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Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Melinda Gates visited Davisville Public School in Toronto on Thursday, May 29, 2014, as part of a summit on maternal health. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Melinda Gates visited Davisville Public School in Toronto on Thursday, May 29, 2014, as part of a summit on maternal health.

(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

The Globe speaks to Stephen Harper and Melinda Gates about maternal and child health Add to ...

So, you know, there used to be a view in the past. And I think not just a Canadian view, a widespread view, that there was humanitarian assistance and then there was, you know, businesses and others building the economy. You’ve got to marry that, to some degree, if you’re going to get the long-term results you want.

The other thing we’ve been doing, we’ve actually done even before that, as I was saying to Melinda [Gates] earlier, is we’ve been moving our aid towards organizations and programs that actually deliver services on the ground.

Now, it’s not to say that we never fund a conference, we’re funding this conference [the maternal and child health summit]. But we’re getting away from talk shops and merely advocacy. Because my experience, our experience has been Canadians want to see results. And one of the things the Gates Foundation has done – I think Melinda probably understates it – I think the Gates Foundation has really shaken up a lot of the humanitarian aid world because it has focused on accountability, on measuring of results about being able to explain how what you’re doing actually makes a difference, as opposed to just talking about it.

And that’s tended to permeate not just what we’re doing but what a lot of international organizations are doing.

I want to pick up on what you said about talk shops. You’ve chosen not to participate in certain things that the United Nations has worked on partly for that reason. Yet what you’re working on here, with the maternal and child health initiative, has a lot of connections to multilateral organizations, to the United Nations, obviously, [with a focus on] two millennium development goals. What makes this different and worth engaging on?

I was going to say, the other thing I should have mentioned, we’ve done of course in our development policy is try and focus our efforts. You know, we found that if you’re on every issue in every single part of the world, you don’t accomplish much. So we’ve obviously tried to focus on this.

I think the truth is you have to examine all of these various organizations and activities and objectives on their own merits. You know, I think there was a view in the past that here was some international body, UN body or some initiative, and Canada’s international share is four per cent so Canada should just give four per cent.

Well that’s actually not our view. Our view is, is it effective? Is it something we want to focus on, or if it isn’t effective, it’s something we don’t want to focus on. And so I think we’re trying to be more selective, more effective and achieve results for Canadians, particularly when dollars are involved.

So it sounds like it’s a question of really thinking through which are the circumstances and the particular initiatives that Canada wants to engage on?

The particular initiatives. But also, look, to be blunt, some international organizations, particularly some United Nations bodies are much more effective than others.

You spoke yesterday about calling on Canadians to consider why they should be thinking about foreign aid. When Canadians are thinking about their own economy, when they’re thinking about Canada’s, in some ways, struggling economy at times, why should their taxpayer dollars be going to developing countries?

I think you only would use the phrase Canada’s struggling economy if you didn’t go to any other economy. There’s a few others that are doing as well, and even a couple doing better than ours. But you know, we’re one of the very few large powerful,wealthy and growing economies in the world.

And I don’t want to minimize the challenges that, you know, we have as a government between our own domestic priorities or the challenges people have in their own lives, with various financial demands. But I think you would find there are very few Canadians – I mentioned a million who are contributing to this initiative in some way. There’d be very few of those who think that the money they’re giving and what they know it’s doing, that they don’t feel it isn’t worth it.

We give this simple example of the Vitamin A capsules. Really a Canadian innovation. Two capsules, two cents each. Four cents a year for a child, reduces mortality by 25 per cent. Whose budget is so tight that they can’t see it in their hearts why that would not be worthwhile to do?

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