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(Anthony Jenkins)
(Anthony Jenkins)

Money for real things like fake lakes, but not poverty Add to ...

A coalition of anti-poverty groups including the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) will tell G8 and G20 countries on Wednesday that they have fallen short of the goals set 10 years ago to address the problems facing the world's poor.

"Anybody who thinks about Canada's overall performance so far as the Millennium Development goals are concerned will not be able to avoid noticing that, while it has aspirations - for example, on the side of mother-child health, the slowest-moving Millennium Development goal on the list - and while it's important that Canada has made a commitment on mother-child health, it is a plain and obvious example of one-step forward, two steps back," said CCIC chair Gerry Barr.

Canada is one of the most financially robust countries in the world and yet it is freezing its aid spending, said Mr. Barr. "If you are one of the most robust nations in the world and you are freezing your aid spending, what the heck do you think it says to others?" he asked.

It's not the first time that Mr. Barr or the CCIC, the umbrella group for Canadian aid agencies, has been critical of the Conservative government. The group was also critical of Liberal governments of the past.

But Mr. Barr said there is a price to be paid for speaking out against the Conservatives. The CCIC's funding has not been renewed.

"We're into overtime with it. They have extended us financially until July 15, but there is an ominous and eloquent silence at the other end of the line," said Mr. Barr. "I am pretty persuaded that this going to be a billboard message to the entire sector."

It's not about money, he said. If the government can afford to spend $2-million to build a pavilion with a fake lake lake for reporters attending the G20 summit, "it can certainly afford $1.5-million for the central body for the country's aid agencies," he said.

Other governments have gritted their teeth in the face of the CCIC's criticism but have not decided to cut off that voice, Mr. Barr said. "Here we have a uniquely different moment and the government has decided to send a message to the entire sector and it is 'watch out what you say. It will cost you a very great deal.'"

The irony, said Mr. Barr, is that the strategy won't work. The CCIC will continue to exist and the sector, he said, will be even more convinced "that the government needs a critical analysis."

***

Speaking of the summits - the government has spent much of the past week defending the billion-dollar price tag of the two international meetings it will host later this month in Muskoka and Toronto.

But the controversy surrounding Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to exclude abortion as part of the maternal and child health initiative he plans to pitch to his world counterparts has not gone away .

At noon on Wednesday in front of Parliament's Centre Block, abortion-rights advocates will perform what they are calling "performance art in memory of the thousands of women who died from botched abortions."

The group says that a woman dies every eight minutes somewhere in the world from a botched abortion and that 20 million unsafe abortions occur every year.

"We really want to get the message out that there are women behind these numbers," said Wendy Miller, one of the organizers.

"We are trying to dispel the belief that people have that getting an abortion is an easy choice for somebody," said Ms. Miller. "It's a life-and-death situation and there is just a lot of butchery going on out there."

Mr. Harper has said there are many ways that development money could be used to improve the lives of mothers and their babies without funding abortions - an issue that he said divides Canadians.

***

Chatter about a possible coalition between the Liberals and the New Democrats has been bouncing around Ottawa for months but has certainly become louder in recent weeks with people like former Prime Minister Jean Chretien giving what could be interpreted as an endorsement.

This story on the CBC is bound to add some fuel to the fire.

Warren Kinsella, a former adviser to Jean Chrétien who was, for a time, the man designated to lead the war room for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, says, "Serious people are involved in discussions at a serious level."

Mr. Ignatieff has said no coalition until after the next election. That could mean he would run the Liberals as a separate party and then make a play for power by joining with the NDP if he loses. Or it could mean that a trouncing of the Liberals would prompt the two parties to start talking seriously with each other to form a new party that would take on the Conservatives in an election down the road.

Either way, there are voices within both the Liberals and the New Democrats that are urging their parties against any discussion of a coalition. The NDP and the Liberals have two different cultures and both are proud of their histories - especially the New Democrats.

The merger between the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives, by comparison, was easily accomplished because it was essentially a reunion of a party that had split in the not-so-distant past. And it had the unyielding hand of Stephen Harper to guide it.

Not so a coalition of the left.

So, while the Liberals and the NDP may be frustrated with their inability to chip away at the Conservative hold on government to the point that they are prepared to contemplate a coalition, it would be easier said than done.

 

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