John McKay

Your member of parliament for


John McKay

Your member of parliament for



Off the Agenda: Rock Stars and Poverty Reduction

Don Hutchinson, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, June 9, 2009
Link: Off the Agenda: Rock Stars and Poverty Reduction

Last week’s webitorial included a brief examination of some matters pertaining to the “will of Parliament” and when it might be either respected or rejected based on moral imperatives. This week, consideration is given to the curious case of Canada’s Parliament seemingly ignoring itself and choosing a direction on policy contrary to legislation unanimously passed by the House of Commons and becoming law only a year ago.

Will the shift in policy please Canadians, particularly informed Canadians?

In recent days the Minister of International Co-operation, Bev Oda, revealed Canada’s new foreign aid program by referencing that it would not please “Irish rock stars.”

Bono may or may not be your favourite rock star. You may recall the U2 lead singer’s endorsement of Paul Martin when Mr. Martin became Prime Minister of Canada and Bono’s subsequent yanking of that endorsement when Mr. Martin’s government failed to commit to increase foreign aid to 0.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product (yes, if this is new information, that is “zero point seven percent,” a commitment made by Lester B. Pearson’s Liberal government back in the 1960s).

You might not even remember the Boomtown Rats, although you have probably heard of their lead singer Bob Geldof in the context of his organizing the Live Aid concert for relieving famine in Ethiopia (1985) and the Live 8 concerts (2005) in the G8 nations in support of the international Make Poverty History campaign. His relationship with Prime Minister Martin travelled the same route as Bono’s.

These are the Irish rock stars the new policy might not please. In the end, it’s not really relevant whether Canadian policy pleases Irish rock stars, no matter what their status on the international stage.

That is relevant is whether the shift in policy will please Canadians, particularly informed Canadians. The policy, you see, flies in the face of the will of Parliament as expressed only months ago. Members of Parliament stood as one to support John McKay’s private members’ Bill C-293, an Act respecting the provision of development assistance abroad (short title: the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act).

It took over two years of effort to move C-293 through the machinery of Parliament. This time frame included building support in Parliament and increasing support and endorsement from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Make Poverty History, Development and Peace, Micah Challenge Canada, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, the Canadian Council of Churches and The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Unanimous consent – seemingly in the Christian community, non-faith based NGOs dealing with overseas development, and in the House of Commons – was quite an achievement.

Then came the announcement from Minister Oda on May 21, 2009. Moving aid from the world’s poorest nations in Africa to a focus in Latin America is the first change in foreign policy. The three key themes of foreign aid will now be: food security, economic growth and the future of children and youth. Striving to establish an end to aid dependency through these three are all good and important things. But, a mere twelve months ago Parliament determined that foreign aid should focus on accountability in the reduction of poverty and sustainable development in the world’s poor nations.

The untrained eye might see the former and the recently announced as similar, but the objectives are significantly different. The former (C-293), focuses on helping those most in need, first to eat and then to develop a means of supporting themselves. The latter focuses on enhancing the capacity of those already feeding themselves so they will not fall short of food, strengthening the economies of those countries (now Latin American focused rather than African), and helping to plan the future for the youth of those nations.

I have no bias in regard to the needs in Latin America or Africa, but I agree with McKay who is reported in the National Post as stating, “I’m looking for the phrase ‘poverty alleviation’ but I can’t find it. There’s not even a passing reference to the will of Parliament.”

I admit a bias in regard to C-293. I am a big supporter of Bill C-293, the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act. A lot of Canadian resources – time, effort and money – went into discerning and confirming the will of Parliament on this subject, i.e. directing aid to the world’s poor in a genuine effort to move them out of poverty. It seems reasonable, in fact expected, that Parliament would respect its own decision. But Ms. Oda’s announcement indicates it does not intend to do so. Bev Oda voted in favour of Bill C-293.