Prime Minister Stephen Harper will use his address at the UN on Tuesday to announce a significant increase in funding to the fight against malaria, tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS in the developing world, CBC News has learned.
Government and NGO sources have confirmed that Harper will pledge money to the Global Fund, an organization founded in 2002 that runs more than 600 programs in 144 countries designed to combat the three diseases — considered among the world's most devastating.
Harper is expected to use Tuesday evening's announcement at the UN's Summit on Millennium Development Goals to draw a connection to the $1.1-billion maternal and child health pledges Canada made at the G8 summit in Muskoka in June.
"Muskoka was always meant to be a start," said Chris Dendys, executive director of Results Canada, an Ottawa advocacy group. "The Global Fund is a continuation of that."
"It would really show Canada's commitment to the world's poorest mothers and children. For example, a significant contribution to the Global Fund could result in ending mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015."
Canada already gives $150 million a year to the Global Fund, which is run through a partnership of governments, NGOs and private sector groups.
It's unclear how much more Harper will pledge Tuesday, or where the money will come from, since the government has previously said it's freezing its entire overseas development assistance budget at $5 billion a year to reduce the deficit.
The Global Fund runs more than 600 programs in 144 countries designed to combat malaria, tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS in the developing world. It works in accordance with the UN's Millennium Development Goals.
The Global Fund wants donor countries to boost their contributions over the next three years, with new pledges announced by mid-October. Dendys hopes Canada will increase its contributions by 50 per cent, to $225 million a year, while other activists suggest Canada should be giving as much as $300 million annually.
A pledge to the Global Fund would fit with the UN's Millennium Development Goals, which call for the halt of the spread of diseases like AIDS and malaria by 2015.
"If Canada makes a significant contribution to the Global Fund … that will send a clear message to other governments around the world that the Global Fund is a way for countries to come together to fight the pandemic," said David Morley of Save the Children Canada.
"It will be a message that says, the Global Fund has made a difference for people suffering with HIV and AIDS."
But Morley cautioned that the money given to the Global Fund should be new cash, not money taken from other development projects the government currently supports.
"With the official development assistance freeze, people are wondering, 'Are we stealing from Peter to pay Paul?'"
2 Security Council seats open
While Harper is in New York this week, he will also be pushing for Canada to be awarded one of two temporary seats on the powerful UN Security Council. Portugal and Germany are also in the running, with a vote to be held on the issue Oct. 12.
Canada has usually won a seat on the council about once a decade, the last two-year term being from 1998 to 2000. However, critics say Canada's decision to freeze foreign aid, among other things, could cost votes.
NGO leaders say Canada's reputation has been shaky on international aid in recent years.
"The fact that Canada is giving indications that we're flat-lining our level of international assistance is very distressing," said Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada.
"Unless we hear and see something very different from Canada this week at the UN, the longstanding reputation we've had at the international level as a country that is generous, as a country that is concerned about human rights and humanitarian issues around the world, is going to continue to take a hit."
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff on Monday questioned Canada's true commitment to UN goals.
"This is a government that for four years has basically ignored the United Nations and now is suddenly showing up saying, 'Hey, put us on the council,"' Ignatieff said.
"Don't mistake me. I know how important it is for Canada to get a seat on the Security Council but Canadians have to ask a tough question: Has this government earned that place? We're not convinced it has."