McLeod Group Blog



McLeod Group Blog, April 15, 2015

Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), has come up with a novel idea: asking Canadians to board a train that left the station months ago.

The ‘train’ is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that have been under negotiation at the UN and around the world for the past two years. The SDGs will build on the 2000-2015 Millennium Development goals and will establish the most comprehensive set of development plans ever conceived. These will be submitted to a special UN summit for adoption in September.

A UN ‘Open Working Group’ was established in January 2013 to develop and coordinate inputs. It has held 13 working sessions, the last of them in July 2014, when Canada signed off on its consensus document. There have been dozens of side events, hundreds of briefs, reports, outcome documents, special studies and background papers.  All of this has happened because the subject is exceedingly important. It’s about how governments and organizations and companies are going to deal with the major issues facing the world over the next 15 years. The SDGs deal with poverty, food, health, education, energy, the environment, climate change and a lot more.

At this very late date, by means of an obscure note on the DFATD website, the Government of Canada is now asking Canadians if they have any ideas on all of this, and if they do, could they please fill out a form and submit it by May 8. If you spotted the form when it was posted on April 7, you will have had plenty of time: a whole month to think about the future of the world.

Two questions arise. Is there even a remote chance that your response will be read, much less acted upon? The request for feedback is preceded by some text on what Canada already thinks is important—a kind of Cole’s Notes for those who don’t have enough time to ponder the next 15 years. Mostly it’s about motherhood, children, democracy, human rights and the like, with a few references to business, investment climates and natural resources. Although Justin Trudeau was mocked by the Prime Minister a while back for stressing the importance of understanding the ‘root causes’ of terrorism, there is even a nod in that direction: Canada apparently now supports the idea of ‘addressing the underlying causes of instability and insecurity.’

But there is a second question, even if DFATD pays any attention to what you put on the form, and even if they could catch up with the long-departed train: Is anyone even slightly interested in what Canada has to say about all of this? We have gone out of our way, over and over, to insult the United Nations and to defund, slash or delay support to some of its most critical bodies.

It is clear to everyone involved in the SDG process, including DFATD, that the financing needs will be great—much greater than current levels of international development assistance. Here too, Canada has missed the train. In 2014, official development assistance from OECD member countries was near an all-time high of $135 billion. Britain recently reached the UN target of 0.7% of GNI while Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden—even under conservative governments—surpassed it long ago. At 0.24% and dropping, Canada was down among the pikers, cutting the aid budget and then adding insult to injury when it lapsed hundreds of millions of dollars more.

Where the SDGs are concerned, there will be plenty of opportunity for Canada to participate as they are adopted and implemented, even if we haven’t played a stellar role up to now. If we are to be serious, however, and if we are to be taken seriously, we will have to get a timetable, get to the station on time and pay for our ticket. This means treating Canadians, their future, and the future of the world in a much more serious manner.