No, this isn’t what you think it is.  Talk of a coalition between Liberals and NDP has been brewing in Ottawa for the last couple of weeks.  I read and watched it in the media, but no one has even mentioned it to me personally.

No, I want to talk about the coalition “over there” – the one in Britain that has become more successful than people at first believed.  The new coalition government has been releasing a number of key statements of its plans for moving ahead, including a rather interesting one on international development.

It might surprise some to learn that all 3 parties held to strong promises on this file, including full agreement to reach the old Lester Pearson goal of allocating 0.7% of its Gross National Income by 2013.  The fact the Conservative leader also signed onto this during the campaign reveals how much farther down the road the UK is than Canada.

With the election decided and a new coalition now underway, the new government’s language about foreign aid is remarkable in its cogency – it isn’t messing around.  Some examples:

  • We will support actions to achieve the Millennium Development Goals
  • We will use the aid budget to support of local democratic institutions (in recipient countries), civil society groups, the media, and enterprise; and support efforts to tackle corruption
  • We will introduce full transparency in aid and publish details of all UK aid spending online.  We will push for similarly high levels of transparency internationally.
  • We will create new mechanisms to give British people a direct say in how an element of the aid budget is spent
  • We will keep aid untied from commercial interests, and will maintain DFID (Britain’s version of CIDA) as an independent department focused on poverty reduction
  • We will stick to the rules laid down by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) about what spending counts as aid.

Keep in mind, this isn’t election language; that’s now in the past.  For all their differences in policy and direction, the two parties now forming the British government have been clear that international development will be front-and-centre in all they do.

This is exactly where Canada gets it wrong.  I presume that some 60-70% of our own development goals would find agreement among all parties, but that doesn’t make any difference.  I’m not talking here about Liberals and NDP, but of all four parties coming to terms with the truth that the international development train has left the station and we are still coughing and sputtering, just as the G8 leaders are about to descend upon us.  But there was no consultation with the other parties on something so pivotal – only a government bent on forcing its own agenda on its other partner countries.  This is no way to undertake something as serious as foreign development.  The will is in Parliament now to form a coalition on some of these key points without having to resort to brinksmanship.  The UK leaders are demonstrating statecraft, before, during, and following the election.  We are nowhere near that point of sophistication, right at the time when our international donor partners expect it from us and are about to come calling in Muskoka.

This language from the Brits is remarkable for its commitment.  But they have been engaged enough internationally to know where the future is headed.  Sadly, we’ve misplaced our map.