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Opinion Globe editorial: How much should Ottawa have done for Canadians in Irma’s path?

Governments are often judged on how they react to calamity. Sometimes they are criticized, and deserve to be. And sometimes not.

Take Canada's response to Hurricane Irma and its little brother Jose; the federal government's supposed sluggishness in rescuing our citizens is not earning it much love.

At this point it bears mention that many of the Canadians temporarily marooned by the devastation had sufficient financial resources to travel to the Caribbean. And the hurricane that hit them was an expected calamity unlike, say, an earthquake or a coup d'état. Before it happened, it dominated the news for a week.

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Public resources to respond to such events are justifiably scant. There is no federal fleet of military cargo jets or rescue ships standing at the ready. The best way to avoid being stuck in a soon-to-be disaster zone is to leave, or to not go there in the first place.

And spending millions to send in the military should be a last resort, not a first resort. Particularly if you're... at a resort.

Even if the Canadian Forces had leaped into action, immediately dispatching transport planes to where Canadians were, there's no guarantee they would have been able to land before or between – and this is not a minor point – gigantic hurricanes.

In preparation for the expected storms, the department of Global Affairs staffed up its crisis centre, fielded thousands of calls, tracked Canadians down, and arranged flights with the private sector, such as the airlines that flew people down in the first place.

It might not have been what some wanted, but it sure doesn't look like gross governmental incompetence.

To those unhappy with Ottawa's response: What exactly did you expect your fellow taxpayers to do for you?

A 2008 study by researchers at Stanford University established voters will reliably reward politicians for post-disaster relief, and mostly disregard investments in preparedness. Post-disaster empathy sells; meticulous forward planning does not.

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Now, spare a thought for people in the Caribbean whose governments can't afford to whisk them away from their homes in a disaster zone. It will take months and billions of dollars to repair the damage. The region needs help, and that's where Canada's money should go.

It's good Canadians were able to get out, even if it took a few harrowing days. Let us not forget they're the lucky ones in the story.

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