Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ottawa Rejects Call to Appoint 'Champion' for Haiti

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (2ndL) speaks to Canadian soldiers at a water processing plant ran by the Canadians in Jacmel on February 16, 2010. (Photograph by: AFP, Getty)

OTTAWA — The federal government has rejected a call to appoint a former prime minister as a Canadian “champion” for Haiti — deciding not to follow in the footsteps of U.S. President Barack Obama, who drafted Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to spearhead American support for earthquake-relief efforts.

Carlo Dade, executive director of FOCAL, has been urging Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to “reach across partisan lines” to appoint a former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien or Paul Martin, or former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney as a special envoy to bolster government efforts on Haiti with a private-sector campaign.

A Foreign Affairs Department spokesman ruled out the proposal Saturday, though, saying the door is not open to appointment of an envoy.

“No, it is a government of Canada initiative of the prime minister of Canada, supported by minister Cannon and minister Oda,” spokesman Catherine Loubier said, referring to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda.

FOCAL is the Canadian Foundation for the Americas, an Ottawa-based think-tank dedicated to strengthening Canadian ties with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Canada needs a person of stature who has the connections to harness corporate-sector funds for Haiti and to establish public-private partnerships to help in what is expected to be a complex but doable, multibillion-dollar rebuilding effort in Haiti, Dade recently.

He predicted that without such a champion and a Canadian channel for corporate philanthropy and investment, interested companies will operate through U.S. channels, such as the Clinton-Bush initiative.

Vancouver mining financier Frank Giustra has already teamed up with Clinton on Haiti.

The 7.0-magnitude quake that devastated Haiti on Jan. 12 left an estimated 212,000 people dead and 300,000 injured.

Dade says needs in Haiti are so great that the federal government needs to expand its “all-of-government approach” to an “all-of-Canada approach.”

Dade said a champion or envoy with good political and corporate connections could better keep Haiti in the forefront as the government’s attention naturally shifts to other initiatives in coming months.

“It will be a missed opportunity,” Dade said.

He floated the idea in FOCAL’s latest publication, saying of the three countries that have emerged as leaders in efforts to rebuild Haiti — Brazil, the United States and Canada — the role of champion has “a vacancy” only in Canada.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose country has led the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti for years, has taken a strong leadership role on Haiti in Latin America, and that role is expected to grow after he steps down next year and has more time. And Obama asked Clinton, who is the UN special envoy on Haiti, and Bush, to lead U.S. efforts.

“If Obama can reach out to George Bush and the latter can accept, then surely Canada can find someone of a similar standing,” Dade wrote.

In the interview Dade said “the window is closing” on media attention on Haiti and Harper will soon have to shift federal government attention from Haiti to preparations for hosting the G8 and G20 summits.

“The government simply won’t be able to focus at the highest levels,” he said.

“The scope is huge. Most people haven’t grasped just how complex and how much is going to be required in Haiti. It needs focus at the highest level; it needs political muscle, political will behind it, a person to provide long-term focus, to keep the private sector focused, to keep citizens involved. We’re going to desperately need that.”

The government has done well on Haiti so far, Dade said, noting the military relief effort, matching funds for private donations, organizing a major international conference on Haiti in Montreal and Harper vowing Canada will stay the course with Haiti. But staying the course, he predicted, will be difficult if the government tries to go it alone.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

Source: CNS

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