After Prime Minister Stephen Harper toured Haiti three years ago to observe how Canadian troops were doing in the wake of the 7.0 earthquake that further devastated the already struggling nation, he estimated that it would take a decade to rebuild. At that time he was praised for Canada’s quick response in aiding Haiti.
Yet, three years in, with a statement from International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino in the Montreal newspaper La Presse, the Harper government has signaled that it will put a freeze on any new spending in Haiti.
That’s some kind of anniversary present to mark the January 12, 2010 earthquake that took the lives of an estimated 300,000, left another 300,000 injured, one million homeless and turned Port au Prince into a heap of rubble.
Some Haitian officials expressed surprise at the news, although Fantino has said that he delivered the decision to the Haitian government in late November while on his very first tour of Canadian-funded projects in the country.
The federal government is on a mission to rein in its deficit and that means cuts in most, if not all, areas of spending. Already there have been significant cuts in public service staffing and cuts are coming in transfer payments to the provinces, meaning the pattern of what is to come is already being laid out.
So, in this context, budget decisions would be made that would also affect foreign aid spending through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
Next to the United States, the Canadian government provides Haiti with the most funding. Aid through CIDA in 2011 was $31.5 million. Reports are that one billion dollars in aid have come from Canada since the 2010 earthquake.
But Fantino did not refer to a deficit budget to explain the decision to freeze further aid. He put the decision in the context of what he determined was ‘slow progress’ in rebuilding Haiti.
In the media interview Fantino expressed “expectations that there be much more progress” adding: “We’re kind of disappointed that things are so slow and we’re concerned about that.”
Part of the problem as we see it is that the pace of progress in Haiti cannot be measured by Canadian standards. The government signed on in good faith to continue to aid this troubled nation, but that progress has to be understood as it applies to Haiti and not to Canada.
True, in a state that is facing crisis after crisis such as Haiti, change cannot come soon enough, but that is not the historical reality. So, we are concerned for the people of Haiti because there is no question that theirs’ is a special case.
Furthermore, it is offensive to many that in announcing the decision to freeze spending Fantino would also make comparisons to the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. The two nations share the same land mass but not an identical history, so to make comparisons on their present day condition is ill-advised, to say the least.
Continuing to make his case for the aid freeze, Fantino also expressed concern about rampant corruption and how that interferes with the dissemination of CIDA aid funds. He also said Haiti needs to take more responsibility for its affairs.
He did, however, have praise for some programs receiving CIDA funds such as a feeding program for school children and one focusing on healthcare for mothers and babies, which will continue to receive funding.
Where we can agree with Fantino is in recognizing the need for the Haitian government and the people of Haiti to be autonomous in the nation’s policy decisions and programs.
What the country requires is up to them to determine. That such power is routinely usurped is part of their ongoing complaint and certainly another factor that interferes with the frustrated attempt to lift up the country.
One more thing: Fantino’s terseness is unhelpful. As a high level minister, his comment about the amount of garbage he encountered on his tour suggests that he needs a complete lesson on the history of Haiti and how it came to be the region’s most troubled nation to date.