Harper uses Haiti speech to note his military spending has made a difference

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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LEOGANE, Haiti - During a tour of Haitian disaster zones, Prime Minister Stephen Harper touted his government's military purchases and cited current relief efforts as evidence his approach worked.
The prime minister used an address to soldiers in the town of Leogane, vast swaths of which were reduced to rubble a month ago, to stress his refurbishment of the military.
He singled out the purchase of C-17 transport planes for particular praise, saying those new vehicles helped fly troops and supplies to Haiti almost immediately.
"The entire planet has been able to witness that Canada is now a major actor when it's time to intervene in natural disasters," Harper said in Tuesday's speech.
"Everyone saw that Canada has the equipment, the know-how, the capacity, and the personnel to intervene quickly and efficiently.
"And Canada now has a considerable advantage - a fleet of C-17s. Thanks to this multi-purpose airplane, Canada no longer has to hitch-hike its way to foreign deployments."
He went on to address his critics, saying some of them had argued against purchasing those cargo planes as inconsistent with Canada's "soft-power needs." Harper said, however, that his government bought them "for the hard-power requirements of today's world."
Military analysts agreed the new C-17s played a key role in the speedy Haiti deployment.
But one interviewed by The Canadian Press described most of the Harper government's so-called "hard-power" purchases - like tanks for Afghanistan - as irrelevant to a mission like Haiti. At least one other purchase nixed by Harper's government, a supply ship, could have been especially useful to those aid efforts.
Harper got a close glimpse of that humanitarian work by Canadian soldiers and civilians Tuesday at the end of his two-day visit to Haiti.
After waking up on a Navy ship, Harper toured the ancestral hometown of Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean. The colourful colonial port of Jacmel was severely damaged by Haiti's earthquake.
Harper strolled from one medical tent to another, joked with soldiers, and chatted with patients in the military clinic where Canadian Forces medics were working.
He exchanged a few words with a male patient, and posed for pictures with two little girls being treated at the makeshift clinic.
He also sipped water at a purification facility set up by the Canadian Forces.
But, Harper joked, there were some things he wouldn't be trying during his visit. When he passed by the area where soldiers were building latrines, the prime minister quipped: "I don't think I'm going to do the test run."
The Canadian Forces and civilian volunteers have handled much of the medical care in parts of southern Haiti since last month's earthquake.
The neighbourhood by Jacmel's port was transformed into heaps of rubble by the Jan. 12 temor.
It was in this port's military clinic that a Haitian baby girl was recently delivered, and named Monique-Lucie by her parents after the two Canadian medics who assisted in her birth.
Harper chatted with Maj. Annie Bouchard, the military doctor who supervised that delivery and who has overseen the other medical services being provided in tents by the shore.
After his stop in Jacmel, the prime minister visited Leogane where he delivered his one major speech of the trip.
Harper began his trip by announcing that Canada would spend $12 million to build a temporary home for Haiti's national government. Many public buildings in the capital were destroyed, bringing Haiti's government to the verge of collapse.
Harper witnessed the devastation during a helicopter ride over Port-au-Prince, where he hovered over the smashed presidential palace and surrounding government buildings now in ruins.
He was set to return to Ottawa on Tuesday.
In his Leogane speech, Harper told his audience that Canada's soldiers, civilian workers, diplomats and politicians might all have signed up to serve their country, but they never envisioned scenes like the ones in Haiti.
"I think we all have something in common today," Harper said.
"When we chose a career in public service, in service of our country, none of us expected to see such a catastrophic scene.
"I know a lot of you have been to Afghanistan. Some of you have been in the Balkans. Some of you have been to places where, for most people, mere survival is the highest human aspiration.
"You have seen a thousand faces of human misery. But nothing could prepare you for what is all around you here. In just a few minutes, an earthquake of overwhelming destructiveness threw down vast numbers of buildings, and caused unimaginable distress, injury and death."
Many of Harper's military purchases were tailored specifically for the Afghan mission, which expires next year, and one analyst suggested they have little cross-over appeal.
Leopard 2 tanks, for instance, are unlikely to be used in humanitarian assistance, said defence analyst Bill Robinson.
"If Canada wanted to we could find a niche for ourselves supplying rapid aid," said Robinson, an analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
"We could do (that) much more effectively than we do now and probably at considerable lower cost than it takes to equip ourselves with some of the things we want from the hard end."
The Conservatives also balked at buying joint-support ships, which they deemed too costly. Those ships might have helped get supplies faster to Haitian towns like Jacmel and Leogane, past the bottlenecks at the country's airport and damaged ports.
Rick Hillier, the former chief of defence staff, recommended to the governments of both Paul Martin and Harper that the Navy be allowed to invest in such a ship.
The so-called "Big Honkin' Ship" would have given the military the ability to land troops and supplies on beaches rather than relying on ports. Haiti was exactly the kind of mission defence planners anticipated when proposals for the ship were circulated in 2006 and 2007.
In documents obtained recently by The Canadian Press under Access to Information laws, military brass stressed the humanitarian uses for a ship that could carry hundreds of troops, vehicles, supplies and helicopters.
The two Canadian ships now contributing to relief efforts in Haiti, the HMCS Halifax and HMCS Athabaskan, were not designed to carry significant amounts of humanitarian aid and are mainly contributing manpower.
Alec Morrison, a research fellow at Dalhousie University's Centre for Foreign Policy Studies, said the C-17 was nevertheless central to Canada's fast response to the earthquake.
"Canada wouldn't have been able to put the products and the boots on the ground in Haiti and in the time that it did without the C-17," he said.
"The C-17 really, really helped us . . . respond quickly and to give some early hope to Haitians that the international community was coming to the rescue."
(With files from Jonathan Montpetit)

Organizations: Canadian Forces, Canadian Press, Canadian Centre Leopard 2 Conservatives Dalhousie University Foreign Policy Studies

Geographic location: Haiti, Canada, LEOGANE Jacmel Afghanistan Southern Haiti Port-au-Prince Ottawa Balkans

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