The G8 and Canada – Into the Sunset

by Glen

Internationalists are observing that the upcoming G8 hosted in Canada next month might very well be the last.  Like the aged Security Council in the United Nations, members of the G8 are more the victors of past efforts than prescient visionaries of the internationalism encroaching on the world.  Any great economic club that doesn’t include Brazil, China or India has already passed the point of redundancy.

Canada used to be one of the premiere players in the club, in part because of its sound economic practices but also due to its commitment to international development and the legacy of Lester Pearson.  Not any more.  Our fiscal legacy is still strong, but in foreign aid, like the G8 itself, we have failed to keep up with the rest of the world in all things humanitarian – our increase in aid hasn’t kept up with others.  The sad irony is that the confluence of diminished returns come together on Canadian soil.

While all the hoopla has been about abortion and child and maternal health, broader realities have actually been proceeding at a pace that leaves Canada far behind the pack.  While many lauded Stephen Harper’s announcement that, as host, we would concentrate on the child and maternal health file for the G8, few talked about how this country has broken with the global consensus and other G8 partners in the realm of international development and foreign aid.  Even when the Liberals failed to attain their international promises, they nevertheless functioned within the G8 consensus on things like the Millennium Development Goals.  With all of the G8 there was the clear understanding that whether or not their particular targets were reached, the main goal of their collective actions was to reduce poverty among the world’s poorest, and most of those were in Africa.

That harmony no longer holds, as the present government has distanced itself from the global consensus on the importance of Africa itself.  Speaking with international development experts from other G8 nations, they express clear disappointment and confusion as to how Canada can appear to be championing a MDG goal of child and maternal health when it has packed up and left Africa, where the most desperate women and children live.  Hardly anyone has addressed that question – not the government, the opposition parties or the majority of NGOs,   But abortion?  Well, no shortage of opinions there.

By moving into their own orbit, the Conservatives haven’t just dropped international consensus but have violated the bond.  Thus while notables like the Globe and Mail and Canada’s G8 partners meet at length with Bono on the renewal of commitment to Africa, a senior CIDA official claimed it wasn’t the organization’s intent “to please Irish rock stars.”  Clearly, we’re out of sync.

With the new millennium came a new-found realization that Africa was, in fact, worthy of investment, including aid.  The sheer speed with which the G8, G20 and United Nations consensus came together to “get it right” this time in Africa was exhilarating.  The MDGs were the result of that new excitement and commitment.  Canada and the others ramped it up, focusing on African strengths, better aid delivery, and being part of a global comity that was in fact invigorating.  Those days, for Canada anyway, are gone.

So, while we rightfully acknowledge the decision of the government to focus on child and maternal health, let’s also remember the context.  Other nations are pulling away in their increases on aid, while Canada trails.  CIDA funds are now frozen over the coming years and hosting a G8 in its final days seems somehow fitting … and sad.