(GlobalMedic volunteer Sean D`Souza sorts boxes of supplies destined for Haiti as the organization prepares to help with the humanitarian effort in the earthquake-ravaged country at its Toronto headquarters Wednesday. Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)
The disaster unfolding in Haiti makes it hard to look away and return to the partisan cut and thrust of everyday political life. It feels like, as the cliché goes, a time to pull together for a while in the direction of a greater cause.
Is that what Canadian politicians and political parties are doing? I’m off in search of the evidence. I hope to find a lot of it, and not be disappointed.
People who are strong grassroots organizers and fundraisers in the political sphere often focus their skills and energies toward charitable causes when dramatic needs arise. In this space, we’re going to try to tell some of those stories of politicians and party activists putting their partisanship aside in the spirit of public service in the broader sense.
And if individuals needed more motivation than the horrible images pouring out of Haiti for the second day in a row, today the government gave them the additional incentive of a donations-matching scheme similar to the one that drew out vast sums from Canadians after the Asian tsunami in 2004. (At time of writing, we’ve just been informed that the Prime Minister will be doing a photo opportunity this afternoon when he goes to the Red Cross office in downtown Ottawa to set an example by making a donation with his wife.)
Here’s what I’ve noticed so far:
There’s been a lot of discussion about the role of social media in the prorogation debate. Early signs suggest that these same grassroots mobilization tools are going to work to help Haitian relief efforts.
- Today brings a new Facebook group called “Hill Helps Haiti” whose sole purpose is soliciting donations for http://www.thehumanitariancoalition.ca/, a joint appeal from Oxfam Canada, Care Canada, Oxfam Quebec and Save the Children Canada. Government relations (lobbyist)/party activist types Greg MacEachern, Karine Cousineau and Josh McJannett are behind it, and it got a few dozen members within hours this morning.
- Liberal caucus communications was only too pleased to share with us a list of MPs who have used their Twitter accounts to remind Canadians to donate to the Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres, and the like. Ignatieff announced a donation from the Liberal Party of Canada and encouraged others to follow suit.
- Other tweets I’ve seen from MPs and activists of all stripes make general pleas for donations and prayers. There are too many to cite them all, but if you follow MPs and Senators on Twitter, you know who they are!
The riding of Papineau in Montreal is home to a huge Haitian-Canadian community. So perhaps it’s no surprise that we saw two past rivals making the same appeal yesterday:
- A Liberal Party release yesterday included a call from Justin Trudeau, the sitting MP for Papineau, for all Liberal Party members to donate to Haiti relief efforts.
- The former BQ MP for Papineau, Vivian Barbot (currently the Bloc’s vice-president), herself of Haitian origin, put this message on the BQ’s site yesterday, expressing her solidarity with those affected by the earthquake tragedy and calling on Quebeckers to respond.
And then there’s the events.
- We’ve been alerted to the fact that a “Bowl with Paul [Dewar, MP]” night the Ottawa Centre NDP had organized for Thursday has been changed from a partisan event to a fundraiser for Haitian relief… and I strongly expect these organizers aren’t the only ones who are improvising for a good cause this week.
What examples have you noticed in your part of Canada? Add them in the comments below, and we’ll add them to our list.
If you’ve always wished the media would tell you more about the good work politicians and political parties are doing… consider this your chance to contribute.
p.s. If you want to talk about the Canadian government’s efforts to help Haiti in general, pro and con, we’ve got another spot for that.