- Canadian PM Harper tours Alberta’s flooded areas, photo gallery, June 21, 2013
- Canadian PM Stephen Harper’s statement on the flooding in Alberta, June 20, 2013
- Canadian PM Stephen Harper visits flooded areas of Albert, June 21, 2013
- Canadian PM Stephen Harper speaks with Premier Redford, June 21, 2013
On Friday, June 21, 2013, Prime Minister Stephen Harper toured the flood ravaged area with the Mayor of Calgary Naheed Nenshi and the Premier of Alberta Alison Redford by helicopter. The prime minister’s adopted hometown is Calgary, and he represents Calgary Southwest in parliament. The day before Harper pledged federal funds for the recovery effort. The flooding began in Calgary as the result of heavy rains, and is the worst the city and country has seen in history.
At the time of Harper’s tour of the region, 100,000 people evacuated from their homes in Calgary and three people were killed. Over 300 mm of rain fell; flooding the entire downtown core, which was evacuated and without power.
A leader’s decisiveness to act and how he responds during a natural disaster affects the public’s perception of them. Harper decided to tour the Calgary area almost immediately after the area was flooded, and focused on emergency response and pledged aid for recovery.
Harper arrived at 3 p.m. MDT, and met with Alberta Premier Alison Redford, and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Harper received a briefing, after which he toured the region by helicopter with the premier and mayor.
Harper gave a statement after his visit to the flood mired area; “The people of Central and Southern Alberta are showing tremendous strength, courage and resolve in their reaction to the devastating floods in the Alberta regions. The federal government is taking swift action to help municipal and provincial authorities meet the needs of those affected. Members of the RCMP and the Canadian Armed Forces are already on the ground helping with search and rescue, evacuation and other logistics and our Government stands ready to provide all the support required.”
Harper spoke to the media after his helicopter tour and expressed his surprise at the extent of the flooding; “I never imagined we could have a flood of this magnitude in this country. Until you really see it in person you don’t get a sense…this is an incredible event. The magnitude is just extraordinary. It is stunning.”
Harper has been involved with coordinating a response with both the premier and mayor since the beginning of the flooding crisis. Harper spoke by phone to Redford and Nenshi on Thursday afternoon, June 20, and the prime minister had a press conference in the evening.
Harper’s response for aid in the region has also been quick, at the time of his visit, 1,300 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) troops were in the area, and had to assist them “eight helicopters, a military airplane, trucks,” additional vehicles, and RCMP officers.
Harper’s prompt tour of storm affected areas contrasts to his counterparts in the United States. The two most recent Presidents; George W. Bush and Barack Obama each confronted unprecedented natural disasters during their tenures and their responses deeply affected public opinion, their political capital and legacies.
In August 2005, then U.S. President George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina was widely criticized. Hurricane Katrina was a massive storm that hit the Gulf Coast region of Louisiana and Mississippi, caused 1500 deaths, the flooding of the entire city of New Orleans and years of rebuilding. At the time of hurricane hit the Louisiana shore on August 29, 2005, Bush attended a birthday party for Senator John McCain, and V-J day’s 50th anniversary in California while the storm raged on, the levies broke, New Orleans flooded, and those who did not evacuate the city were stranded or died in the floods. Bush was vacationing at his ranch in Texas, and did not immediately return to Washington to deal with the crisis.
When Bush did first tour the region on the way from his ranch to the White House on August 31st, he did not land in New Orleans to survey the damage. The image the public most remembered was a photograph of Bush looking out at the damage from Air Force One; a photograph of detachment from the suffering of those on the ground. Not only did Bush act detached, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the whole government’s response was slow, mismanaged and left the region scarred many years after the disaster occurred. Bush finally toured the devastated areas in both Louisiana, and Mississippi on September 2, 2005, days too late, by then anything Bush said or did was not enough and criticized.
Katrina happened only nine months into Bush’s second presidential term Bush’s approval took a dive from his response which he could never recover from. A New York Times/CBS News poll from the time showed that 48 percent of Americans disapproved of his response to Katrina. His response to the storm had a negative lasting effect on the remainder of his presidential term and his legacy.
President Barack Obama’s response to Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 contrasted with his predecessor. Sandy became a superstorm as the hurricane system came up the east coast and another system from the west met near the New York – New Jersey region on October 29th; in all 24 states were affected including the Maritime Provinces. While the storm was inching up the east coast on October 28, 2012, Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) headquarters to survey the storm’s path and quick response plans.
After the storm ended, on October 31, 2012, just six days before the Presidential election, Obama promptly toured the regions that experienced the worst flooding and damage from the storm. His compassion and leadership during a difficult time for the nation earned him points with the American public.
The Republican governor from New Jersey, Chris Christie even praised Obama’s response; “I have to say the administration, the president himself and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far. We have a great partnership with them, and I want to thank the president personally for his personal attention to this.”
The superstorm happened over a week before the U.S. Presidential Election, and became of the October Surprise of that the 2012 election cycle. Obama was in the middle of a close campaign against challenger Republican Mitt Romney. Obama put a pause on his campaigning, and chose instead to remain at the White House to monitor the storm, and immediate recovery effort.
Superstorm Sandy gave Obama a chance to appear presidential, and act as the consoler in chief to a nation and regional hit by a terrible natural disaster. Presidential Obama’s response tipped the campaign’s scale to his favor. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll at the time saw 68 percent of Americans approving of Obama’s response and only 15 percent disapproving, despite the long time it took for those hit by the storm to regain electricity and for the gas lines to work again. Romney could not compete nor recover, and Obama won the election.
Harper looked to respond quickly and avoid further criticism then his government is already experiencing; that of scandal and domination of the Member of Parliaments in his Conservative caucus.
The day before his tour, Harper issued the following statement on the flooding:
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those families who have been affected by the serious flooding in Calgary and Southern Alberta. I want to assure Albertans that the federal government has offered any and all possible assistance to the Province of Alberta in response to the situation. Canadian Armed Forces assets, including a Cormorant and Griffon helicopter, have been deployed to the area to assist the Alberta Provincial Emergency team with rescue and evacuation efforts. We hope for a speedy end to the flooding and return to safe conditions as soon as possible. We remain ready to provide additional assistance if requested by provincial authorities.”
Harper’s quick response might belay criticism the public has over the recent scandals in his government, and help rebound his approval rating in the polls.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & International politics.