Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel.
I wanted to thank the minister, before we even get started here. As all of these things have been going on with Haiti, she has been keeping me updated, which I know she has with others as well. That is a very good situation and I appreciate that kind of co-operation. It also is a difficult situation, because we get to realize just how serious the implications are for Haiti and what is going on.
I have a few things that I would like to speak of specifically concerning an idea, or suggestions, that might help us with the Haiti situation.
I am very much aware that when the tsunami struck in 2005, at a similar time of year, there were a lot of lessons to be learned from that, but it was half a world away. It was very difficult and I am not sure we learned them very well. When the Haiti situation happened this last January, there was a belief that we would get this one right, in part because it was on our doorstep, in part because it was a country of focus. From our initial reaction to what happened after the earthquake and others, it seemed to be moving along that line, but it was not so much to do with any one particular country.
I remember being in New York at the United Nations with the minister. Bill Clinton was there and he was supposedly helping to direct a coordinated response worldwide for this. I remember talking to a number of Haitians at that conference, especially civil society leaders, who realized that to a certain degree they were being included, but their worry was that although everybody was talking about a 10-year process in which these people could be helped, really the focus was being put on the short-term relief.
They were having great difficulty in trying to get in to discuss how the problems Haiti is facing now are the problems that it has always faced. They were not looking to be popularized and beatified and told what wonderful people they were. They realize they have their own problems, but they also realize that long-term development is actually what is going to make it work.
As well, part of what my concern is, and many of us who follow the environmental file know this, is that this will not be the last thing that confronts Haiti. We know that these things, if the scientists are correct, likely will increasingly begin to snowball in places like Haiti and therefore just as we are recovering from one thing, we will get hit with another. That is what has been happening in the course of these last few months, making it very difficult for Canada or any other government to know how to respond.
The anniversary is coming up in January. I was in Sudan when it happened but I remember I came back and people were very much moved and wanted to do something. Since that time, there has been some confusion. With the anniversary coming up, a lot of emphasis is going to be placed upon that confusion, and I do not mean just about the matched money that was supposed to happen. I do think people are confused there and would sure appreciate clarification, but internationally, we still have not developed a system that is capable of responding to this situation, Bill Clinton aside. Let us face it, if this would have happened in Togo or someplace like that, it would not have had nearly the interest that Haiti did. We have to be prepared for other disasters in other parts of the world.
Regarding CIDA especially, part of the problem we have with CIDA is twofold: emergency relief and long-term development. These things are very difficult and all of a sudden, as we are moving along in development, a disaster happens such as Haiti and we have to take away so many of our resources in order to focus on that. I remember the first time the minister gave me a briefing, it was shortly after it happened. She was exhausted and she was just trying to keep up with both sides of CIDA to keep it going.
I would like to suggest something more along the lines of the British model. I know that in Canada we have a group called The Humanitarian Coalition, made up of four major NGOs, that has been trying for some time to develop a coordinated response among NGOs for both long-term development and especially toward international relief.
In Britain, 35 years ago, a whole bunch of these groups all came together, along with the British government, and decided that probably the best thing that it could do to help its international development program within government was to bring a bunch of the NGOs together and hold a competition of 16 of the main ones, all with different skills, some in health, some in water, some in building, those kinds of things.
These groups would come together and then they would work all year long, and they did not just work among themselves. They worked with the media, so the BBC was a huge part of it, three different channels of the BBC. Newspapers and others were part of it. They brought universities onside. They brought the private sector onside, and for 35 years that system has run, and when a disaster happens, these people have already been prepared.
When the crisis in Haiti first happened, there were 10,000 NGOs in Haiti within the first month. I realize that a lot of those were Haitian NGOs, but the point is that it was a nightmare to try to coordinate all those groups.
I wonder whether it would not be a good idea for CIDA and the Department of Foreign Affairs to consider building on the British model. The British are all ready with humanitarian relief. They know they are going to get so much money from the government, though it depends somewhat on the nature of the emergency. These people meet on an ongoing basis. Having been in London, England, I know free pamphlets can be picked up on bookshelves. The pamphlets give a 1-800 number to call if someone wants to donate. These pamphlets tell how that donation will be matched. It is all done in advance and they are very much ready when these emergencies happen. What they have really stressed is the coordination of information for the average citizen.
I think we have had some problems in that regard with respect to the situation in Haiti. It is not just a Canadian problem. It is an American problem and it is a problem for other countries as well, because it is such a nightmare to handle.
The British version of the humanitarian coalition constantly communicates with people the difference between relief and development. We are caught between these two things with respect to Haiti. We know that we have to get on with development and we have to start building infrastructure and other things, but then along comes flooding and then along comes cholera and it gets very difficult to do it. The NGOs are expressing confusion themselves about what to do.
I do not mean this to sound too negative, but often NGOs will chase after where the funding goes. I do not doubt that it is an important and necessary thing to do, but in the British system of humanitarian coalition, it works out the funding well in advance so that this kind of competition is not happening when the money is suddenly made available from the government. Not everybody is rushing in and trying to dominate the situation.
The best NGOs are meant to come forward and say why they deserve to be part of this NGO coalition for emergency relief and development. That particular group has a relationship with DFID, the British version of CIDA. The relationship is ongoing, with monthly meetings being held. They are doing something now that is going to expand that even further and I think it is something that Canada needs to look at.
We are not like Britain. We are a broad country in terms of our ability to put together information mechanisms and empowerment mechanisms for average citizens such that if they give money towards a certain group and it is supposed to be matched, they are not left waiting and wondering whether it has been done or not. These things are worked out in advance in Britain.
I would like to tell the minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs that there is nothing wrong in looking at the British type of system for Canada so that if something is happening in Haiti, it will not stop other things from happening.
This group is constantly working on it and coordinating it. They make sure that people have the 1-800 number so that, as soon as something happens, a person just has to phone that number and the humanitarian coalition in Britain will sort out where the funding goes on the basis of need as determined by the government and international organizations.
Personally, I think it is a better system than what we have at present. We have just cobbled together what we have had over the last number of years. The tsunami was a big lesson to the Liberals, and Haiti is a big lesson to all of us that something more co-ordinated needs to happen.
At this intersection between emergency relief and development, it is very important that we find a group of NGOs who can work in harmony with CIDA, who can sit down and work for that intersection, who would know what needs to be done in Haiti because they have already studied it. We know it is going to happen again in Haiti. The British have studied it and have the disciplines in the various sectors, and as soon as a disaster happens, the BBC and the others all get the information out there. People know what number to call, and immediately the government and the coalition get back with the information that people are looking for. It is not a perfect system, but I think it is better than what we have.
What I am trying to put forward here, and I appreciate the opportunity, is that Haiti has been bigger than all of us. It has swallowed all of us up because it is such a complex problem. We ought to get some people on it who are more full time and would be willing to lead us in that direction. I would encourage the government to consider this suggestion.