Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 28, 2005
Canada shortchanges foreign aid
Nation's bishops urge Canada to meet aid target
"It's not that we haven't had the time to develop those (strategies); we're not putting our money where our policy mouth is."
- Joe Gunn
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Canada is failing to live up to its commitment to alleviate worldwide poverty by refusing to set firm targets to contribute 0.7 per cent of its gross national product to foreign aid, critics said.
Women and children
"We're in a situation whereby people have realized for quite some time the need to really develop strategies that include women and children, to work them out of poverty," said Joe Gunn, director of the Canadian bishops' justice, peace and missions secretariat.
"It's not that we haven't had the time to develop those; we're not putting our money where our policy mouth is."
No matter what policies or programs a country implements to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals, without a financial commitment from wealthy countries like Canada, poverty will not be eliminated, said Gunn and other critics.
In 1969, former Prime Minister Lester Pearson led an international commission that advised wealthy countries to contribute 0.7 per cent of gross national product toward alleviating poverty. The United Nations adopted the 0.7 per cent target in 1970.
In 2000, more than 180 UN member nations included the target in their Millennium Development Goals and urged wealthy countries to meet that target contribution by 2015.
The government has argued that it supports the 0.7 per cent target in principle, but that it would be irresponsible to set firm targets that might risk putting Canada into a deficit.
According to UN statistics, Canada spends only 0.26 per cent of its gross national product on foreign aid. Although Canada has committed to an eight per cent a year increase in its foreign aid budget, that number needs to at least double to meet the 2015 target, critics said.
Gunn said that the fact that Pearson set the targets makes it embarrassing that Canada is not going to meet them.
"The other reason why it's embarrassing is we are the only ones with a surplus" among the world's industrialized nations, he said.
Canada's bishops and opposition parties have urged the government to meet this goal.
Prime Minister Paul Martin was criticized for failing to mention the Millennium Development Goals in his speech before the UN General Assembly Sept. 16.
Gerry Barr, co-chair of the Make Poverty History campaign, said Martin missed a "key opportunity to reassert Canadian leadership on the international stage."
"Instead, we have no additional aid resources . . . no commitment from Martin to move toward the 0.7 per cent target for aid spending, and no commitment for legislation focusing Canadian aid on ending poverty," said Barr, whose coalition includes nongovernmental organizations, aid agencies and faith groups.
Barr said Canada had influenced the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to write off the debts of some of the world's poorest countries.
"Canada and other governments are to be congratulated for their efforts in making this debt deal a reality," Barr said.
In an April 22 opinion piece in The Globe and Mail, UN Millennium Project Director Jeffrey Sachs said Canada was spending a far greater proportion on foreign aid in the 1980s when incomes were 20 per cent lower than they are now. "In 2005, Canada's shortfall vis-a-vis 0.7 would be enough to fund an entire global initiative to control malaria in Africa, a disease that kills more than two million children a year," Sachs wrote in the article, co-authored by John McArthur, manager of the millennium project.