Canada's Parliament Debates Haiti

Hillary Clinton, Lawrence Cannon, Patricia Espinosa.jpg

Foreign affairs ministers of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico meet on Dec. 13

December 13, 2010

The following is eight pages of excerpts from the debate on Haiti that took place in the House of Commons in Ottawa on December 13, 2010. The total text of the debate is 40 pages in length. Some page numbers are provided below so as to assist the reader with locating placement and context of excerpts. To access the full transcript of the debate, click here.

In the debate, ministers of the Government of Canada expressed no position on what should be done about the flawed election of November 28. They said this was in deference to respect for “Haitian sovereignty.” That deference did not prevent the Canadian government from pressuring for and funding the election, nor is it preventing it from working furiously behind the scenes today to salvage the results. Witness the emergency meeting on December 13 of Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon with his U.S. and Mexican counterparts in Wakefield, Quebec. Canadians, and the world, will only learn after the fact of the decisions now being made to salvage an election that wise and democratic voices in Haiti and abroad counseled against.

At a press conference following the Wakefield meeting, Lawrence Cannon told a press conference, “It is essential that Haitian political actors fulfill their political responsibilities and demonstrate a firm commitment to democratic principles, including respect for the integrity of the electoral process.”

Hillary Clinton said, "The lack of a clear way forward as to who will be assuming leadership responsibilities requires the international community to act and provide technical assistance and support to unraveling the complexities that surround the election."

The only proposal concerning the election that came forward in the Parliamentary debate was that of Liberal Party spokesman Denis Codere, who said that, “ maybe the election could be held all over again with all the candidates, both for the legislature and the presidency.” Neither he not his party pressed the matter.

Part of the debate covered the record of Canadian aid in Haiti, both before and after the earthquake. Government members extolled the virtues of Canadian aid and of the international earthquake relief effort. Members of the opposition parties added little of substance.

--Introductory notes as well as selections from Hansard by website editors.

Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I obviously listened with interest to the member's intervention and what he was hoping would happen. Certainly, having this debate tonight is a good opportunity to discuss different ideas.

It is incredibly important right now to look at the priorities, and the priority right now is to save lives. Clearly, the cholera epidemic is having a huge impact. More than 1,000 people have lost their lives. We still have issues around prevention, et cetera, from the cholera epidemic.

I am wondering if the hon. member would like to express his concern about the sequence in which we deal with this problem. Of course, the post-election violence has exacerbated the problem, but I am hearing from NGOs who were on the ground over the weekend that they cannot get out to help the people who need help. So how do we do that in this period before whatever will happen in terms of a run-off or recount or whatever?

... Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, we all agree that violence against women is a horrific thing and has very strong negative consequences on society as a whole. The member has brought up a very important point on the violence against women.

However, I would like to discuss the statement she made that humanitarian work in Haiti had come to a standstill and that we were not addressing many of the issues.

I wish to advise her that Canada stands at the front to address the issue of cholera at this time. Let me just give an example of what Canada has done: $2.5 million to the Pan-American Health Organization; $2 million to UNICEF; $700,000 to Médecins du Monde Canada; $550,000 to Oxfam-Québec, $1.3 million to World Vision. All of these NGOs are working very diligently with other donors as well to address the issue of cholera which, at this current time, is very important, as she has rightly pointed, as have others.

... Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC)

Let us take a moment to recall the work that Canada has already done in Haiti. In March 2010, at the International Donors Conference Towards a New Future for Haiti in New York, Canada committed $400 million over two years for the reconstruction of Haiti to support the Government of Haiti's action plan and priorities. This funding is on top of Canada's long-term development aid to Haiti of $550 million for the period 2006-11. The Government of Canada's total current commitment is over $1 billion, making Haiti the primary beneficiary of Canadian aid in the Americas, second only to Afghanistan globally…

…Among the reconstruction initiatives announced by the Government of Canada, I would like to draw attention to the $30 million CIDA call for proposals from Canadian organizations in order to support short-term restoration and reconstruction projects in Haiti. CIDA also launched new initiatives, including the construction of temporary facilities for key Haitian government departments, a $12 million investment; the reconstruction of the Gonaïves hospital, $20 million; and the rebuilding of the Haitian National Police Academy, $18 million.

The human and material losses resulting from the earthquake have also had a serious impact on the capability of Haitian security and justice organizations, which are crucial to running the country and to ensuring its stability. The Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force, START, a Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade initiative, has increased its financial contribution in order to tailor its response to new areas of need resulting from the earthquake. The annual average allocation of $15 million has been increased to $25 million for 2010-11, thereby enabling the task force to ramp up its commitment in its traditional response areas of police reform and prison and border management, and to add justice to its list of priorities.

The task force is working on strengthening the Haitian National Police by deploying Canadian police officers to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, so that they can play a role in training their Haitian counterparts.

The task force is also funding the reconstruction of new headquarters and the reconstruction of police stations in the areas affected by the earthquake, to help the Haitian National Police carry out its mandate and serve the public effectively.

To support the reform of the Haitian correctional system, the task force’s contribution means that Canadian correctional officers can be assigned to MINUSTAH, with the mandate of training and supervising their Haitian counterparts, and renovating and building new facilities to provide appropriate places for the detention of prisoners.

The task force is also funding the construction of the Croix-des-Bouquets prison which is scheduled to open in 2011. In fact, I travelled there with the member for Bourassa this year when we were asked to visit the construction site. That institution will become a model institution for the Haitian correctional system in terms of security, hygiene and health, and respect for human rights.

Canada also has a leading role to play in managing the borders by supplying equipment, infrastructure and training. Reform of the justice and security systems is more central than ever to Canada’s commitment in Haiti, because it helps create favourable conditions for the reconstruction of the country…

…The current situation around the elections shows the importance of working on governance in Haiti. Rebuilding infrastructure is pointless if the state remains weak and irresponsible. This includes the ability to manage key institutions and run essential systems. That is why our priority in the coming weeks will be to ensure that the electoral process is brought to a legitimate and democratic conclusion.

Hon. Denis Coderre (Bourassa, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for his words. We have many points in common. However, I would not want to talk about disbursements. The government can say it gave a certain amount of money, but this may not have arrived yet, and so forth. Apart from that, we should focus our efforts on helping the Haitian people, who are starting to feel they have been had. We are not there to choose one of the candidates but to ensure that the process works. That is why the international community has invested $30 million, including $5.6 million from the Government of Canada. But things are happening in Haiti. People are starting to lose confidence in MINUSTAH. They have already lost most of their confidence in the president. Our role is to help establish a decent environment so that a real future government can emerge.

It may be that the recount will not work. If Mr. Martelly, Ms. Manigat and the 12 other candidates, including Jacques-Édouard Alexis and Jean-Henry Céant, do not want a recount, they cannot be forced. We can lead a horse to water but we cannot make it drink. Instead of a second round on January 16, maybe the election could be held all over again with all the candidates, both for the legislature and the presidency. That would probably be the only way to ensure the Haitian people’s confidence in their institutions.

Hon. Lawrence Cannon:

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question. He wonders whether I am prepared to agree to a certain option. I would say, quite frankly, that we work in close co-operation with the international community at the Organization of American States and CARICOM and with other partners who are interested in what is happening in Haiti.

As I emphasized in my speech, the international community must speak with one voice and call upon the political players and the government in Haiti to do everything necessary to see the electoral process through to the end. We will not get what we want at this point by suggesting various options. It is important to show respect for Haiti as a sovereign country. When we act, we should ensure that the people who are directly involved in the electoral process are basically doing everything they can to see the process through to the end.

...p. 12 Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, the minister said that everyone should buy into a solution. That is what we want to see from the international community on the ground in Haiti.

To that point there is a real concern that if we do not see an agreed upon process for the next step in the election process, there will be continued violence. I know that all issues cannot be put on the table tonight, but I would hope that Canada is using its influence working with others in the international community to look at all solutions. One that some have talked about is to get the leaders to agree to some form of interim government to get on with the real concerns that people have with the cholera epidemic and the reconstruction. That would provide some stability first and then there could be talk about elections after.

I am wondering if all of those options are being talked about. I am not asking the minister to tell us exactly what the conversations are, but I just want to know that Canada is involved in these kinds of conversations.

...Hon. Denis Coderre (Bourassa, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, like the minister just said, Haiti is like big, simmering coals right now. Stability is the name of the game, but we have to do better. It is a sovereign country, but because of the violent situation, what are we going to do to help the vulnerable among the population, the children and displaced families?

Because the trust link has been damaged between MINUSTAH and the population, I would like to hear from the minister whether he considered the fact that maybe we should send more Canadian troops there for security since we have a lot of French-speaking soldiers and that would be more helpful. Maybe he could also give a heads-up on DART because given the cholera it may be a good solution if DART goes back to Haiti.

...p. 14 Ms. Johanne Deschamps (Laurentides—Labelle, BQ)

(A lengthy, first speech by the Bloc in the debate; makes no specific reference to the election.)

...p. 19 Ms. Johanne Deschamps:

Mr. Speaker, I understand this anger. I may have touched a nerve and upset the hon. Conservative member a bit.

I would nonetheless like to remind him of the numbers I mentioned in my speech. There is currently a cholera crisis and the number of deaths increase every day. In response to this epidemic, we are told that aid is trickling in and the UN says it has received only $5 million of the $164 million promised by the international community over a year ago.

In a few days we will be marking this sad anniversary, a tragedy that affected an entire people, an earthquake. Money was promised a year ago and we are reaffirming our commitment to support the Haitian people, but the money is not getting there.

On March 31, 2010, and in July 2010, the government promised it would provide $400 million over the next two years. The money is not needed two years from now; it is needed right now, primarily to eradicate the cholera. It is all well and fine to install and train police officers and build prisons, but we have to think about feeding, caring for and housing these people…

…p. 19 Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Outremont.

Why are we here tonight? To start with, we are here to discuss Canada's role in Haiti after the devastating earthquake that reduced much of its capital, Port-au-Prince, to rubble and displaced many Haitians. To give members an idea, this was the worst earthquake in the region in more than 200 years. The estimated total cost of the disaster was between $7.2 billion and $13.2 billion, based on a death toll of anywhere from 200,000 to 250,000 people. In fact, there have been numbers later revised up to 300,000 people. Crushed buildings from the January earthquake still spill out onto the sidewalks. There is a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 1,000 people and stoked violent demonstrations against peacekeepers, and now, on top of all that, an election process that has thrown the country into even further destabilization.

Canadians promised to provide long-term assistance to the Haitian people. Canadians gave generously in order to help the country get back on its feet quickly. The aftermath of the earthquake is now being exacerbated by a cholera epidemic and a questionable electoral process. After the elections, there is the risk of an even greater destabilization of Haiti.

There are three parts to this problem. In the short term, we need to save the lives of those who are threatened by cholera. In the medium term, we need to help rebuild basic infrastructure in Haiti. In the long term, we need to focus on rebuilding and strengthening democratic institutions in Haiti with Haitians and not by others.

What does that mean to the current post-election crisis? Canada should engage the political leadership of Haiti to work toward common goals and to stabilize the political situation in Haiti so that the basic fundamental needs of Haitians can be met immediately.

The cholera crisis is horrific. According to the United Nations, 400,000 people might catch it over the next year.

According to Canadian organizations on the ground, the most immediate needs are as follows: a good campaign to educate the people and prevent contagion; the prompt distribution of water purification tablets and soap; the establishment of cholera treatment centres and the training of those who work in them; and safe and respectful transportation of the dead and the holding of suitable funerals.

In the medium term, we need to help Haiti rebuild its basic infrastructure.

In the medium term, we must get on with the construction of housing for the 1.6 million displaced Haitians living in precarious conditions in the camps. It is important that a drinking water system be established.

In the long term, we must focus on the institutions of the country and, above all, on civil society, justice and the participation of women. Never again must the democratic ambitions of Haitians be held back by an electoral process that limits participation and allows abuse to run rampant.

In the long term, we should help rebuild and strengthen Haiti's democratic institutions. No longer should Haitians' democratic ambitions be dampened by an electoral process that limits participation and is open to abuse.

We made a commitment to Haiti, not just after last year's earthquake but before that. What we need to be seized with right now is to ensure the aid and the support that we provide to Haiti is not done to them but is done with them in the spirit of solidarity. What is of concern to many is that for Haitians right now, what they see is a crisis of cholera, an election that is not accepted by many and a world community that seems to be unsure of what to do next.

It is clear what we must do. We must be with the Haitians. We must be absolutely certain that their priorities are met immediately. If this is just about gamesmanship, if this is just about trying to put our guy in power, then it will fail miserably.

I will urge the government, as will many in our party, to be vigilant as to what our goal is in Haiti. It is to support the people, and we must engage our diaspora community to do that. We have an untapped resource with people of the diaspora community in Montreal, Ottawa and throughout the country. They are clear about what they want to see. They want to see Canada take a leadership role to provide the stability that is necessary so we can get on with the work, in the short term, of saving lives; in the medium term, of helping rebuild the critical infrastructure that is required, not only from the earthquake but before that; and, in the long term, that we focus our energies and our support on rebuilding civil society so that it will be a country that will be able to have a democratic election, that will no longer be open to abuse, that will have important institutions and that will be able to withstand the conflicts that can occur.

Those are the things that we need to see. We hope our government is playing a leadership role and that it is doing what we have done best in Canada, which is playing an honest broker role to find the pathway to solutions. If Canada seizes that opportunity, not only will it have the full support of our party but I am sure of all Canadians. Most important, if we are able to provide that time-honoured Canadian value of finding that pathway, then we will have the support and the welcome of the Haitian people.

…Mr. Paul Dewar:

Mr. Speaker, I was hoping that the parliamentary secretary was listening carefully. I said that I hoped that was not the case. He should listen to his minister because the minister was concerned about the outcome of the election and he was fairly up front about his concerns about electoral fraud.

I am not sure what the parliamentary secretary was listening to but I will be clear. What we want to see is Canada being a partner with the Haitian people. What we have seen in the past when it comes to Haiti is that governments, and not necessarily just Canadian governments but governments internationally back in the history of France and the United States, have used Haiti.

Members know the history. This is a country that threw off the shackles of slavery. It is fiercely independent. It does not need to be told how to run its affairs. It needs no lessons from us. What it needs is partnership and solidarity. That was my point and that is my point for the parliamentary secretary.

Hon. Denis Coderre (Bourassa, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Ottawa Centre for his speech. We are on the same side, which is important…

Mr. Paul Dewar:

Mr. Speaker, my question for the minister was along this line. With respect to the elections, it is very important for Canada to be absolutely engaged in what the potential solutions are, everything from having a full runoff to looking at an interim proposal of a unity government. However, that of course must come from the Haitians. We can only try to coordinate it and support it.

On the DART and the military, I am not as sold on them as my colleague is. After the earthquake, there was a role for them. What I am hearing from the NGOs on the ground is that they require resources that can get pushed throughout the country and that the DART may not be the best value for money. With regard to more military, I would like to see political solutions to stabilize things on the ground and I am not sure we need to add more troops to that equation at this time…

p. 23 Mr. Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank my friend and colleague from Ottawa Centre who shared his time with me during this very important debate.

I would like to congratulate the member for Bourassa. Although we are from different political parties, some subjects transcend the normal partisanship in the House and the situation in Haiti is one of them. With the hon. member for Bourassa and the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber, who came up with the idea, we have a committee made up of Canadian parliamentarians who are trying to begin to ensure that Canada's action on this issue is as relevant and meaningful as possible.

That is why I am a bit confused by the off-putting and even aggressive tone we are hearing from the government side. This is very inappropriate for an emergency debate centred on finding solutions. We are not here to use that sort of tone. The Haitian people, courageous and proud people, have already experienced enough tragedy this year. Now is the time to engage in sober reflection and to begin to find solutions that will be beneficial in the long term.

My colleague clearly summarized the issue: our current number one priority must be to continue to save lives. It does not make any sense. We are in the most economically developed part of the world. We live in the western hemisphere, what we call North and South America and western Europe. Nevertheless, in one country, hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of catching a disease that we thought had been relegated to the pages of history books: cholera. A number of people have already died from this disease. I know that Canada is doing its part. The government responded quickly and made sure that the public knew what it was doing. It proposed a fairly large fund in order to match any donations made by the public. This was an excellent way to go about it. But where are we now, almost a year later? That is the question we need to be asking ourselves.

The elections have been much talked about. Let us take a hard look at the facts. We can talk about building democratic institutions, but if we are in Haiti to try to find a solution, then holding the elections in relative calm to ensure reliable results should have been a priority. That does not seem to have been the case, though. It is all well and good for the minister to say that he might not allow the result if something is found to have happened. Clearly, from what we have seen, heard and read, there were major problems with the election. But we need to remember that Haiti was the first country to free itself from slavery, so the last thing we want to do is treat Haiti like a colony.

Haiti is and always will be free to make its own choices, even though we are all trying to help as best we can. Like everyone, I deplore the fact that the election results are ambiguous. At least, we cannot know whether the announcement that was made is accurate. But let us be clear: it is not up to Canada to decide for Haiti. The time for Canada to act was before the election, not after. We should have said we had resources, we would provide others as well, and we would bring in people who could organize and structure an election process that was as probative and reliable as possible. The thing to do is not to take action after the fact. In a way, what we are doing is blaming the victims, which is not the best approach. Even though Canada has done many very good things from the outset, this was not our finest hour. The minister launched an all-out attack on the ambiguous outcome, but that ambiguity is largely the fault of the government, which did not do enough with the other allies there.