Canada’s role in the world: Bridging the divide or deepening it?
-University of Quebec at Montreal,
Tue 23 Jan 2007-
I am pleased to be with you today in collaboration with the
Montreal Institute of International Studies and the Centre
d’études sur le droit international et la mondialisation. I
appreciate the clarity that the Institute brings to the
consideration of international issues.
I can tell you that we social democrats have always been great
internationalists and I’m pleased to be with you today to share
with you the NDP’s vision for Canada’s role on the world stage.
The hard-working average Canadians that make this country run also want to make the world a better place. What they seek to build in Canada, they seek to build globally. They wish to build a world that is just, compassionate, generous and peaceful.
They wish for Canada to play a leadership role to ensure human rights are respected and laws are drafted to advance the needs and well-being of people, first and foremost.
They want to bridge the growing global gap between rich and poor, not just here, in Canada, but around the world. They want to build peace and stability and they want sustainable development for their children and grandchildren.
But recent Liberal and Conservative governments have steered Canada away from this vision of the world we seek to build and the role Canada must play in constructing it. If we look at Canada’s recent record on fighting global poverty, promoting peace and tackling planetary climate change, recent Liberal and Conservative governments have taken Canada further and further away from the role we want play on the world stage.
We are contributing less, not more, in Overseas Development Assistance as a percentage of our Gross National Income. Thirty years ago we contributed 0.57% and ranked among the top five donors. Under Paul Martin, it dipped to 0.26% – dragging us down to 14th place among donors. After the NDP budget last year, aid stands at 0.33%.
In the last ten years, Canada has dropped from 8th place to 55th place in terms of global peacekeeping. And today Canada is ranked 28th out of 30 OECD countries in terms of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and smog.
It seems lately that Canada has embraced a world view more in keeping with George Bush than with Tommy Douglas or Lester Pearson.
We see it. And the world sees it. They are puzzled, asking “What’s up with Canada?” Canada used to be a leader, someone who could be counted on – not anymore.
Over the past 10 years, Canada’s credibility on the world stage has been eroded. This hurts Canada when we seek to build relationships, economic or otherwise, or when we seek to influence world events.
Canada is not playing the role we want it to in the world and I believe it is time that people in Quebec and across Canada began to work to change that.
Because it is much more than just our reputation that concerns us. It’s about the rights we aren’t upholding, such as the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. It’s about the opportunities that we are not building. And it’s about our future, which we are putting at risk.
To borrow a line from my friend Stephen Lewis, “we are in a race against time” to take action on the countless challenges facing the world and its people – but today I wish to focus on three areas that best illustrate Canada’s slide in international leadership and suggest another path.
One: The fight against global poverty.
Two: The efforts to make and keep peace in the world.
Three: Tackling climate change.
* * * * *
The mal-distribution of wealth in our world is a scandal. Almost 3 billion people live on less than $2 per day. Eight hundred million people go to sleep hungry every night.
And the richest two per cent of the world’s people own over half the world’s wealth. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.
Ordinary Canadians and Quebeckers want this to change. A poll released last year by Leger and Leger clearly shows that Canadians identify the gap between rich and poor as the world’s number one problem.
In 1968, Lester Pearson chaired a commission on international development. He recommended that wealthy countries contribute 0.7% of their Gross National Income toward Overseas Development Assistance. Pearson’s recommendation was endorsed by the World Bank, the OECD and the United Nations.
Forty years have passed since that time. So how are we doing? In 2007, Canada is contributing 0.3% of our GNI. That’s less than half of what Lester Pearson called for.
We need to understand that development assistance is not charity. It is an investment in a sustainable world, and there is a return on that investment – just as Canada’s investment in your education and health care will pay off.
Other countries, most of them in the European Union, are doing much better than we are in moving toward the Point Seven target.
Canada can afford to do better as well. In fact, all parties in the House of Commons agreed with Alexa McDonough in 2005 that the government should set up a plan and a timetable to achieve the Point Seven target by the year 2015. I said “all parties”, and this includes the Conservatives and the Prime Minister. They agreed that to reach the Point Seven target the federal government will have to increase its Overseas Development Assistance budget by about 15% a year between now and 2015.
Today is the one year anniversary of the Stephen Harper Conservative minority government. On election night he remarked: “to Canadians I say this – we will honour your trust, and we will deliver on our commitments.”
One year later, still no movement.
During the leadership debates, Mr. Harper called on Canadians to, quote, “evaluate the promises of the parties…and hold people accountable who don't live up to those promises.”
We intend to hold the Conservatives to their promise. The NDP will insist that any Conservative budget include a clear timetable for raising ODA to 0.7% by the year 2015.
Currently Canada spends more than $4 billion a year on development aid without any legislation to guide it or to ensure Parliamentary oversight.
We believe there should be legislation governing how we spend and monitor our development assistance dollars.
If fighting global poverty is the number one global struggle, then it should also be the number one priority for Canada’s development assistance. That is what we believe and that is why the NDP has tabled legislation in the House of Commons that makes poverty reduction the central goal for aid and ensures Parliamentary oversight is in place.
And we can do more than increase aid. Since 2004, Canada has had legislation in place to export generic drugs to people in poor countries – like the millions of people in Africa living with AIDS. Yet not a single pill has left our shores.
Today’s families work hard for their money. They want people everywhere to have at least the basic necessities of life, but they also want to know that assistance is targeted to those who need it most.
We need to know that our development dollars are well spent; that they promote quality between men and women; that they are not supporting corrupt governments; that they are expanding human rights and democratic accountability rather that defending Canadian corporate interests.
* * * * *
I want now to turn to peacekeeping and peacemaking.
Our troops have worn the blue berets of United Nations peacekeepers in many countries around the world. Canadians are justly proud of that, but in the past five years, Liberal and Conservative governments have led us down a new and dangerous path. They have abandoned Canada’s traditional multilateral and peace-oriented approach in favour of the aggressive unilateralism of George Bush.
In 2005, in an attempt curry favour in Washington, the Liberal Party volunteered our forces for a dangerous combat role in the Kandahar region, the most militarily aggressive mission in Afghanistan.
In 2006, Stephen Harper, with the decisive support of Liberal MPs, extended that mission to February 2009. The cost has been high. Forty-four Canadian soldiers have died, in addition to many more who have been seriously wounded.
The civilian victims in Afghanistan receive practically no attention during our debates. The violence is escalating, opium production has skyrocketed. Most of our 25 NATO allies are refusing to send soldiers to join in the counter-insurgency mission in southern Afghanistan. And yet Mr. Harper refuses to see what is happening.
Mr. Harper and his ministers seem to think that we can go on seek and kill missions one day and build schools in the same village on the next.
But no matter what Mr. Harper says, we cannot primarily engage in offensive counter-insurgency and build peace at the same time.
Mr. Harper, just like George Bush on Iraq, keeps saying that this war can be won, and that it is going well. It is not going well. The prestigious publication Foreign Affairs says that Afghanistan is “sliding into chaos.”
And, more seriously, we are undermining any prospect for long-term dialogue and peace with the Muslim world. We are not defeating the Taliban – we are helping them recruit new sympathizers.
Canadians care about the people of Afghanistan. They want to help. But our presence there isn’t making them any safer. Nor are we improving living conditions, which are among the worst in the world.
The Canadian government is spending $9 on the war for every one dollar that it spends on reconstruction and development in Afghanistan. A ratio of nine to one. Without balance, we are squandering resources and failing to plan for success.
But that’s not all. Mr. Harper plans to increase the military cost of operations in Afghanistan by 35% in 2007. The Conservatives will be adding another $319 million on top of the $1.1 billion they spent on the mission last year.
In September I had the opportunity to meet with President Karzai here in Montreal. I told him that average, everyday Canadians want to help the people of Afghanistan but feel the counter-insurgency mission was the wrong mission for Canada. A more productive role would be for Canada to play a leadership role in diplomatic efforts, reconstruction and development with an aim to bring about a lasting peace in the region.
It raises the question of what should guide Canada’s military engagements. As our party’s record shows, we recognize the need, from time to time, to engage in combat, but we believe Canada’s role first and foremost should be to make and keep peace.
There are many fragile cease-fires and peace processes that need a peacekeeping presence from a credible source, but due to Canada’s level of involvement in Afghanistan, Canada is turning down worthy requests.
The United Nations is establishing a special peacekeeping force to act as a buffer between Israel and Lebanon in the wake of the fighting last summer. That would be a natural assignment for Canada. We served for years as peacekeepers in the Golan Heights. We have bilingual soldiers, an important asset in Lebanon.
There is also a grave humanitarian crisis in Darfur where more than 200,000 people have been killed and another several million have been forced from their homes. The African Union has urged the United Nations to deploy a peacekeeping mission to Darfur.
Keeping the peace in these two conflicts would serve as better examples of the kind of role everyday Canadians wish to see Canada play on the world stage. Not dividing people, but building bridges. Not waging war, but keeping the peace.
* * * * *
I want, finally, to talk about climate change.
Canadians know that this is not just an environmental issue. It is an economic issue, a health issue and it is certainly a foreign policy issue. I’m not sure Stephen Harper gets this – but we’re working to change that.
We have all seen the effects of climate change, and we worry that it is getting worse. Smaller glaciers in the Rocky Mountains. Diminished river flows across the prairies. In northern Aboriginal communities, families can’t get food and supplies because there are no ice roads to drive on.
Caribou, a traditional and essential source of food in the North for thousands of years, are at risk. The herds have shrunk by 70% over the last few years. Traditional food is no longer available and hunting has been restricted.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Nicholas Stern is a former chief economist for the World Bank. He wrote a report for the British government last fall that predicted the world economy could shrink by 20% if nothing is done about climate change.
Stern is recommending that countries invest 1% of their GDP each year to combat climate change and avert catastrophe. But our Prime Minister just doesn’t get it. He is someone who spent years denying that climate change even existed.
The Liberals at least acknowledged climate change – but had a worse climate change record than George Bush!
Mr. Harper had a chance to act last fall, but all he did was announce yet another round of consultations. His plan failed to get Canada on track to fulfill its international obligations and to clean the air we breathe.
No short-term targets, no tough controls on the big polluters, and no strategy to make Canada a world leader in the green economy.
Mr. Harper’s Clean Air Act would take Canada on the wrong track on climate change and further erode our credibility on the world stage.
In December, the NDP succeeded in referring this bill to a legislative committee where we can get ideas from all political parties on how best to tackle climate change.
We have laid out in great detail our ideas on how Canada can take immediate action with tough, clear targets and enforceable regulation.
We are insisting upon mandatory fuel efficiency standards for vehicles in line with the leading North American Standards. Many Americans will have similar standards by 2008, and Canada should have them too.
International frameworks such as the Kyoto Protocol must be recognized. These obligations are not Liberal or Conservative commitments. They are Canada’s and they can only be honoured with all of us working together.
We have never been a country that takes our treaty obligations lightly, and we should not start now.
I have made it clear that we need tough action on climate change and it has to happen immediately. Any support for any upcoming budgets will hinge upon how it will advance the battle against climate change.
As one of the world’s largest polluters and wealthiest nations, Canada must play a leadership role on climate change today – not only for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. Too much time has already been wasted.
* * * * *
So, what is the NDP saying about Canada’s role in the world?
Canada has to reestablish itself as trusted foreign policy partner. Our role in the world is linked to our credibility, and that role is being undermined by our weak record on development assistance, peacekeeping and climate change.
We are at a fork in the road. We can carry on as we are doing now – ignoring our history; dismissing our international obligations as soon as they cost money; exacerbating tensions between the West and the Muslim and Arab world in alliance with George Bush; and continuing to allow hundreds of millions of people on this planet languish in poverty, hunger and preventable illnesses.
Or we can take another path. One which I believe you and most other ordinary Canadians will support. This is a path of internationalism – of diplomatic dialogue and peace negotiations that gets all parties to the table.
It is a path which insists that poor people have rights and that they be involved in developing solutions to their own problems—as proposed in Alexa McDonough’s Private Member’s Bill.
In the short term, this requires all parties in the House of Commons to work together, so that we can get things done for the world. A world that expects Canada to honour its international obligations on climate change.
We have a lot of work to do. I hope you will join us, so that the voice of everyday Canadians will be heard and reflected in our foreign policy.