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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Anti-poverty summit a chance for Harper to rally countries to step up Add to ...

As Canada prepares to take the spotlight at an anti-poverty summit in New York, it faces a simple challenge: stand and deliver.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will join a parade of world leaders who have begun addressing the gathering, each one exhorting their peers to redouble efforts toward specific targets aimed at improving the lives of the world's poor by 2015.

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Some groups said they expected Mr. Harper to announce further funding for the Global Fund to Fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Prime Minister's Office did not confirm the plan.

From one angle, Canada has a good story to tell. It will highlight its push to better the health of mothers and children worldwide, a priority that's included in the objectives at the heart of the summit at the United Nations.

But it will also face doubts about its broader commitment to development aid. While Canada appears to be taking the lead on a focused issue related to women and children, activists note it has frozen its overall budget for overseas assistance.

David Morley, president of Save the Children Canada, says that in his discussions so far with summit attendees, whether government officials or other experts, the reaction to Canada's efforts come with caveats.

They applaud the fact that Canada has "demonstrated moral and financial leadership" on maternal and child health with the Muskoka Initiative announced this summer, he says. But they also ask, he adds, "'How come you've frozen your foreign aid?'"

The summit presents a natural window for the Harper government to deepen the process begun in at the June G8 summit in Muskoka, experts say. In New York, the Prime Minister has a chance "to encourage countries who have given to give more, and persuade countries who haven't given anything to participate," says Dave Toycen, president of World Vision Canada. "That's the opportunity."

Any success in rallying resources will also burnish Canada's credentials with the developing nations that hold decisive votes in the country's campaign to win a two-year seat on the UN Security Council. The vote will take place next month and the government is mounting a full-court press to secure the position. Mr. Harper will speak not once, but twice at the UN this week, first as part of the anti-poverty summit and later in a general session that takes place each September.

With just five years left in the drive to meet the so-called Millennium Development Goals, none of the targets are on track to be achieved by the deadline. Diplomats from around the world have hashed out a draft statement that aims to energize the process, but activists worry that it is long on promises and short on specifics.

In just one stark reminder of what's at stake in the discussions, Amnesty International placed a "maternal death clock" timed to the summit's start in New York's Times Square. By early evening on the meeting's first day, nearly 400 women worldwide had died giving birth, according to Amnesty's tally, or one every 90 seconds.

The public outcome of the summit is reflected in the contents of the draft statement, but there is also a frenzy of activity taking place behind closed doors. In just one example of the myriad discussions under way, there was a private government briefing on Monday for Canadian organizations attending the summit.

The gathering is also proving a chance to start negotiating looming issues, for instance, how to replenish funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Widely considered one of the most potent health initiatives on the planet, the fund will hold a conference in early October to gather pledges for the third time in its eight-year history, a process sure to be complicated by ongoing economic stress.

For New Yorkers, the summit is presenting a familiar tableau of barricaded city blocks, snarled traffic and impassioned demonstrations. It also has a full complement of elegant events that appear at odds with the causes they champion.

The juxtaposition of sometimes swank surroundings with events on severe deprivation is "bizarre" at times, says Mr. Morley of Save the Children. "Jamborees are nice, but it's got to move things forward. Something real has to come out of this, otherwise it's a failure."

With a report from Campbell Clark in Ottawa

Follow on Twitter: @jslaternyc

 

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