Léogâne, Haiti — From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail Published on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010 7:35PM EST Last updated on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010 8:08PM EST
Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a swipe at the “soft” defence policies of previous Liberal governments as he congratulated Canadian troops for the relief and reconstruction work they are doing in this largely ruined Haitian city.
Much of the equipment and supplies that have been airlifted into Haiti by Canada since the earthquake last month was delivered on a Boeing C-17 Globemaster.
The Conservative government bought four of the giant aircraft in 2007 for $1.8-billion plus an estimated $1.6-billion for 20 years of service.
“This fleet of new aircraft, the C-17 fleet, is a big part of making this response possible. I single out the C-17 for a reason. There was a time when that kind of heavy lift aircraft didn’t fit Canada’s soft-power policies,” Mr. Harper told soldiers yesterday at a steamy military camp on the city’s outskirts with a crumbled house as a backdrop.
“But our government bought them for the hard-power requirements of today’s word. Now we’re using them for relief work.
“What is the moral of the story?” he asked. “To do soft power, you need hard power. You need a full range of capabilities.”
The Conservatives have spent billions of dollars on defence equipment since they came to office in 2006. But the C-17s were among the most controversial purchases.
Critics said the planes were too expensive and that similar aircraft could be rented from other countries. Even some members of Mr. Harper’s cabinet quietly voiced such sentiments.
But Gordon O’Connor, who was then defence minister, called the C-17s an essential addition to Canada’s air power. And the massive planes have given Mr. Harper some boasting rights since the quake shook this impoverished Caribbean nation.
The Prime Minister concluded a two-day visit to Haiti yesterday that was largely a series of photo opportunities. Only photographers and two reporters in an entourage of 10 were permitted on the tour through Léogâne.
Nor did Mr. Harper entertain any questions from the media Tuesday.
Instead, he chatted with Canadian medics at a clinic in Jacmel on Haiti’s south coast where Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Teams has set up base. He watched troops build latrines and purify water. He toured a high-tech field hospital in Léogâne. And he watched Canadian military engineers clear what is left of a school in this city’s downtown core.
The medical clinic at Jacmel’s port has treated nearly 8,000 people since it was established after the quake.
At first, the doctors and nurses saw fractures and crushed limbs. Now they are treating ailments that would turn up at any clinic in the developing world – disease, depression and dehydration.
Some patients stand out, said Captain Rob Ennis, a military doctor from Bishop’s Falls, Nfld.
“A week ago, we had a baby whose parents and brothers and sisters had died,” he said.
At a little more than a month old, the tiny girl had gone for at least 17 days with no food or water, he said.
“The baby was near dead,” said Capt. Ennis. She was revived, rehydrated and is doing fine. But, when she came in, he said, “it was the saddest, worst case I have seen in my life.”
At Léogâne, Canadian troops are keeping order at food distribution sites, insisting that the youngest and the weakest go to the front of the line.
And at the Lycée Anacoanna École Secondaire in Léogâne, Mr. Harper was joined by Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive to watch Canadian cranes tear at the building where just months ago 2,000 students were taught. Léogâne is in worse shape than the capital, Port-au-Prince, with building after building flattened.