Broken Promises

Posted on Friday, February 25 at 09:13 by Reverend Blair

It is very much a self-perpetuating problem driven by the economic dominance and indifference towards humanity that the developed nations of the world display abroad but deny at home. We allow, even encourage, our corporations to send manufacturing jobs off shore to take advantage of cheap labour and lesser or nonexistent human rights and environmental regulations. Instead of using trade initiatives to raise the standards in the developing world, we implement trade deals that make massive profits for our corporations while providing inexpensive goods to fuel our economies. Instead of providing the aid we agreed to over thirty years ago, we use aid programs to further our own interests and use World Bank and International Monetary Fund programs to keep developing countries in crippling debt.

When one looks at the goals stated in the United Nations Millennium Project and what we’ve actually done since those goals were written, the blatant hypocrisy of the developed world is embarrassing. We talk about debt reduction and actually do a bit there, but our policies caused much of the debt. We talk about aid, but only five countries have achieved the 0.7% of Gross Domestic Product that we have pledged for that aid. We talk about peacekeeping but do not send sufficient forces with sufficient authority to be effective; if we send them at all.

As world leaders the countries of the west and north have failed dismally. The UNICEF UK report drags that once again out into the light. They are pressuring the Blair government to increase aid spending. Under the current plan, Britain would finally reach its pledged 0.7% of GDP going to foreign aid in the year 2013. France is on a similar schedule.

Canada, while it prefers to compare itself to the USA’s very low 0.16% of GDP, is certainly no prize. We managed 0.26% of GDP last year and 0.25% the year before that.

The Conservative Party, Bloc Québécois, and NDP sent a letter signed by their three federal leaders and dated February 17, 2005, to Paul Martin. The urgency of the need for an increase in spending in this area is underlined not only by all three of the opposition parties co-operating to have funding levels raised, but by one very telling line in the letter: “Every day, nearly 50,000 humans die from poverty-related causes – one third of all daily deaths throughout the world. Nothing takes a greater toll.” Children, of course, suffer disproportionately from poverty-related causes.

The 2005 Federal Budget, boasts about a rise in international aid, saying, “Boosting international assistance by $3.4 billion over the next five years with the goal of doubling assistance from 2001–02 levels by 2010–11”; so it seems pressure from the opposition had some effect. That is spread out over five years, though, and we’ve all seen spending get put on the back burner or just plain disappear into the ether if it isn’t directed at corporate interests. The doubling of the funding also only represents (if Canada’s GDP remains exactly where it is) a rise to just over 0.5% of GDP by 2010. It is extremely unlikely that our GDP won’t rise.

According to the Canada Commission for International Cooperation (CCIC), an annual increase of 12% to 15% to Canada’s aid funding is needed for us to reach our goal of 0.7% of GDP by 2015. Considering that Canada brought forth the idea of wealthy nations contributing to the 0.7% level in 1969, it is well past time that we attempted to achieve that goal.

Not long ago Paul Martin said that “the number of humans who subsist on a dollar a day in this world is unacceptable and …I’m going to tell you I am not going to leave that to my children and grandchildren nor to yours…” But it appears that is exactly what he is doing. Politicians in their late sixties who lead minority governments and come up with five-year plans that do not meet their specified goals are, by definition, leaving the problem for somebody else to solve.

The real problem with the worldwide child poverty crisis isn’t when it will be solved or even how to solve it in the end. Proper funding is required and it is required sooner rather than later, but the real problem is that the lack of political will by leaders like Paul Martin reveals a disrespect for the people of developing nations that won’t soon be forgotten. Actions, as the old saying goes, speak louder than words. Our actions have sent a message of apathy for far too long.

In 1969 the Liberal Party in Canada said that developed nations should fund international aid to the tune of 0.7% of GDP. They took the idea out into the international community in 1970 and got the member nations of the UN to agree. Only five countries, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, have reached the level of aid that they pledged in 1970.

Paul Martin cut foreign aid by $2.8 billion throughout his term as Finance Minister in the 1990's.

We have backed the policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, putting the profits of corporations ahead of the well-being of poor nations and the people that live there. Developing nations have been pushed into debt as a result and now we are offering them inadequate debt relief and expecting them to be forever grateful.

We formed the Canada Corp but its funding has been uncertain and it does not have a solid mandate. It operates at the will of the Minister of International Co-operation and most people are not even aware of its existence.

We formed the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), but the funding has been suspect; it also often seems to be promoting our own interests ahead of what is best for the people it claims to be helping.

While the people working for Canada Corps and CIDA do their best and should be applauded, the organizations are at the mercy of politicians. There have been a lot of feel-good photo-ops, but when the cameras go away the funding isn’t there, or else the programs are cancelled for political reasons. In the end the best intentions of front-line workers are undermined by the short-term political goals of our leaders.

That really isn’t a very good record. Especially when one takes into consideration that the causes of war, terrorism, civil unrest, disease epidemic, starvation, lack of fresh drinking water, and so many of the social ills that face the developing world have their roots deeply planted in poverty and the imperialism of the past and present.

If the developed nations of the world--the countries that proudly proclaim their membership in organizations like the G-7 and OECD--had fulfilled our self-imposed obligations in the first place, what we now will have to pay would have been much lower. If, at the very least, we would have used tools like trade deals to help the nations that needed it in the first place, we might not have 50,000 people dying of poverty every day and UNICEF might not have had to issue that ECE Report on Child Poverty.

We chose not to help, though. Paul Martin made that decision for us very clearly time after time. He did it with the support of Bay Street and to the accolades of those who have represented the various incarnations of Canada’s Conservative Party. Martin is still not doing enough and what he is doing is coming into effect too slowly. He’s still getting accolades from Conservatives and applause from Bay Street.

The results of Martin’s policies are something his children and grandchildren will have to deal with in a very real way. In the meantime other people’s children are dying.

[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on February 27, 2005]

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