Tuesday, January 26, 2010

This time, they mean it

Did you see the Harper op-ed in Toronto Star today?
This week, many global leaders and members of the international business community will meet at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. There, Canada will set out its plans as president of the G8 and host of the G20 Toronto summit in June.
As president of the G8 in 2010, Canada will champion a major initiative to improve the health of women and children in the world's poorest regions. Members of the G8 can make a tangible difference in maternal and child health and Canada will be making this the top priority in June. Far too many lives and unexplored futures have already been lost for want of relatively simple health-care solutions.
As its contribution to this G8 initiative, Canada will look to mobilize G8 governments and non-governmental organizations as well as private foundations. Setting a global agenda for improving maternal and child health is an ambitious plan. But working with other nations and aid agencies on the ground where the need is greatest makes it an achievable goal.

There is other business to be transacted at the G8 as well as informal discussions on security, nuclear proliferation and the environment. But our focus on maternal and child health will be a priority.
Nothing against this sudden prioritization at all. Indeed, it's an admirable focus and I note that Michael Ignatieff, for example, was speaking about this last week.

What's notable is the fickleness in the choice, the shift away from the "dirty bomb" focus that strangely appeared in the news during the first week of January, indicating that it was the topic Canada would in fact focus on in its G8/G20 2010 presidency, at the beck and call of the U.S. and Russia:
Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and corralling components for a dirty bomb terror attack is fast becoming Canada's top agenda item for the G8 summit it will host this summer.

The global economic downturn will dominate talks by the leaders of the Group of Eight countries when they hold their June summit in Huntsville, Ont., but aides to Prime Minister Stephen Harper are laying the ground work for another issue: giving new momentum to global nuclear non-proliferation efforts.
Good bye dirty bombs, maybe another time.

How does all this square with the de-funding of groups like KAIROS, for example, that will now be unable to fund that legal clinic for women in the Congo:
In the Congo, KAIROS funding means a women’s legal clinic to address rampant gender-based violence will be established. Loss of this funding to our critical human rights partner, Héritiers de la Justice, compromises this critical work to fight rape as a weapon of war.
Surely such cuts wouldn't be made if the Conservatives truly believed in their newfound G8 presidency initiative of improving the health of women and children in the world's poorest regions. That is one of the most glaring examples of women in the world in need of help. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knows it.

Recall also the removal of terms such as "gender equality" and "gender-based violence" from Canada's foreign policies by these Conservatives. How does that fit in with the new priority?

Tacking whatever way the wind blows, that's the impression you have with this government's engagement in the world. This is an interesting development, but their record doesn't speak to their sudden engagement with the topic.