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Gerald Caplan

Stephen Harper does the UN - but shouldn't Add to ...

Next week the world gathers at the United Nations to figure out why the Millennium Development Goals are not going to be reached, especially in Africa. The goals were modest enough - eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. Yet, to take child mortality as an example, four million children under 5, most of them in Africa, have died in the decade since the Millennium Summit agreed on these goals, and at the present rate the goal of reducing child mortality by two thirds won't be reached until 2045.

The problem is the only too familiar one - poor governance in much of Africa and the failure of rich countries to fulfill endlessly repeated pledges of support while simultaneously imposing destructive and exploitative policies. But to demonstrate yet again their undying commitment to the same goals as ten years ago, leaders of the rich countries are flocking to the UN meeting in droves, led by Barack Obama himself. Much more important, Stephen Harper will also be there. And speaking.

Mr. Harper has a deep vested interested in this meeting. The ultimate fate of his under-the-radar drive to have Canada elected to a rotating seat on the mighty Security Council might well be decided there. No one is entirely sure why the Prime Ministher is so anxious for his government to be represented on that august body, and he, of course, has never said. But he's spent millions of our dollars having senior civil servants and cabinet ministers jet around the world wooing foreign leaders.



What the Harper government offers is charity and handouts, fish for some rather than all learning to fish.


This project is a bit of an uphill battle, however, since on innumerable different issues the Harper government has almost provocatively alienated other governments. His 110 per cent support for Israel, for example, does not impress the Arab bloc, while peremptorily cutting off aid to eight poor African countries and then freezing all aid to Africa has not exactly made friends on that continent.

But in a world where interests are complex, there are often ways to compensate. For example, Rwanda was one of the countries whose aid was terminated, much to the unconcealed disappointment of its government. But Rwanda also desperately wanted to join the Commonwealth (a move that made little sense in Commonwealth terms) and it seems Canada made a deal: it backed Rwanda's Commonwealth bid in apparent return for Rwanda supporting our Security Council bid. Who knows what other deals Mr. Harper's envoys are making as they quietly traipse around the world?

Of course success also depends on the Harper government's ability to conceal its actual record. But some Canadians are being downright unpatriotic in refusing to co-operate in this effort. Take the back-to-school quiz the McLeod Group has unhelpfully just released. This new organization, comprising some of Canada's most experienced and talented international development experts, somehow thinks it's only right that the world knows what it would be getting if it got Stephen Harper on the Security Council.

So they remind one and all of a few pertinent facts. For example, did you know that all of the following international figures have publicly criticized the Conservative government just in the last five months? Prince Karim Aga Khan, a spiritual leader devoted to the elimination of poverty and the advancement of women; Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General; David Miliband, former British foreign secretary and possible new leader of the British Labor Party; and most famously, Hilary Clinton. Since such folks normally never bad-mouth friendly countries in public, this may well be some kind of record.

But the McLeod Group missed another remarkable example: the attack by Dr. Julio Montaner, an internationally-known Canadian who just stepped down as president of the International AIDS Society. "I am ashamed to say," he told a giant AIDS conference in Vienna in July, "that the government of Canada has punched well below its weight in funding universal access and supporting those affected by HIV and AIDS around the world."

The McLeod quiz reminds us that the Harper government has canceled funding this year for a number of prominent Canadian international NGOs, including International Planned Parenthood Federation, Kairos, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation and Match International. This must be awkward for the government since all have large admiring international constituencies. Why were they cut off? Because all of them advocate for international development based on solidarity and respect. What the Harper government offers instead is charity and handouts, fish for some rather than all learning to fish. If you care about women's equality, for example - one of the most powerful levers of successful development - don't even bother asking CIDA for funds.

Of course when Mr. Harper addresses the General Assembly next week, he will shamelessly boast that he has maintained Canada's aid commitments and more. But Tony Blair's Commission for Africa has just exposed this claim, criticizing Canada for actually lowering its aid target for Africa. Of 22 rich countries, Canada now ranks 18{+t}{+h} in terms of aid as a percentage of gross national income. Of 37 countries and multilateral agencies, the World Bank has just ranked Canada 29th in terms of aid effectiveness

The Commission on Africa describes climate change as a "massive challenge" to Africa's future growth. Yet Canada ranks last among the G8 countries in terms of efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. A prominent Guardian environmental columnist has declared that "Stephen Harper and [Environment Minister]Jim Prentice threaten to do as much damage to [Canada's]international standing as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did to that of the United States."

On peace and security issues, UN peacekeeping is now at an all-time high, with 109,000 peacekeepers in missions across the world. Canada was once proudly among the UN's top contributors to such missions. Now we rank 57{+t}{+h}, with just 27 Canadians deployed as peacekeepers in the traditional sense.

At the United Nations next week, Mr. Harper will witness a group of 60 nations, including France, Britain and Japan, proposing that a tax - a Global Solidarity Levy - be introduced on all international currency transactions to raise funds for development aid. The turnover in foreign exchange markets has now reached an astonishing $4-trillion each day, more than the total output of the U.S. economy in any three month period. More than 80 per cent of these transactions are speculative, as financial institutions trade currencies back and forth to profit from changes in rates. In other words, they produce nothing, contribute nothing, build nothing, add nothing to the wider world. Yet, unlike almost all retail transactions, currency transactions deliver no revenues to public coffers.

At the proposed rate of a miniscule 5/1,000 of one percent, such a levy is estimated to be worth as much as $35-billion a year and yet cost the speculators little. The Harper government, it goes without saying, adamantly opposes this idea, a position well-noted by its 60 sponsors.

Both as a sometime-political strategist and as someone who's been involved with the United Nations for decades, I have some advice for the Prime Minister, Cancel your trip. Don't show up. The less attention you draw to your record, the greater the chance of Canada being elected to that tantalizing Security Council seat.

Gerald Caplan is a former New Democratic Party national campaign director and is author of The Betrayal of Africa

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