Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak about this very important issue. I have been involved with the Chilean community in Manitoba now for quite a number of years.
Back in 1985, there was a devastating earthquake in Chile and the community got together. As a matter of fact, I recall Canadian airlines providing an airplane to airlift food, medicines and equipment to Chile.
We now find ourselves in a similar situation with a devastating earthquake. I have been presenting petitions for the last several months, since February 27, calling on the government to match funds personally donated by the citizens of Canada for the victims of the earthquake in Chile.
We have seen this happen with the earthquake in Haiti. Perhaps the government could have gotten away without dealing with the issue had the earthquakes been a year or two apart. However, the people involved in the earthquake in Chile are quite aware of the way the government did such an admirable job in dealing with the earthquake in Haiti. It was in January and the government responded immediately. In addition to responding immediately, it also matched funds donated by Canadians to the earthquake victims. That was well received and I think people in this country supported the government for that.
In terms of the cost to the government, I am not certain exactly what the cost to the government is, but it is considerable. Perhaps the parliamentary secretary will know. It may be $200 million or it may be $100 million. I am not sure just what it will be. I do not know that we really will know until the end of the contribution cycle what it has cost the government treasury. The fact of the matter is that it was a very popular program.
Members of the Chilean Canadian community, at all of the social events I have attended, and there have been several now in Winnipeg, ask me, because they know that the government is matching the funds to Haiti, why would the government not do the same thing for Chile?
In terms of whether the cost to the treasury would be as much as for Haiti, I would have to say to the parliamentary secretary that I do not anticipate that would be the case. There are roughly 40,000 Chilean Canadians living in Canada. Based on the amount of money that we raised at the social events so far, I would think the matching funds would be far less. Perhaps we are only looking at $100,000 or $200,000. I really cannot say. However, it would not be in the magnitude of the earthquake in Haiti.
I really feel that this would be a positive thing for the government to do. It would make the Chilean Canadian community feel that they are being treated on an equal basis with the Haitian Canadian community. I also think it would actually spur fundraising because many people would be more than happy to maybe increase their donations or make donations if they knew that their government was behind them, and their government was participating in a very direct manner in the earthquake relief.
Arguments have been made, and the parliamentary secretary has said this, that Chile is a stronger country than Haiti. However, the fact of the matter is that it has been a very devastating experience. As a matter of fact, I have an article here from May 11. The headline reads, “Chile struggles to rebuild after earthquake”, and the article states:
Immediately following the 8.8 magnitude earthquake Feb. 27, Chile was ravaged by tsunamis, sustained billions of dollars in damages and suffered 528 deaths. Two weeks after the catastrophe, the nation watched its new president, Sebastian Pinera, take his oath surrounded by swaying buildings during a 6.9 magnitude aftershock.
So, we can see that the earthquake's aftershocks spread all the way to the capital of Chile.