globeandmail.com : Air Canada, Air Transat finalize plans to evacuate thousands of Canadian refugees fleeing Lebanon

globeandmail.com : Air Canada, Air Transat finalize plans to evacuate thousands of Canadian refugees fleeing Lebanon

This whole operation is something important, and I wanted to draw attention to it.  Aside from the issues of leaving behind people who haven’t the option to leave, it makes sense for foreigners to evacuate in a time like this.  Having spent time overseas, I know that things can get scary, and I know that for me in Lagos, knowing the Canadian High Commission had our back helped take some of the stress off.  While there were no crisis that required evacuation, the lesser crises that did crop up showed me that the CHC would have done everything in its power and operated at about 150% efficiency to be sure things that needed to get sorted got sorted.

Knowing what I know about Lagos however, I also have no doubt it would have turned into a cluster-f*** par excellence.  Despite the best intentions and efforts of people on the ground, Lagos was chaotic and difficult to work in under the best of circumstances.  Add a major crisis, and thousands of other people trying to get out a very narrow pipe, and I have no doubt that any attempted evacuation of us, in Lagos, would have gone very poorly.  We’d have gotten out, eventually, but I would have gone into any such attempted evacuation expecting delays, difficulties and chaos.  Getting the whole thing done in 24 to 48 hours would have been surprising, as opposed to expected.

So its hard for me to have much sympathy for people complaining in Beirut.  I understand the fear and stress people are feeling, but the general chaos of the situation means that things will NOT go as planned or expected.  While I have no specific knowledge of the people involved in the evacuation in Lebanon at the moment, my experience with foreign Canadian officials has been nothing but exemplary, and I’d be hard pressed to believe they are doing anything less than 100% of what they can to get people out safely.  If Canadians manage to get evacuated this week, I’ll call that a success.

I must add that there’s one official who wants to be seen to be doing 100% of what he can to help out … Stephen Harper.  “In a surprise announcement in Paris Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced he would be making a side trip to Cyprus in order to take home up to 100 of the evacuees.”  Essentially, he emptied his plane of all ‘non-essential’ personnel, except for ‘Maureen and myself’ to go to Cyprus to help ferry a load of Canadians home.

First, I should say the redirection of the PM’s (military) aircraft to be used in the relief effort was the right move … the effort needs all the planes it can get for right now, and the PM’s plane is, first and foremost, a military transport.  But when the PM says they emptied all non-essential personnel, he wasn’t being quite honest.  Leaving himself and his wife on the plane certainly took up two seats, and the official photographer took up a third, that could have been used to evacuate Canadians.  And therein lies the problem with this whole affair.

Had the PM re-directed his plane to the relief effort, then arranged for his own way home by other means, this would all be a HUGE feather in his cap, a selfless gesture to help out stranded Canadians.  Instead, its clearly nothing more than a calculated political photo-op … even if he and his wife took up 2 seats out of security concerns (one COULD argue the security risks to him finding alternate transport were great enough to make the use of two seats relevant), there is no need for the photographer unless a photo-op is whats happening.

In short, this wasn’t about helping Canadians in need … if that’s what it was about, then Steve and Maureen, and their official photographer, would have found other transport back home, leaving as many seats as possible for stranded Canadians.  Instead, its clear that this wasn’t about the help at all, but instead it was about being seen to be helping.  It was a nice gesture, and one that could have come off making Harper look great.  Instead, an attempt to help comes across looking simply like an attempt at a photo-op.

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