Harper fails UN poverty test

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      An SFU public-policy professor says the recent Conservative budget is yet another example of the federal government not fully living up to its promise to help the world's poor overcome poverty, lack of education, and disease.

      "In general, Canada has not spent enough on development," John Richards told the Georgia Straight. "This has been a long tradition where Canada is low in the share of its GDP [gross domestic product] devoted to development."

      Richards, a former NDP MLA in Saskatchewan, believes that the country can do more to meet a prime objective of the UN Millennium Declaration, which calls for "freeing the entire human race from want". Adopted in 2000 by 189 nations, the declaration served as the basis for concrete targets known as the Millennium Development Goals. One of these called on rich countries to set aside 0.7 percent of their gross national income for aid.

      According to Statistics Canada, the GNI measures income earned by a country's residents, whereas GDP measures the value of goods and services produced.

      Richards noted that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is merely following Liberal governments of Jean Chrí‰tien and Paul Martin. He said that the level of Canadian foreign aid is pegged between 0.3 and 0.35 percent, or roughly half of the 0.7-percent goal.

      "'We're going to try', as I can remember, was the commitment of the previous Liberal government," he said. "There's not much change that is going to take place. This [Conservative] government has said it will do the same."

      According to the UN's 2006 Millennium Development Goals report, only five countries–Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden–have met the aid target of 0.7 percent of gross national income. "If all donors honour their commitments, aid is expected to reach $130 billion by 2010," it said.

      Liberal foreign-affairs critic Ujjal Dosanjh maintained that the previous government at least made a commitment to meet aid targets. "This government has no commitment to international goals," Dosanjh told the Straight. "The way we're going, we won't meet the 0.7-percent target for some time."

      Dosanjh also asserted that because of the budget deficit left behind by the Brian Mulroney's Conservative government, successive Liberal regimes can't be blamed for not significantly increasing aid levels. "Mulroney and the Conservatives almost made us into a banana republic," he said.

      The Ottawa-based Canadian Council for International Co-operation had taken note of Harper's election-campaign promise for a one-time increase of $425 million to boost aid spending, followed by steps to increase spending to reach the average level of all donor countries by 2010.

      "This would have improved Canada's performance as an international aid donor," CCIC president and CEO Gerry Barr said in a March 19 news release. "But that's where the government has failed to deliver."

      The same news release noted that Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's March 19 budget added $315 million to Canada's Official Development Assistance for the current year 2006-2007, but identified no new funding initiatives for 2007-2008.

      The CCIC estimates that Canadian ODA for 2006-2007 will be $4.6 billion, or 0.33 percent of gross national income and will remain at $4.6 billion in 2007-2008 or 0.32 percent of the national income.

      Jeffrey Sachs, the former special advisor to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, wrote in his 2005 book The End of Poverty: How We Can Make It Happen in Our Lifetime (Penguin Books) that a person who lives on less than US$1 per day is in "extreme poverty". According to World Bank economists Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion, Sachs reported, 1.1 billion lived in "extreme poverty" in 2001, down from 1.5 billion in 1981.