EDMONTON (CUP) — In 2000, the United Nations met in New York City and developed eight millennium development goals (MDGs) to be achieved by the year 2015. The goals included eradicating extreme poverty, reducing gender inequality, improving maternal and newborn health and increasing the accessibility of primary education.
With 2015 just around the corner, it’s time for Canada and the rest of the world to assess the progress made with the MDGs and to make renewed social improvement plans for 2015 and beyond. On Sept. 18, a panel of established experts helped shed light on the issues at MacEwan University in Edmonton.
Among the experts was the university’s own Jean-Christophe Boucher, assistant professor of political science.
Boucher said although Canada has made leaps and bounds in improving its financial contributions to foreign aid, it’s still nowhere near where it could be. For a nation that has the 11th most prosperous economy in the world, Canada’s foreign aid budget is only the 19th-most generous; and Harper’s Conservative government, Boucher argued, bears at least part of the blame for this as the Tories have been shifting the focus away from foreign aid since roughly 2009.
Heather McPherson of the Alberta Council on Global Cooperation agreed, saying that the degree of success that Canada will experience in achieving the MDGs depends largely on which government is in power.
She suggested that Jean Chretien’s Liberal government in the early 2000s established the millennium goals as a priority and made significant progress in accomplishing them, but that Harper has “fallen off of that conversation.”
Dr. Abdullah Saleh of Innovative Canadians for Change argues people are “very finite as individuals” and collective action is the only way to effect meaningful change.
The trick, proposed Saleh, is to identify what the goals actually mean. He spoke about the goals of the ICC, the most important of which is to “improve the lives and situations of vulnerable populations” by developing sustainable plans for action in vulnerable communities.
The millennium goals offer ICC a framework within which to operate. Much of the ICC’s work takes place in Africa, as the continent has made some of the slowest progress in terms of infant mortality, extreme hunger and obstacles to primary education.
Saleh cautioned that clumping all of Africa together as a whole would be “ridiculous,” as Africa is composed of an array of diverse and complex nations, each of which requires a different kind of attention.
The issue of climate change was also discussed at length. Ania Ulrich of the University of Alberta opened her portion of the evening by saying, “Canada hasn’t really done a great job in terms of climate change.”
One of the millennium goals involved “ensuring environmental sustainability,” and Canada arguably occupies one of the most important roles in achieving this initiative because of its widely criticized oil sands operations.
Far from stepping up to the challenge, Ulrich suggested that Canada has approached the issue by setting “measly goals,” none of which have been accomplished by the cusp of 2015.
“The U.S. is doing better than us,” she told her audience emphatically. “The U.S.!”
Although Canada, in the opinion of the experts, did not achieve its full potential in delivering on UN millennium goals, there is still hope for improvement.
McPherson pointed out that Canada has both the economic and social will to contribute to global improvement; it just needs the political will.
Ulrich agreed, saying that the key to success was keeping governments responsible for their actions.
The forum marked the 65th anniversary of the Edmonton branch of the United Nations Association in Canada. The organization holds meetings on the third Thursday of each month at MacEwan University, and the public is always welcome to attend.