Tories have ‘no plans’ to match poverty aid vow inside Canada: memo

Posted on June 16, 2015 in Inclusion Delivery System – News/Politics
June 15, 2015.   Lee Berthiaume, Ottawa

Internal documents suggest the Conservative government has been saying one thing but planning to do another when it comes to fighting poverty at home and abroad.

Canada’s record on international development will be under the microscope when U2 frontman and foreign aid advocate Bono sits down with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa today to talk about maternal and child health today. The Irish rock star will also meet NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

Bono’s visit coincides with talks at the United Nations where diplomats, civil society groups and others have been working to establish a new agenda for eradicating global poverty after the current 15-year plan expires at the end of this year.

While the plan is still a work in progress, including a series of goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals, a central tenet is the idea of universality. That means all countries, rich and poor, will have an obligation to address poverty and inequality within their own borders.

“Even in G7 countries, there can be destitution, exclusion and inequality,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon wrote in an article for CNN earlier this month. “Universality implies that all countries will need to change, each with its own approach, but each with a sense of the global common good.”

Applying the plan in Canada could have ramifications for underprivileged communities such as First Nations, who have typically lagged behind the rest of the population when it comes to access to education, health care and other government services.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other G7 leaders said in Germany last week that they were “committed to achieving an ambitious, people-centred, planet-sensitive and universally applicable Post-2015 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

But a briefing memo for International Development Minister Christian Paradis and obtained by the Citizen indicates that while the Conservative government has supported the plan’s universal nature in public, it has no plans to actually apply the plan in Canada.

“Unlike most of our traditional like-minded countries, Canada has no plans to apply the Post-2015 Agenda domestically, or to take on new reporting obligations beyond what we are currently producing,” reads the memo, prepared for Paradis for a meeting with former governor general and la Francophonie head Michaelle Jean last week.

The memo adds that “there will be international and domestic pressure to commit to domestic action and to report on the targets.” But it says Canada already has a variety of programs at different levels of government, “which aligns well with many of the proposed goals and targets.”

Paradis spokesman Louis Longchamps defended the Conservative government’s record on foreign aid, particularly in responding to humanitarian crises and providing leadership on maternal and child health.

But a number of foreign aid advocates expressed surprise and anger at the government’s position.

“Rather than being a role model, Canada will open the door to other countries also claiming that they don’t need to do anything,” said Stephen Brown, an expert on international development at the University of Ottawa. “The goals are laudable and reaching them would benefit Canadians who are the most in need. How can Canada object to that?”

Edward Jackson, adjunct professor in public administration at Carleton University and a member of the McLeod Group, questioned how the government could credibly call for action on other countries to tackle poverty, food insecurity, lack of education and other challenges when it won’t do the same within its own borders.

“With this kind of blatant contradiction between its foreign and national policies, the Harper government’s voice and credibility in multilateral discussions will be further diminished,” Jackson said.

The briefing memo also shows the government fully cognizant of the fact Canada is sliding further and further away from the internationally accepted goal of spending 0.7 per cent of its gross national income (GNI) on foreign aid, also known as official development assistance (ODA).

“Few developed countries have met this target,” the memo reads. “Canada’s ODA/GNI ratio, however, is relatively low (0.24) and declining.”

The memo says Canada “recognizes that ODA remains important to financing development, particularly for least developed countries and countries with special needs, including fragile and conflict-affected countries.” But it says other means will be needed, including private sector funding, to pay for the new plan.

Bono has been among those urging developed countries like Canada to meet the 0.7 per cent target, which was first endorsed by Canadian prime minister Lester B. Pearson.

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