Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Global Responsibility Fuels Federal Election Debate

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, October 5 / 15

Zack Gross

It was not just an interesting debate recently that our major political party leaders had on foreign policy – it was, in fact, really interesting that they debated foreign policy at all!  The question might be, however, will debating these issues bring about real change, or even a concensus among Canadians?

Those much younger than me won’t remember that there was a time when foreign affairs and the environment were issues that didn’t even register on a list of the forty main concerns of Canadians.  I remember, as a much younger person, looking at such a list and not being able to find them at all!  Several events and developments in our world have led to the public being more aware of – and more interested in – these concerns.

The immediacy of television and the internet has made conflicts, migration and environmental disaster more real for the average citizen.  Today, we are hearing about and seeing world events unfold as they are happening, whether it is due to the sensationalist reporting of our friends at CNN or due to alerts we have programmed into our iPhones.

As well, the severity and frequency of disasters – not just overseas but at home as well – floods, earthquakes, terrorist episodes and more – has woken us up to the fact that we are all vulnerable no matter where we live.  Also, in our global village, we more often travel to other continents for business or tourism and now can more easily identify with people there when disaster strikes them.

Thus, we care more and wish to respond more through charitable giving and through concern about our policy stances, whether it is on conflict and terrorism, climate change and environmental degradation, or hunger and poverty.  In that list of what Canadians care about and talk about during elections, the environment has climbed into the top three – up a long way from the bottom of the top fifty!

Almost a half century ago, in 1970, the United Nations called upon its wealthier member countries to contribute 0. 7% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to international  development assistance.  0. 7% means just 7/10 of 1%.  That is a tiny figure that would make a huge difference to the almost one billion impoverished of our world.

Canada, and many other nations, pledged to take this initiative on, but very few have actually taken action.  Canada’s aid contribution currently stands at about 0. 24% of GDP or about 1/3 of the tiny amount that it promised many years ago and most wealthy nations are in the same category.  Only very few European countries such as the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have met or exceeded the 0.7% figure.

In recent years, Canada has pulled out of a number of global agreements on environmental standards and climate change, and Prime Minister Harper was said to be noticeably absent when the UN passed a Resolution about the new Sustainable Development Goals in New York at the end of September.  Obama, Putin and the Pope were there but Mr. Harper was not.

Canada has also taken on a more bellicose role in world affairs, citing concerns about world security and terrorism, and has not been the “peacekeeper” that it was in past conflicts in the Middle East, Cyprus and other countries and regions.  Where we once sent peacekeepers and police trainers, we now send out bombing missions.

Our trade deals, as our Prime Minister explained very clearly the other evening in the Munk Debate, are about supporting the Canadians economy, not about “doing the right thing”.  We can see in our aid programs as well, that many are tied into Canadian corporate interests where our resource extraction companies are active, such as in South America, East Africa and in Asia.

Canadians are proud of the tradition of our country being an honest broker in the world.  We like to be greeted in a friendly manner when we travel abroad – because we are Canadian.  A friend who attended the UN meetings mentioned above said that being Canadian wasn’t as big a deal for people she met, as it once had been, and she was asked where her country’s priorities now lay.

Will this election bring about change?  Some argue for it and some against.  The good news is that Canadians have expressed enough interest and concern to make a foreign affairs debate necessary, lively and popular. 

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of the Marquis Project in Brandon.

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