Tragedy has struck the city of New Orleans (and other Gulf of Mexico state areas) to a degree that we simply could not have imagined. Quite literally, the city of New Orleans is no longer habitable, and it will be months before that changes.
Today, President Bush announced two things:
1. $10 Billion Dollars in emergency funding to pay "expenses"
2. Bill Clinton and George Bush Senior would head up a private relief fund raising effort to aid victims.
Okay, all of that is well and fine. I really can't criticize it, can I? However, I think it underscores several key differentiators between how Canada is structured and the United States.
First of all, the $10 Billion in aid is to pay "expenses" - in this situation, that's cleanup crews, military costs, emergency repairs to get oil platforms and refineries working again, etc. I completely understand the urgency of all this, and the practical realities of it. (or at least as well as I am able to - from the relatively arid Alberta prairies)
It's the second part of Bush Jr's initiative that piques my curiousity. Certainly, involving the last two presidents in a fund raising endeavor will raise the profile of that effort immensely, and should make it much more effective.
However, philosophically, it's rather intriguing. Basically, the government is saying that it isn't in the business of caring about its people, that's their job. Along with other moves that Bush Jr. has made since he came to office, it's quite clear that the Republicans (at least under neo-con control) are all about money and small government (except for the military, of course). The people and their needs don't register on their radar. As long as the people are "fat-dumb-and happy", the Republicans could care less; and with a strong military, it would take a major armed insurrection to catch their interest.
So - where does that leave the elderly grandmother whose pension was minimal at best, and who just had her house levelled by Hurricane Katrina? Stuck - if she has supporting relatives, great; otherwise, she's in for a really rough ride until this public fund raiser starts to deliver funds and rebuilding gets going.
The question going through my head right now is "where's the US government for the individual citizens?" It appears not only to be in absentia, but determined to remain there.
While Canada's government wouldn't fare much better under the circumstances, there are aspects of the picture that are quite different. The prairie provinces experienced a significant amount of abnormal flooding this June. Among other things that kicked in almost immediately after the floods began to subside were programs to assist those whose losses could not - or would not - be covered through private insurance.
The difference is the understanding that there are times that a government can, and should, make investments in its citizens. Whether that is educational, medical or disaster relief doesn't matter. To be seen to be helping the individual citizen as well as the economic engine is not only good PR, but good government.
To assume that the "community will provide" for those that are profoundly disrupted by a disaster is to assume that communities can absorb a disaster of this scale, and that the people affected are still part of a community. Disaster disrupts social structures as much as it does physical structures. People are uprooted with no warning, dispatched to wherever "safe ground" can be had. Their community may or may not be anywhere around them.
To treat the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina like the aftermath of the Tsunami that flattened parts of Indonesia last year shows the Bush government as viewing its own citizens in the same light as disaster victims thousands of miles away. Sad really.