PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Canada will help the hobbled Haitian government get back on its feet by building an administrative home for it to replace its numerous smashed buildings in the country’s shattered capital.
During a visit to Haiti, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Monday that Canada would spend up to $12 million to create a new temporary home for government departments and civil servants.
Harper made the announcement after meeting with Haitian President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.
“The support that Canadians and the international community extended to Haiti is a testament to the compassion that unites humanity in the face of catastrophe,” Harper said.
“(This) is an important step towards early recovery and reconstruction efforts. Canada will continue to support the Haitian government as it moves forward with its reconstruction and development agenda.”
A number of Haiti’s public buildings have been reduced to rubble, from the presidential palace to the tax department and the education ministry, bringing the national government to the brink of collapse.
Workers have been trying to salvage any scraps of paper documents while crews remove bodies and bulldozers demolish what’s left of the condemned buildings.
The prime minister got a glimpse of some of that damage during a helicopter tour Monday.
Harper flew over the palace and the other wrecked buildings in the downtown core, and swooped over a mountain slope to see the destroyed Hotel Montana where several Canadians perished.
The Canadian-funded base will house several temporary buildings — including soft, tent-like ones and hard-shelled ones. It is expected to be up and running for up to a year, and construction will start once the Haitian government chooses a location.
Canada will also help out with office furniture and supplies, as well as computer equipment. It will also supply electricity, water and cooling systems as well as sanitation equipment.
The prime minister is the first G20 leader to visit Haiti since the earthquake, following the heads of several neighbouring countries who have already made the trip.
He landed in Port-au-Prince in a military transport plane Monday, kicking off his two-day trip by meeting with Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.
After meeting with Harper, the Haitian president said his country must seize this moment not simply to recover from the recent tragedy – but, more generally, to renew itself.
Preval said plenty of failed policies from the past had rendered his country helpless in the face of disaster.
“What do we need to do in Haiti? Above all else, we must seize this opportunity not just to rebuild, but to rethink, to remake Haiti,” Preval said during a news conference at the airport with Harper.
“What happened is the result of a policy of putting everything in Port-au-Prince and of neglecting the provinces. Now, we need roads so that villagers can bring their products to market. We need to bring health and education services to the provinces so that people don’t come looking for health care and education – or an illusory job – in Port-au-Prince.
“So this is a serious and long-term project.”
Harper plans to get a glimpse of Canadian aid efforts, assess longer-term needs, and stress the message that Canada is in Haiti for the long haul.
The Canadian military and civilian volunteers have been providing clean water, food, security and medical care since the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Harper will visit Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean’s ancestral hometown of Jacmel, and Leogane, another hub of Canadian activity.
Jean applauded Canada’s role in her native country and the prime minister’s trip there, and she said she was planning an eventual visit of her own.
“The Governor General is really pleased with the prime minister’s visit to Haiti and how Canada is showing leadership,” said a spokeswoman.
“She is also impressed by the generosity of Canadians towards Haiti. She is planning an eventual working visit to Haiti.”
Harper was to sleep Monday aboard the Navy ship HMCS Athabaskan, which is anchored off Leogane.
In Leogane, Harper plans to visit a destroyed school and tour a hospital being run by the Canadian Forces on Tuesday, before returning to Ottawa.
Haiti already receives more Canadian aid than any other country beside Afghanistan; with Canada’s Afghan mission scaling down next year, Haitian reconstruction will likely become Canada’s biggest foreign-policy effort.
Canadians have donated $142 million to the relief effort, with $124 million of that being matched by the federal government. Ottawa has also given $85 million in immediate aid.
Harper will not be the only foreign leader to visit Haiti in the coming days. French President Nicolas Sarkozy will head to the country on Feb. 17 while Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will go there on Feb.25.
The quake killed 31 Canadians and has left 55 missing. An estimated 200,000 Haitians have been killed.