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January 10, 2005

Keeping up appearances

I haven't written anything yet about the tsunami in Asia. Probably the reason is that is that I'm pretty poor at adopting the correct tone to appear suitably mournful about what happened. I care, of course, and my wife and I have donated money, but I'm emotionally unaffected by the carnage; mainly because I'm innoculated to the horror by the smaller but longer lasting tragedies that go on all over the world all the time. Publicly rending my garments would do nothing to help anyone, and would be hypocritical for me.

Apparently, many Canadians feel the same way. The grand public mourning event, organized by Heritage Canada for Ottawa, had only 400 people show up, when 15,000 were expected. It was stuffed full of profound sentiments and meaningful symbolism and culminated in a one minute, cross-country moment of silence -- which I'm pretty sure was not widely noted.

It's events like this that prove to me that the government's response to the disaster has been nothing but an exercise in media relations. This, and vignettes like Pierre Pettigrew's posturing in Thailand (captured by Jaeger at Trudeaupia):

He flies to an island in Thailand for a photo op with Canadian forensic workers helping out identifying bodies and regurgitates the usual platitudes.

Reporter asks: What other aid is being delivered by Canada in Thailand?

Pettigrew: I don't know.

Glad you flew to the other side of the world for the photo op, Pierre.

Soon Paul Martin will be at the disaster sites. He's probably in front of a mirror right now working on a look that perfectly mixes, shock, sadness, and grim resolve for the inevitable photo on the front of the Globe and Mail.

The response of the government to the crisis in Asia has demonstrated the Liberals' distain for anything except their poll numbers. It's now known that Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team was delayed for two days while polticians debated the types of issues they're most concerned with: optics and money. And when the team finally got there, much of the critical work -- clean water, medical care -- had already been taken care of (story from Jan. 6):

Sunil Dissanayake, chairman of the district branch of the Sri Lankan Red Cross, said the people of Ampara are beginning to get back on their feet, despite 12,000 deaths in the region and hundreds of thousands left homeless by the tsunami.

"It takes years to bring it back to normal, but there's no emergency here now," Mr. Dissanayake said. "Certainly, it's good to get international support ... we have already gotten a lot of support from international organizations."

He smiled politely when told the Canadian team would be arriving sometime next week and bringing with them a field hospital, water purification plant and a platoon of military engineers.

"Certainly, if we had gotten this support immediately after the incident, of course, it would have been more useful. A lot of agencies are now working in the area giving a lot of similar support."

The Finnish Red Cross set up two mobile aid stations yesterday, each capable of treating up to 2,000 patients a day, while the German Red Cross has brought a water purification plant.

"The Canadians perhaps can help us a lot in cleaning the area, and making the environment to resettle people," Mr. Dissanayake said. "Or cleaning wells."

But there's one role in disaster relief that the Liberals have the experience to do well: handing out other people's money. Liberal Cabinet Ministers been highly visible in local communities of people from the affected countries talking up how much cash they're dishing out. I'd be a little more impressed if it all didn't remind me of another dropping-money-from-a-helicopter election campaign. But for most Canadians it seems to be what they want: 79% approve of the Liberals' all surface, no substance approach to disaster relief. We get the government we deserve.

Perhaps I sound a little cynical in this post. But I'm not as cynical as the government that came up with 'synchronized grieving' to replace real action and leadership.

UPDATE: Here's another story of how the DART was just too late to be of any use in Sri Lanka:

DART's main mission was to bring clean water to Ampara, and set up a field hospital. However, CTV's Lisa LaFlamme, reporting from Ampara, said there is still a lot of aid getting in, mainly from the Indian army.

"That is probably one of the biggest shocks to us just having arrived here, that there is no obvious need. (It is) oversupplied and there is plenty of clean water," LaFlamme told CTV's Canada AM.

She said some aid workers are already packing up to leave the region because it's actually oversupplied. "There are so many aid workers here that they are actually trying to rush to the next spot."

I feel sorry for the DART workers that had to sit on their hands while the Liberals checked out the angles. Now all they have to do is set up for Paul's big photo op. (via Nealenews)

Posted by Bruce Gottfred at January 10, 2005 12:42 PM | TrackBack
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