Canada 2010: A date with fate for G8

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Canada in 2010 is a date with fate. When the G8 leaders meet in Muskoka next June they come face to face with a long list of commitments -- on aid, on Africa, on health and education, water and sanitation, on women and children, on AIDS, on climate change and now, on support for small farmers.

There can be no half measures, no excuses. Firm commitments were made for 2010 and the eyes of the world will be upon them. If the G8 is to have any legitimacy, it must demonstrate that it is as good as its word. If it is just a venue for photo ops, then we really can’t afford it.

The commitments made at Gleneagles and in every G8 since speak to the urgent need for concerted action to invest in the public services and social capital that will allow more than a billion people to escape poverty and to make real progress toward the Millennium Development Goals.

For policy wonks and governments, these goals -- most quite modest -- serve as signposts along the road to development. For the vast majority of women and men, girls and boys in the global South, they represent the difference between living and dying, going to school or spending your day in the search for water, getting medical care or struggling to survive.

When you add the goal of curbing climate change -- for here there has been precious little progress in setting out specific targets for action -- the impact of the G8’s leadership (or lack thereof) is universal.

The track record to date has been dismal, with the Italian summit setting a new low in dodging accountability for performance. As first eight, then 14, then 18, 20 and 28 world leaders trotted out to smile for the cameras, the time for action on Africa slipped away.

Prime Minister Harper insists the Muskoka summit will be different. The Conservative leader has made accountability a hallmark of his own administration and says he’s poised to name and shame the laggards in 2010.

He does not apologize for setting -- but meeting -- modest goals for Canada. He much prefers to under-promise and over-perform. And in his wrap-up news conference in l’Aquila, he admitted he has heard no credible excuse for the lack of performance by those nations that have fallen furthest behind.

For there can be no excuse that G8 countries are unable to meet their commitments to the billion women and children living in poverty. Not after they managed to mobilize trillions to bail out the banks.

So we insist that when the leaders gather in cottage country next year the accountability reports clearly demonstrate the $23 billion shortfall in aid spending has been erased and that emergency plans have been implemented to bridge the gaps.

And we call on Harper to show real leadership before the G8 -- or G14 or 20 or 24 if it comes to that -- by taking bold action on climate change and making a clear commitment to accelerate the growth of Canadian aid to reach the 0.7 per cent of national income target set by Lester Pearson 40 years ago this year. This will be crucial if he is to have the moral authority to lead.

The last time the G8 leaders met in Canada, they launched the Africa initiative at Kananaskis. They are long overdue to live up to that promise. 

Nothing less is acceptable.


Robert Fox is Executive Director of Oxfam Canada.

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