Harper to highlight Canadas commitment to post-quake Haiti during visit

Staff ~ The Truro Daily News
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MONTREAL - Stephen Harper is to be the first head of government to visit Haiti since last month's tremor killed some 217,000 people and demolished Port-au-Prince and surrounding villages.
Until Harper's surprise announcement Sunday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was forecast to become the first such visitor when he is scheduled to visit Haiti next Wednesday.
The prime minister was expected to land in the capital Monday afternoon aboard a Canadian military transport plane for a two-day visit to the Caribbean country.
He was to head to Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean's ancestral hometown, Jacmel, a coastal town renowned for its colonial architecture with much of its downtown now reduced to rubble. From there he'll stop in Leogane, a key hub of Canadian activity.
Harper is also to meet with Haitian President Rene Preval and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.
"We are continuing to work with the Government of Haiti to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance," said Harper in a statement Sunday.
"At the same time, we now need to address the long-term challenges of reconstruction, based on the principles of sustainability, effectiveness and accountability."
It'll be a change from cheering Canada's Olympic athletes to boosting the Olympian efforts necessary to rebuild the quake-ravaged country. But for Harper, it's a priority.
Canada has taken a leading role in helping the country post-quake by deploying rapid humanitarian efforts like the Disaster Assistance Response Team.
Montreal has also played host to two major global conferences since the catastrophe - a donors' conference spearheaded by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon with Bellerive attending and an international Red Cross meeting.
Canadians have poured donations into the devastated country, to the tune of $145-million so far - with $124-million to be matched by Ottawa. Haiti is also one of the highest beneficiaries of Canadian development funds in the world, second only to Afghanistan.
The magnitude of the work needed for reconstruction could quickly bump the country of 8.3 million people into first place.
And Ottawa has been involved in development in Haiti for a number of years, alongside the U.S., France and Brazil.
With that level of commitment - and boasting a significant Haitian diaspora - Canada has a lot of pull in Haiti and is expected to play a major role in the massive, multi-year reconstruction effort.
It's also a chance for Canada to polish its international reputation.
In fact, with Parliament shuttered until early March, Harper has shoved aside domestic politics and is spent his time boosting his presence on the international stage. Most recently, he glad-handed with U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden at the Olympics and told the B.C. legislature that Canadians should feel nationalist pride in a country that intervenes around the world for reasons of compassion - not aggression.
His trip to Haiti is designed to illustrate that point.
The prime minister will inspect efforts by the Canadian Forces to help rebuild the shattered Caribbean country and is expected to highlight Canada's long-term commitment to developing Haiti. By some estimates, the international community will need at least a ten-year engagement there to ensure concrete results.
Canada's leadership role in the Haiti is also welcome in the U.S., which is fretting over a possible influx of refugees to Florida. Efforts to stabilize Haiti could mitigate some of the sting from Canada's decision to pull out of Afghanistan next year.
Harper will also seek to ward off the impression his short stay could disrupt relief operations. When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton passed through several days after the tremor, her security blocked traffic for several hours at the airport in Port-au-Prince, frustrating aid efforts.
Some 2,000 Canadian troops were deployed to Haiti after the quake and are set up mainly in Jacmel and Leogane, where they are involved in food distribution, water purification, medical aid, installing shelter, clearing roads and enforcing security.
Ottawa managed to evacuate more than 4,325 people after the quake, which killed 31 Canadians. Fifty-five Canadians are still missing.
So far, the federal government has payed out $85 million for humanitarian assistance to the United Nations and aid organizations like the Red Cross, Oxfam and World Vision.
With only weeks to go before the rainy season, authorities are desperately trying to pitch temporary shelters for some 1.2 million Haitians displaced in the disaster.

Organizations: Red Cross, Canadian Forces, United Nations Oxfam World Vision

Geographic location: Haiti, Canada, MONTREAL Port-au-Prince Caribbean Jacmel Ottawa U.S. Afghanistan France Brazil Florida

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