Canada cheap on G8 maternal health, foreign aid: report
Kenneth Roth, executive director of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, gestures during a press conference Saturday, April 24, 2010 in Manila's financial district of Makati, Phillippines. (AP / Pat Roque)
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, June 9, 2010 6:54AM EDT
OTTAWA - Canada should be spending hundreds of millions more on its signature G8 maternal health initiative, a major anti-poverty coalition says.
And the Conservative government's plan to freeze foreign aid spending next year will only make matters worse, the Make Poverty History coalition concludes in a report to be released Wednesday.
Its criticism of Ottawa's overseas spending is the latest in a series of negative reviews for the Harper government's foreign policy performance as it prepares to host the G8 and G20 summits this month.
The heads of the Commonwealth and la Francophonie will also lobby Harper personally Wednesday in Ottawa to give climate change a more prominent position on the G20 agenda. They will argue that the effects of rising greenhouses gases on poor countries -- especially small island states that face extinction -- are dire and need to be dealt with at the summit.
Make Poverty History is to present its report card on Canada's progress meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to reduce global poverty by 2015. The coalition praises Canada for its contributions to food aid, gender equality, and the fight against diseases such as malaria, TB and AIDS.
"But Canada's contribution falls short of what is needed" on improving maternal health, as well as ensuring environmental sustainability and giving all children access to universal primary education, the report states.
Canada may inject $1 billion into the maternal health initiative at the G8, but only if other countries ante up. Make Poverty History is calling on Canada to contribute $1.4 billion over five years.
In 2000, Canada endorsed the UN millennium goals that seek to raise up the poor world in a variety of ways by 2015. The Harper government now finds its international ambitions tied to those UN goals. It wants to showcase Canada on the international stage at the two summits and is seeking a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council this fall.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has said Canada's $5-billion foreign aid budget will be frozen next year to help fight the deficit. But the report calls on Canada to institute a 10-year plan to boost foreign aid to 0.7 per cent of GDP, up from the current 0.33. That ranks Canada 14th out of 23 major donor countries in foreign aid spending, it states.
"Canada has a crucial leadership role as host of the G8 and G20 summits in June 2010. The two summits represent a critical opportunity to inspire a redoubling of efforts required to achieve the MDGs by the 2015 target date," the report says.
On climate change, the report says "Canada has a long way to go to become a leader in environmental sustainability."
It calls on Canada to come up with at least $1 billion toward the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference plan for a $30-billion fund to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change.
The Commonwealth and la Francophonie represent more than 100 English- and French-speaking countries, represent small nations that face major environmental challenges. That includes extinction for some small island states due to rising sea levels.
"Countries like that are looking to see how the G8 and G20 helps them be more resilient to climate change," Commonwealth Secretariat spokesman Manoah Esipisu said Tuesday from London.
"There is a concern that Europe's deficit problems and how Europe is handing its economy could pretty much sideline the key things for developing countries."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said recently that all other issues are "sideshow" to the global economic recovery, which would be the primary focus of the summits he will host later this month.
The head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, told a University of Ottawa graduating class in a speech this week that Canada has abdicated its foreign policy values as a mid-sized power.
"Canada punched above its weight. It was a nation to be contended with. Now, unfortunately, Canada is barely punching at all. Yes, it will still host the G8 summit later this month, but it is no longer seen as a strong moral voice on key international issues," Roth said.