ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says 691 Canadians have now been flown out of the hurricane-ravaged Caribbean as the Liberal government fends off criticism of how it handled the disaster.
And while Bibeau acknowledged that the federal government could have been more efficient at communicating with those affected and their families, she suggested there was an element of truth to the reverse as well.
“We could have done better in terms of communication,” Bibeau acknowledged Tuesday before heading into the start of a two-day cabinet retreat in St. John’s, N.L., with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“But I can assure you that we were following the situation closely. We were in contact with the families, those who contacted us. Because once again, as travellers — and I include myself in that — we forget to consult the website of the government to get the advice concerning the countries where we are going.”
Bibeau said as far as she knows, all Canadians who wanted off the islands of Turks and Caicos and St. Maarten “have had the possibility” to get home as of Monday night.
She urged any other Canadians who still need help, or their families, to reach federal officials.
“We should always register for the government to know where we are in case of emergency. If we don’t do that and we don’t do that enough, well, then we have to wait for Canadians to inform us where they are.
“So this is why I insist: Please, if you know someone or if you are in a country affected, send an email to email@example.com to make sure we know where you are and if you have special needs.”
Bibeau said federal officials are now on the ground in the Caribbean assessing how Canada might help with humanitarian aid and rebuilding after widespread destruction from hurricane Irma.
Stranded travellers and opposition critics have lambasted an evacuation effort that many said was slower and less organized than American operations.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he understands the frustration, but continued to insist that Ottawa responded to a complex, difficult situation as quickly as it could.
“I’m not going to speak about the American situation,” he said of critical comparisons.
“We mobilized right away at the beginning to deal with this situation and one of the challenges which I spoke about was the challenge of being able to either land or take off from … the Turks and Caicos and St. Maarten.
“We had the availability of commercial airlines,” Garneau said. “The problem was getting them into a situation where they could actually bring the people back.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet are in St. John’s for two days of meetings expected to include North American Free Trade Agreement talks and the reaction to hurricanes Irma and Jose. They will be among various topics as the Liberal government heads into the second half of its mandate.
The Canadian Press