Harper uses Haiti speech to tout military purchases

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.

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.

Harper delivered that speech after touring the ruins of a collapsed school that was about to be demolished Tuesday. Nobody in the building died in the quake, which is believed to have killed 200,000 people.

“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.”

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