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UN Development Chief Helen Clark pictured during an interview May 26, 2015 in Ottawa.

Dave Chan/Dave Chan

Ottawa will be called upon to boost its foreign aid spending significantly during a major development financing meeting in July, the head of a United Nations program says.

Helen Clark, administrator of the UN's development program, said in an interview that Canada and other wealthy countries will be expected to lay out a timetable for increasing spending on international assistance. The federal government spent just 0.24 per cent of gross national income on official foreign aid last year, well below a long-standing target of 0.7 per cent.

The issue of development financing will be at the centre of a conference this summer in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the international community will try to determine how to finance the United Nations' new sustainable-development goals. The new objectives, which range from ending poverty to combatting climate change, will replace the UN millennium development goals when they expire at the end of this year.

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Financing the new targets will require trillions of dollars, well beyond what can be provided through traditional, government-led assistance. Bridging that gap will force the international community to look beyond official aid, Ms. Clark said, but that will not let countries like Canada off the hook for meeting the 0.7-per-cent goal. "Developing countries will want to see developed countries renew their commitment to [spending] 0.7 per cent and put a time frame on it," said Ms. Clark, who has served as administrator of the development program since 2009. "… It's the accepted target, and people ideally should meet their commitments, of course."

A spokesman for International Development Minister Christian Paradis said in an e-mail that Ottawa is committed to helping people in poverty and responding to humanitarian crises. And he pointed to an initiative announced in this year's federal budget as a means to encourage the private sector to consider development-focused investments.

Ms. Clark commended the Canadian government for its efforts to improve maternal and child health in low-income countries, two of the core targets in the original eight millennium development goals. However, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also expressed concern that shifting to an expected 17 global development goals after 2015 could detract from that focus.

Ms. Clark said the new goals will allow low-income countries to continue their focus on the most fundamental development issues, including maternal and child health. "The Prime Minister's absolutely right to emphasize [that] maternal mortality rates are far too high, infant and child death rates are still too high," she said, adding that the UN would not forget the "unfinished business" of the current development targets.

During a visit to Ottawa this week, Ms. Clark said she discussed the importance of reaching the 0.7-per-cent target and spoke with Canadian officials about how government assistance can help mobilize additional funds, including from the private sector.

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