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Opinion

Canada post-2015: Confronting our own development challenges

April 14, 2014

by SHANNON KINDORNAY

Published in Canadian Government Executive

Deliberations and negotiations in the United Nations are intensifying on what the successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals should be as the MDG end date – 2015 – approaches. There is broad consensus that the post-2015 framework should include goals, targets and indicators, as is the case with the MDGs.

But the architecture that frames the post-2015 agenda looks set to differ from the MDGs in some significant ways. The framework will likely be universal, applying to all countries, not just developing ones. It appears likely that countries will have greater space to determine their own post-2015 development targets, and the corresponding indicators by which they measure progress. It is also likely that the range of issues prioritized in the global framework will be broader and, in many ways, more complex, reflecting a sustainable development agenda, as that incorporates economic, social and environmental factors.

And to better understand how progress is distributed within society, progress against the post-2015 goals will be measured in a disaggregated way.

If signed onto, the universal agenda will have a number of implications for Canada. It will require greater humility from developed countries, Canada included, in terms of recognizing and addressing shared development challenges on the global stage. Issues like poverty, inequality, food security, environmental sustainability and the realization of human rights are universal in nature – they are not just developing country issues, if they ever were.

Canada has its own unique development challenges. For example, the Canadian economy is heavily centred on the natural resource sector, including non-renewable energy. Inequality has grown in the past decades and Canada has significant Indigenous minority populations that have historically experienced marginalization in terms of economic and social development.

Under the new framework, all countries will need to recognize and address their development challenges. This will mean reducing inequality and poverty, transitioning toward more sustainable energy, consumption and production practices, and securing the rights of marginalized and vulnerable populations. Progress in these areas will be measured in affluent and poorer countries alike. This represents a significant shift from the MDGs, where progress was only tracked in low- and middle-income countries.

At the same time, countries like Canada will need to balance obligations under the global agenda at home with those abroad. Indeed, a lot is expected of developed countries in terms of supporting international development and investing in global public goods, such as a stable international financial system. For Canada, this would mean increasing its commitment to aid, and making concrete efforts to support a fair global trading system, the reduction of illicit flows and tax evasion, and a stable international financial system.

From a practical perspective, a universal post-2015 agenda will formally internationalize domestic policy agendas. Canada will need to translate international commitments into domestic policies and targets for progress. On one hand, this could require greater coherence across government departments and between different levels of government, facilitated by the federal government. At the federal level, departments for health and agriculture, for example, would play a role in supporting international commitments – translated to domestic targets – in health and sustainable agricultural production. Provinces and municipalities would also need to be involved for commitments relating to sustainable energy production and reducing reliance on non-renewable natural resources, infrastructure development and social sectors.

To ensure efficient and effective implementation of the post-2015 agenda in Canada, the federal government would likely need to invest in developing a coherent vision and plan for post-2015 implementation in consultation with appropriate government stakeholders (broadly understood) as well as civil society and the private sector.

On the other hand, space exists for leadership to emerge on post-2015 priority areas across different levels of government. For example, Calgary and Toronto have already adopted action plans to address climate change. In the context of post-2015 discussions, there is recognition that sub-national levels of government can help achieve sustainable development goals. Similarly, non-state actors in Canada, such as the private sector and civil society, could serve as champions on and key supporters for the post-2015 agenda.

Looking toward 2015, Canada will need to make some big decisions. Will we sign onto an ambitious, universal agenda that requires us to turn the spotlight not only on our role in supporting development abroad but also on our development challenges at home? If so, will the political appetite exist across government departments to see through implementation in the spirit of the agenda?