Prime Minister Stephen Harper is co-hosting a UN meeting next week looking at the major health challenges facing women and children, part of the followup to his 2010 G8 commitment to focus on maternal and child health around the world.
Harper will also do a moderated discussion on the economy, hosted by the Canadian-American Business Council.
Despite his trip to New York City, Harper is not expected to address the UN General Assembly. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has made the speech on behalf of Canada for the past two years and is expected to do it again. The date isn't yet clear because the speeches run several days and it depends on how long representatives from other countries take.
Harper's meeting on women and child health is listed on a UN website as "The unfinished agenda of the MDGs [Millenium Development Goals] in support of Every Woman Every Child." It's a 90-minute session with the presidents of Tanzania and Nigeria, as well as the prime minister of Norway, the director general of the World Health Organization, and Melinda Gates, on behalf of the foundation she runs with husband Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft. Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete is the event's other co-host. Harper and Kikwete have worked together since 2010 on making international aid more accountable.
Harper took advantage of Canada hosting the G8 meeting in 2010 to steer leaders toward a focus on maternal, newborn and child health, pledging $1.1 billion for Canada until 2015. The UN has set 2015 as the deadline for hitting its Millenium Development Goals, a series of targets for reducing global poverty.
The MDGs include goals to reduce mortality for children under five by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015, to cut maternal deaths by 75 per cent over the same time period, and to achieve universal access to reproductive health care by 2015.
The event next Wednesday is part of a nine-day series of events focused on women and children, part of an initiative called Every Woman, Every Child. The short session is for leaders and government representatives of UN member states, as well as international aid organizations and the private sector "to explore how to accelerate action in the next 825 days" before the MDG deadline, and to look at "the importance of women's and children's health in the post-2015 development agenda."
"High-level discussions will focus on key interventions and the importance of accountability, including civil registration and vital statistics, as we look to the long-term goal of improving women's and children's health," says a summary of the session available on a UN website.
'Embarrassing' Harper not addressing UN
The goal of Every Woman, Every Child is to save 16 million lives by 2015, according to a release from the prime minister's office.
"This high-level event in New York will take stock of the results achieved to date and look to sustain momentum of progress in order to meet related global objectives," the release said.
New Democrat MP Paul Dewar, the party's foreign affairs critic, said in a statement to CBC News that the government's "disinterest in multilateralism" is costing Canada its reputation and influence.
"It's embarrassing that the prime minister — for the second year in a row — will be in New York during the opening ceremonies of the UN General Assembly, but apparently can't be bothered to show up, stand up, and speak up on behalf of Canada," Dewar said.
"It's all fine and well to go meet with others, but it's a lot harder to achieve results if you don't show an interest in the international community."
Harper will also be part of a moderated discussion hosted by the Canadian-American Business Council and a roundtable with business leaders, the release from PMO said. Both events are to focus on the economy and "the importance of fostering closer commercial ties between Canada and the U.S."
“The United States is Canada’s number one commercial partner in the world and our closest friend and ally,” Harper said in the release.
“While in New York, I look forward to promoting Canada as the United States’ business partner of choice and seeking new ways to further facilitate the flow of goods, investment and services between our two great nations.”