The above title was one of those simple yet profound truths written by Dale Carnegie, which he often used to urge people towards a progressive outlook when things can’t be changed. It’s likely that his counsel is perhaps the best solution for dealing with the disappointments of the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals, and for Canada’s diminishing quality of official development assistance in recent years.
It is now clear that, with five years left in the timeline for the MDGs, that they will not be met. The crucial ones – halving extreme poverty and hunger from 1990 levels, environmental action, slashing maternal mortality by three-quarters, and reducing the child mortality rate by two-thirds – formed a great challenge, one that in the end advanced nations couldn’t overcome. The U.S., Germany, Japan and others fall far short of their commitments. Canada, too, despite the PM’s legitimate concentration on child and maternal health, will also come up short of its promises.
While donor nations applauded themselves at the impressive reductions in desperate poverty, the reality is that most of the gains have occurred in China and other increasingly prosperous nations in East Asia. Africa – the region of greatest poverty – won’t receive the assistance it requires at current levels.
The failure of the UN Summit last week, despite some encouraging signs, is especially ominous given the huge deficits donor nations face in the coming decade. Another troubling sign occurred when Canada sought to provide leadership on one particular MDG – child and maternal health – but chose to let its commitments lag for most of the others. The MDGs were specifically designed as an interconnected set of commitments that required attention on all fronts. While groups involved in child and maternal health initiatives applauded the PM’s leadership on the file, his decision left those involved in commitments to the other goals deeply disillusioned.
One of Canada’s most esteemed development experts, Patrick Johnston, did us all a favour last week by providing a sobering account of Canada’s real commitment to global development in an article in the Globe and Mail. While the government attempted to garner praise for the maternal health initiative, Johnston reminded us that we presently reside in the bottom half of the 23 donors in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). To make matters worse, we discover that 13 European nations were more generous foreign aid donors than Canada.
Stepping back and taking a longer view, Johnston revealed that our aid spending amounted to 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI) in the mid-eighties, dropped to 0.4% a decade later, and has now dropped to 0.3%. Now that the Harper government has opted to freeze aid levels for the next five years, it won’t take much time to fall below that 0.3% figure. With five years remaining to fulfill the MDGs, Canada will sadly fail. The UN recently concluded that this country ranks 29th in a field of 38 donors in the field of aid effectiveness. As Johnston puts it: “It is hard to escape the conclusion that Canada is a far less generous global donor today than it was 25 years ago.”
Many of us have dialogued faithfully with this government in an effort to assist it in achieving its promises. We failed. From every conceivable angle, experts, NGOs, and international institutions sought to enlighten the government in comprehending the interconnectedness of aid and the importance of NGOs in its delivery. The stubborn resistance exhibited by the PMO has now resulted in the most disillusioning era of development assistance since CIDA was first established in 1968. It has become clear that a government unwilling to listen to its former friends will hardly make the kind of commitments necessary to restore Canada’s humanitarian image in the world.
It’s time to listen to Dale Carnegie and come to terms with the inevitable. Many are already doing so, as they plan for a time when the present form of rigid ideology gives way to the dawn of a new era in global assistance. Our best efforts must now be spent on bringing together the implementors and experts in development assistance and planning for a more inclusive time somewhere in the near future. Our heads hurt from hitting the brick wall of political ideology. It’s time to regroup and plan for how we can re-engage with the world when that more progressive day arrives.