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Bill Clinton praises Canada's Haiti effort

Former US president Bill Clinton talks during the Special Session on Haiti, on the second day of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos on Thursday.

PIERRE VERDY/AFP/Getty Images

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the United Nations special co-ordinator for Haiti, singled out Canadians as the biggest donors to earthquake relief there.

After meeting Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Clinton predicted that if the relief efforts show progress, the world will stay committed.

"The Canadian people have been so generous. I'll bet you on a per-capita basis they're the number one in the world in helping Haiti. Probably because of the prime minister's matching-grant program, but for whatever reason, the Canadians have all given money, and all want to support it. And you should be very proud of that," Mr. Clinton said.

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"There is a big Haitian diaspora in Canada. But this goes way beyond that. I'm very grateful."

Mr. Clinton was in Davos to seek support from business and political leaders for aid efforts in Haiti, and met with Mr. Harper for about 30 minutes to discuss relief efforts.

Both men said ensuring a commitment to long-term aid is key - and Mr. Harper promised that Canada's aid will increase over time.

"As the President has said, it's day to day, week to week now, but we're starting to look at the long term, and that's the focus we'll have going forward," Mr. Harper told reporters.

"For us, Haiti's been our number two foreign aid priority in the world, number one in the Americas, and that's only going to get bigger in the future - for us. I hope it's true for everyone else."

Mr. Clinton said that the countries with the closest links to Haiti will not quickly forget the need to rebuild, but predicted all donors will stay committed if the relief efforts show progress.

"You know, the United States and Canada have the biggest Haitian diaspora, along with France. And we won't forget," Mr. Clinton said. If Haitians and donors from around the world see progress, and that aid efforts are organized in an accountable way, they will continue to back rebuilding, he said.

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"I think if we do it right and progress is made then the commitment will stay there," he said.

Before his meeting with Mr. Harper, Mr. Clinton led a panel discussion with aid-organization leaders and political leaders - but was not shy about appealing for help from the business community. He told them they could walk to a Haiti desk outside the meeting room to talk about getting information about investing in Haiti.

He told a crowd packed with business CEOs that cash donations are what's mostly needed now, and that relief teams desperately need a fleet of small trucks to distribute food and water to the many who don't have it - he's willing to buy, he said, but would like a discount.

"I need a hundred yesterday," Mr. Clinton said.

There are still at least 200,000 homeless Haitians, so the aid effort needs help to provide shelter, as well as food, water, and medical care. "Right now, we need to figure out how to get them through the week."

Mr. Harper's press secretary, Dimitri Soudas, said the Prime Minister's meeting with Mr. Clinton focused on what is happening on the ground in Haiti, but also on the need for transparency in long-term aid efforts.

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"Prime Minister Harper and former president Clinton both agreed on the importance of establishing a transparent and accountable mechanism to oversee the delivery of aid and reconstruction funds," Mr. Soudas said in a brief statement.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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