Bono, Geldof slam Canada as a 'laggard' on African aid

Two of world's most famous anti-poverty activists tore into Stephen Harper on Friday, accusing Canada of blocking progress on the G8's aid package for Africa.

Two of world's most famous anti-poverty activists tore intoPrime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday, accusing Canada ofblocking other G8 nations from makingcleartargetsinthe group'shumanitarianaid package toAfrica.

The comments by U2 front man Bono and musician Bob Geldof came afterthecountries pledged on Friday, the final day of the G8 summit in Germany,torecommit $60 billion to fight the spread of disease and povertyengulfing the continent.

"I said some years ago that the world needs more Canadas, and I meant it," Bono said. "I can't believe that this Canada has become a laggard. I think he's [Harper's] out of sync with the people."

"A man called Stephen Harper came to Heiligendamm," added Geldof. "But Canada stayed home."

Anti-poverty activists have criticized the leading industrializedcountries for failing to live up to promises on African aid made two years ago atthe G8summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.

Thehigh-profilemusician-activists slammed the accord for not promising new money, saying it wasrife withdeliberately misleading language andlacked clear targets.

Thehigh-profile activist-musicianscited sources inside the summit who alleged Harperpersonally blocked the G8leadersfrom accepting accountability for fulfilling their promises.

"It's as if we have the place bugged, because everybody tells us,"Bono said.

But Harper was quick to dismiss the charges in a press conference later Friday.

"I can say with absolute certainty that Canada was not blocking anything on this," Harper told reporters. "We happen to believe that when it comes to aid moneys that the whole framework of accountability is important.

"Canada has made a commitment, along with other countries, to more than double our aid over the next decade. Canada's on target to meet our obligations. I think we're the only country on target to meet them and to meet them early."

But Paul Zeitz of theGlobal AIDS Alliance saidCanada's proportion of resources going to international aid has dropped in the last two years.

"Usually, Canada is seen as a leading light,"Zeitz told CBC News Friday. "In this situation, it's not happening."

By 2010, there will be 11 million people in Africa whowill requirelife-saving AIDS medicines readily available in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, but only 20 per cent of patients are getting them, Zeitz added.

Opposition questions aid figures

The opposition hassaid theHarper governmentonly arrived at a claim to be on target by re-calculating Canada's 2005 commitment and shaving $800 million — nearly one-third — from the $2.9 billion the previous Liberal government promised in 2005.

During question period Friday, boththe Liberals andNDPaccused the Conservative government of failing to make aid to Africa a priority.

"Why is the Canadian position at the current G8 to downplay and reduce commitment?" Liberal MP Ralph Goodale asked Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay.

Mackay replied that the previous Liberal government was not able to keepits commitment and spent only $1.4 billion last year in African aid.

NDP MP Alexa McDonough demanded to know when thegovernment would provide details and deadlines for aid to Africa.

"The budget is going up for Africa," MacKayreplied, adding that the budget commitment reached $1.7 billion this year.

PMsays meeting Bono not his 'shtick'

On Thursday, the prime minister declined a personal meeting withBono at the G8 summit, saying he was too busy to discuss the African AIDS crisis with him.

Themusician, who has become a leading voice of global AIDS andpoverty activism, managed to hold talksthis week with U.S. President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is alsohosting the summit.

"Meeting celebrities isn't my shtick," Harper said, although he expressed admiration for Bono's humanitarian work.

"That was the shtick of the previous guy," added the prime minister, in reference to former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, who met with Bono several times.

With files from the Canadian Press