Harper tells UN to focus on aid results

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has urged world leaders at a major UN summit on development aid to focus on real results, not "lofty promises."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, addressing a UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals in New York on Tuesday, stressed 'our words here today [must] ultimately translate into simple realities.' ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged world leaders at a major UN summit on development aid Tuesday to focus on real results, not "lofty promises."

"When we speak of the Millennium Development Goals, it will be critical that our words here today ultimately translate into simple realities like food on the table, improved health and a better life for children around the world," he said in New York City.

"Together, we must keep our promises and work towards practical, durable solutions."

Canada and 188 other UN member states agreed to the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, vowing to minimize extreme poverty, hunger and disease, and to promote gender equality, education and environmental sustainability.

The goals include specific targets, such as reducing child mortality rates by two-thirds worldwide, or reducing childbirth deaths by three-quarters.

"Ten years after the Millennium Development Goals were written, much remains to be done, especially when it comes to reducing child mortality and improving maternal health," Harper said.

"It is a sad reality that each year hundreds of thousands of mothers die in pregnancy and nearly nine million children die before their fifth birthday. It does not have to be this way."

Stresses Canada's work

Harper took the opportunity in his speech to outline Canada's commitments to millennium goals. He stressed that in recent years, Canada has doubled international assistance, doubled aid to Africa and forgiven more than $1 billion in debt owed by the world's poorest countries.

He noted that Canada, as host of the G8 summit in Muskoka, Ont., in June, pushed leaders to fund a maternal health initiative. At the end of that summit, Harper pledged $1.1 million in new money to the cause.

And Harper told the UN, as reported Monday by CBC News, that Canada will increase its contributions to the Global Fund, which fights HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in developing countries. The government says Canada will give $540 million over three years to the fund, which already receives $150 million a year from Canada.

He said all goals that countries commit to must be measurable, so that countries are accountable for the promises they make.

"Our discussions should be less about new agreements than accountability for existing ones," he said. "Less about lofty promises than real results."

Canada wants Security Council seat

While Harper is in New York City this week, he is 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, with the last two-year term from 1998 to 2000. However, critics say Canada's decision to freeze foreign aid, among other things, could cost votes.

Opposition members on Tuesday attacked Canada's aid record, with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff questioning whether Canada even deserves a UN Security Council seat.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe demanded to know during question period in the House of Commons how Harper could "present himself as a champion of international aid" when his government hadn't lived up to a 2000 promise to devote 0.7 per cent of its gross domestic product to foreign aid.

"Eleven years later, the Conservative government has given 0.31 per cent, less than half," Duceppe said in French. "How can the prime minister have the nerve to go to the UN to present himself as a champion of international aid while he has not even done what he needs to do to help do away with poverty?"

Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis defended the government, saying it has committed $2 billion in 2008-2009 toward fighting poverty — an all-time high.

"That's action," Paradis said in French.

Earlier in the day, Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett accused the Conservatives of playing a "shell game" for freezing development funding until 2015 — the same year the Millennium Development Goals are to be met.

"Without unfreezing that international budget, it will be impossible for Canada to lead on [the goals]," Bennett told reporters at a Liberal news conference.

"Let's lead by example and earn that seat at the Security Council."

With files from The Canadian Press