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Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin. (Harrison Smith/Harrison Smith for The Globe and Mail)
Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin. (Harrison Smith/Harrison Smith for The Globe and Mail)

Paul Martin bitter over Canada's downsized millennium aid goals Add to ...

Ten years ago, the world set Millennium Development Goals for lifting the world's poor out of misery by 2015. Progress has lagged. Stephen Harper and other world leaders meet at the UN for three days beginning Monday to discuss redoubling the efforts.

Mr. Harper's predecessor, Paul Martin, was prime minister during the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, at which leaders pledged massive aid increases to meet the goals. He's bitter his Gleneagles promise to double annual aid to Africa to $2.8-billion was retallied to only $2.1-billion by Mr. Harper. Still, Mr. Martin, now working with African development projects, applauds Mr. Harper's G8 maternal health initiative, but says more of the world must renew efforts to reach millennium goals. He spoke to The Globe and Mail about the UN summit.

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There's been past commitments, but slow progress on some millennium goals. Should we believe the UN summit will lead to progress?

Yes. There's increasing recognition that one of the worst things you can do to a developing country is build up expectations and then not meet them. The effect on government budgets, on morale, on people who believe they're about to receive help, and then don't, is in many ways worse than if it had never been promised. Ban Ki-Moon has said world leaders will adopt detailed and concrete action plans to deliver on their promises.

You were at the 2005 Gleneagles G8 summit, where leaders committed aid increases to meet millennium goals. Did the world go off track?

That's the reason that in terms of the doubling of aid to Africa, I set out a number, and said it's not subject to revision. When the Canadian numbers were revised down, that was a reneging on our commitment. The "reclarifying" of numbers, which Canada, Italy and France engaged in, is exactly the kind of thing that must not happen in the future.

Some countries were reluctant to make big long-term commitments to the maternal health initiative at this year's G8. Is it realistic to expect that in the current economy?

I would certainly hope the countries that did agree will deliver on their commitments. But the proposal on maternal health should have been brought to the G20, not only the G8. A lot of [G20]countries, such as Korea, Brazil, are increasing their aid budgets. The Koreans have put development on the [G20]agenda. In addition to infrastructure, they've made education a priority. I hope there will be a buy-in that leads to greater economic growth. Aid alone can't do it - you have to get economic growth within the countries.

There's a second context. An increasing percentage of the poor live in middle-income countries. China, India, these are now middle-income countries. A substantial portion of the improvement in poverty is taking place in those countries, but we can ask them to do more, as we ask ourselves.

What is needed beyond pledges of money?

First of all, the answer doesn't mean they can be forgiven their commitment of money to the MDGs. Is money the only thing? No. Recipient countries have got to come to the table. When the MDGs were set up, it was with governments that said they would do certain things, for instance in education, and a number of those countries have not done it.

Is there international aid fatigue?

No. I don't think so. The [budget-cutting]British government, as an example, ring-fenced two areas that would not be cut. One was foreign aid. What happened? The economic crisis hit just when we were beginning to see considerable progress. Since the turn of the century, diseases like malaria are being tackled effectively, primary education was increasing, the number of people who died from AIDS declined. The recession has done real damage to this progress.

What do you think Canada has done right and wrong?

I don't think Canada should have reneged on its commitment to Africa. On the other hand, I think the maternal health proposal was a very good proposal. I hope countries live up to their commitments, and I'm sure Canada will.

Follow on Twitter: @camrclark

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