Beyond the Millennium Development Goals: Where will Canada’s focus be?
May 28, 2014
Published in iPolitics
As Canada prepares its plans for the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) agenda, experts are divided on where the government should focus its aid efforts in the coming years.
The MDGs were developed in 2000, when world leaders came together at the United Nations to adopt the Millennium Declaration committing member states to a global partnership to reduce extreme poverty by setting a series of targets with a deadline of 2015. Those targets became known as the MDGs and set eight main goals.
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- Achieve universal primary education
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality rates
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other disease
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Develop a global partnership for development
With the 2015 deadline fast approaching, there are questions lingering about the focus of future Canadian aid and the role Canada can play in developing the next round of MDGs which, it is generally agreed, would work towards a deadline of 2030. And while some voices are calling for a renewed commitment to meeting funding goals first pondered in the 1960s, others say the page has turned on aid and the conversation needs to turn with it.
Speaking in Ottawa last week, economist and development expert John McArthur called on Canada to set out a detailed plan to meet a decades-long United Nations agreement to address extreme poverty. McArthur, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and senior fellow at the UN Foundation, said Canada must find a way to commit 0.7 per cent of its gross national income (GNI) to Official Development Assistance (ODA), without hitting the country’s pocketbooks too hard.
“I don’t want anyone to feel like this agenda is digging into their pocket today. I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think the politics will allow it and I don’t think it’s reasonable given where the world is,” said McArthur.
The 0.7 per cent target was originally proposed by former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson who, in 1969, led a UN commission on the subject. The Pearson Commission proposed that 0.7 per cent of donor gross national product — now referred to as gross national income — be committed to ODA “by 1975 and in no case later than 1980.” The suggestion was formulated into a UN resolution in 1970, which Canada agreed to.
For more than 40 years, the international community has continually reaffirmed its commitment to the 0.7 per cent target, with the UN Millennium Project recently emphasizing the importance of developed countries reaching it. But according to development experts, Canada has yet to set out a detailed plan for how it is going to reach that goal.
According to recent data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Canada’s ratio of aid to national income was only 0.27 per cent in 2013. According to the same data, Canada’s rank by ratio of aid to national income amongst the OECD’s 29 Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries fell from 15th in 2012 to 17th in 2013.
In his address last week to the Ottawa Forum, a foreign policy conference jointly hosted by the Canadian International Council and the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies, McArthur presented what he called an “incredibly practical” plan for Canada to meet the 0.7 per cent target by 2025.
“I want to suggest that we take just two cents out of every next dollar of economic growth for the next decade and allocate it to these challenges.”
McArthur’s plan would leave Canada’s current income untouched, as it would only apply to future growth.
“We’re a 1.5 trillion (dollar) economy. We’re scheduled to get to 2 (trillion dollars) by 2025. That works out — that extra $500 billion — to about $10 billion extra for this agenda. That takes us to 0.7 (per cent),” MrArthur said.
By adding this much money to global development funds, McArthur said Canada would earn itself “a front seat” at international development talks.
Fraser Reilly-King, aid and international co-operation policy analyst at Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), agrees with McArthur that the 0.7 per cent target is important from a political standpoint. While many developed countries, including the U.S. and Canada, have not come anywhere near the target, the U.K. reached the 0.7 per cent target for the first time in 2013.
Reilly-King said the Canadian government has never set out a detailed timetable to reach the target. He called on the government to set some goals in this area.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be to 0.7, but just having the forward-looking projections on where Canada’s aid budget is going would be helpful,” he said.
But there doesn’t seem to be consensus in the aid community regarding the emphasis on the 0.7 per cent target. Shannon Kindornay, a researcher with the North-South Institute, said the focus on this target is “only one little piece of the puzzle.”
“I’m probably a bit of an outlier in being quite critical of the 0.7 per cent figure because it doesn’t actually tell us what developing countries need. It’s a mobilizing effort to get more aid from developed countries, but that doesn’t actually tell me if we will meet that 0.7 per cent and maybe allocate that money very poorly,” said Kindornay.
Kindornay said the government’s focus should be on questions of trade, foreign investment and illicit capital flights in order to make Canada a progressive contributor on the international stage.
The notion of incorporating trade and foreign investment into development aid talks is one that has been recently adopted at DFATD, under the Global Markets Action Plan. The plan lays out the government’s new strategic focus on “economic diplomacy,” which puts commerce at the centre of Canadian foreign policy.
Looking forward to the post-2015 MDGs, Kindornay, who regularly liaises with the DFATD team dedicated to this issue, said there have been consultations done with civil society organizations about Canada’s international focus for the agenda. However, she expressed concern about the government’s poor public engagement with provinces on the issue.
“The post-2015 agenda, the universality of it, means that it will not just be about what Canada does internationally, but will be also about how Canada implements it here,” said Kindornay. “If we’re talking about environmental sustainability, you’re going to have to have provinces buy in. If you’re going to talk about energy, you’re going to have to have the provinces buy in, or health, or education.”
The government is also supporting the UN’s 27-member high-level panel, which will provide recommendations about the global development framework beyond 2015.
In an email to iPolitics’ Tuesday, DFATD said Canada has contributed to the post-2015 MDG agenda in four main ways: by providing $1.3 million for the UN-led global thematic and country consultations on the post-2015 agenda; by co-sponsoring the 2013 Global Thematic Consultation on Education in Senegal; by participating in consultations on inequality, food security and nutrition; and by supporting the 2014 UN dialogue on Participatory Monitoring for Accountability, which will identify accountability mechanisms to inform the post-2015 process.
In recent years, the Canadian government has focused much of its foreign aid on global newborn, child and maternal health. Harper will hold a summit in Toronto this week to review global progress on this front to date and chart the way forward for international efforts beyond 2015.
In addition to advancing newborn, child and maternal health, DFATD said Canada will also prioritize the following issues in its post-2015 MDG agenda: support for the poorest and most vulnerable people, including women and children; jobs and sustainable economic growth; support for “realistic, focused and measurable” goals; and development aid accountability.