Prime Minister Stephen Harper tours a Canadian military field hospital in Léogâne, Haiti, on Tuesday. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))

The purchase and use of C-17 transport planes is an example of the "hard power" requirements of the type of relief work soldiers are now doing in Haiti, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said during a tour of the country.

Speaking to soldiers in the town of Léogâne, a hub of Canadian relief activity, where 80 to 90 per cent of the buildings were destroyed, Harper singled out the purchase of the  C-17 transport planes, saying those new vehicles helped fly troops and supplies to Haiti almost immediately.

"The entire planet has been able to witness that Canada is now a major actor when it's time to intervene in natural disasters," Harper said.

He said thanks to the multi-purpose airplane, Canada no longer has to "hitchhike its way to foreign deployments."

Harper said there was a "time when that kind of heavy-lift aircraft didn’t fit Canada’s soft power policies. But our government bought them for the hard power requirements of today’s world. Now we’re using them for relief work.  

"What is the moral of the story?  To do soft power, you need hard power. You need a full range of capabilities."

PM tours Jacmel

On Tuesday, Harper met with members of Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team to get a first-hand look at Canada's reconstruction efforts in Haiti since the earthquake.


Harper takes a drink of water at a Canadian run water purification site in Jacmel. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))

Earlier, Harper travelled to Jacmel, the hometown of the family of Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean, where he met with a small group of medical platoon personnel and inspected a medical clinic, walking from tent to tent.

He also toured a water purification facility, where he tasted a sample of the water, saying that it is "still the best beverage."

"It's very good. I approve," he said.

Harper arrived in Haiti on Monday, becoming the first G20 leader to visit the Caribbean country since the Jan. 12 earthquake.  

He announced that Canada will donate $12 million to build a temporary headquarters to house government departments whose buildings were destroyed in the earthquake.  

The Canadian-funded base will include tents and hard-shelled temporary buildings. It is expected to be used for as long as a year, and will be installed after the Haitian government chooses a location.

With files from The Canadian Press