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Canada Can't Afford Not To Act On Global Poverty

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By John Sinclair

The UN's Agenda 2030 has been adopted as the framework for Canada's re-energized, pro-poor development cooperation programme.

Its message of "leaving no one behind" resonates well with Mr. Trudeau's strong new commitments to the country's indigenous population. The Agenda's Universality principle requires all developed (and developing) countries to set published targets for the Sustainable Development Goals.

But these are days of economic distress, both globally and in Canada. Can we any longer afford to increase our support for the poorest nations or even the catch-up bill for our indigenous population, long left behind?

Canada wants to be back as a global actor. We took the first bold step with our recent commitments in Paris to rejoin the fight to end Global Warming. We have acted generously in now absorbing 25,000 refugees from the tragic conflict in Syria.

But Agenda 2030, with its prime goal of ending extreme poverty, is much bigger in its scope and complexity. The challenge will need to be met village by village all over Africa, as well as in many parts of South Asia.

Without that victory, we will see more of the globe's poorest people, those who desperately want development in their own home countries, instead struggling to find refuge across Europe in countries which are increasing ambiguous about how welcoming to be.

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To eliminate poverty, the poorest countries for sure need more aid, but also much more. Agenda 2030 calls for access to markets, pro-poor investment creating decent work, peace and security, etc.

However, aid agencies are often neglected orphans when politicians and ordinary citizens talk about budget priorities in times of depressed resource and energy markets. That reaction is partly driving the current enthusiasm of many donor governments for saying only the private sector can cope with the scale of needs to meet Agenda 2030.

But those same governments, mainly in the north, know they cannot dictate pro-poor investment choices to multilaterals like Nestle or Toyota.

Canada itself needs to adjust to life in a world which is much more closely linked, economically and politically, and critically one in which the south will soon be as powerful as the north.

Some quick examples: some of our best markets for agricultural products are in India, now growing faster than China; Malaysia or even Brazil could be a new Bombardier production partner; an EU free trade deal, if finally signed, will only marginally improve our access to a region of largely stagnant economies.

Not least, today's global financial crisis is substantially about the west waiting for China's adjustment to its new policy of re-aligning its entrepreneurial energies to provide more service and consumer goods to its own population.

As a country whose future depends on global trade, Canada needs durable international partnerships, not passing encounters at WEF meetings. A Canada that is "back" needs friends and reliable partners in the Global South.

But we still lack a longer-term perspective. One example: Europeans jumped into membership of the new, $50-billion Chinese Infrastructure Bank, but Canada is still hesitating on the sidelines.

The developing world is no longer, if ever, homogenous. The talk now is of BRICS, emerging economies, LDCs (least developed) and fragile states. Many of these countries are existing or past recipients of Canadian aid. As potential partners, individuals who remember their trusting relationship with CIDA officials from a decade or two ago are now leaders in the country's government or private sector.

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What can we afford?

We all recall the shock in the election campaign at the Trudeau proposal to run up a $10-billion deficit. This was close to original sin!

But to a Keynesian, myself included, it is sound policy and, with the present economic deterioration and low global interest rates, $30 billion for a few years is a far better policy option than what a BBC commentary called Europe's "fiscal restraint fetish."

With a risk of Trump-lite politics, we should not be waiting for the U.S. to save us from our economic quagmire.

The suggestion to the budget drafters is that just 10 per cent of that planned deficit be devoted to international cooperation and poverty reduction as incremental ODA for Agenda 2030 implementation. Reassuring for conservative readers, that foreign exchange will quickly reflow to Canada as direct or indirect purchases from our export sector. The boost to our presence in the Global South will start creating those desired new partnerships as a free bonus.

With this new funding Canada can quickly lift its aid effort for poorest countries to the UN LDC target (just 0.15 per cent of GNI) and we can start moving back to the 0.5 per cent level of Canada in the 70s.

That is what ordinary Canadians already support -- indeed they would be shocked to know our present aid effort is less than half the peak under another Trudeau.

Ultimately ODA is an investment by Canadians in global well-being and security. Their future is our future. Canada cannot afford not to act.

John Sinclair is an economist educated in Cambridge UK who worked for many years as a senior official in CIDA and the World Bank. He is now a development commentator with the McLeod group as well as teaching and blog-writing from time to time in Ottawa U, Embassy and Huffington Post.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC or its members.

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