bit harsh on Harper don't you think?

    • I don't want to burst anyone's bubble, but plans for disaster response are drawn up by the good men and women who work in the public service and the forces. All the politicians have to do is say yes, no or wait.

  29. Aaron,

    I think it is time to consider going back to being a sports journalist, where being a "homer" is appreciated.

  30. Proving once again what Boy Scouts us Canucks are. Not sayin' it's a bad thing, just sayin'.

  31. "The Winnipeg Free Press' Mia Rabson "

    Who? What?

    I hear that Hank Hankerson of the West Bumblefudge Times-Observer had strong words of criticism too, you should really include that in a future post.

  32. PM STEPHEN HARPER Stop posing for photo ops and just get on with the business of helping ALL CANADIANS