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Canadian Forces on standby to help U.S.

[PoliticsWatch Updated 4:30 p.m. September 1, 2005]

Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hiller speaks at DND headquarters on Thursday. 

OTTAWA  — Canadian Forces are being put on standby and making contingency plans in the event the U.S. requests military assistance to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.   
   
General Rick Hillier, Canada's chief of defence staff, said a ship in Halifax will be "packaged" in preparation to be sent to the U.S. Gulf Coast region if requested to provide. 

"We're identifying a ship and we're going to be proactive," he said. "We're not going to sit around and have a request come in and say, 'Oh, we're going to need four or five more days to have it ready.'"

Hillier has also to talked to Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team's commander and they are preparing for a potential mission. 

He said he spoke with U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers on Wednesday to offer military assistance. Hillier said the U.S. welcomed the offer but has yet to fully assess the extent of the situation in the region. 

"They know what we are capable of and when the need is determined and the duration is determined if they have need of things that they cannot provide they will call us," Hillier said. 

"We are preparing access from air, land and sea in order to move to the area."

Hiller also met with David Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, on Wednesday. 

Hillier said Canada's military has the expertise to deal with this situation following the Red River flooding and the flooding in the Saguenay in the 1990s. Among the services Canada could supply the Americans include:

>  C-130 transport planes
>  Transport helicopters
>  Electrical generators
>  Water purification plants
>  Small boats to participate in roof-top rescues
>  Diving units
>  Communications package to facilitate coordinate of operations
> And road transport assistance

The military, however, has no estimate of how many personnel would be involved in such a mission. 

Hillier's press conference with reporters was part of a busy day in Ottawa surrounding Katrina. 

Prime Minister Paul Martin spoke on the phone with U.S. President George W. Bush in the morning and offered assistance. 

The much anticipated call was originally supposed to be about the softwood lumber dispute but the PMO said softwood lumber never came up during the conversation because the Prime Minister didn't think it would be appropriate given the situation in New Orleans. 

That was different than the line being put out Wednesday. 

The Globe and Mail reported that on Wednesday a PMO spokesman said Martin would be "stating Canada's case" regarding softwood in the discussion with Bush. 

Katrina also led to the cancellation of a meeting between Wilkins and International Trade Minister Jim Peterson where the softwood issue was expected to be one of the main themes. 

The military making public its offer of assistance and Martin's call to push comes after critics accused the prime minister of failing to issue a statement on the American catastrophe. 

Martin's statement released late on Wednesday came more than 48 hours after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and 24 hours after much of New Orleans was flooded. 

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