Sharing Discussing Understanding

Commonwealth Journalists' Association

World leaders are in Perth on the west coast of Australia this week to take part in the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Francis Ventura, 21, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Melbourne, spoke to Hugh Segal, a Senator in Canada’s Parliament and one of the members of the Eminent Persons Group which put forward proposals this weekend to reform the Commonwealth.

Ventura: I was just wondering whether you’ll be advising Prime Minister Harper to appoint a Minister for Youth and if you could please explain the criteria, or on what basis development assistance to Africa was cut, to the delegates from Africa and in particular our friend from Rwanda?

Senator Segal: It’s not a possibility of our policy. We have a Constitution and under Section 91, ‘what does the Federal Government do’ and Section 92 ‘what do the provinces do’. So our Federal Government is very careful about not stepping into the provincial areas of our Constitution. So that’s the constraint.

That being said, our Prime Minister has already spoken out in favour of the EPG (Eminent Persons Group) Report. The EPG Report is very much in favour of a Commonwealth Youth Forum, and that means that if it passes CHOGM, that Canada will have to step up and find a way to engage on that front.

My own view is that the Minister responsible for development, international development, the Honourable Bev Oda, who is also the Minister responsible for CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency), would probably be the best Minister to engage on this front, she also has the budgets that would allow her to do so and whether there is a parliamentary, a special parliamentary assistant or secretary appointed to assist on matters of youth and youth development would be an option that we could look at, but I wouldn’t rule it out as a meaningful step ahead.

There is only one country in the world, just one, that kept its promises, made to Prime Minister Blair about doubling aid to Africa over the last seven years, and that would be Canada. No other country, including the United Kingdom, has come close to keeping that promise. The new decision that our government has made, which I support 100%, is that an agreement was reached between African partners and other countries about a knee-padded process, where African countries would knowingly participate, with their African brothers and sisters, in a peer review of progress towards democracy, progress on anti-corruption, progress with respect to youth empowerment, progress with respect to women’s rights.

Countries that have been in the midst of that are still very much on the Canadian list. Some countries that are not part of that peer review have decided to be in it or not so much, on the Canadian list. We were contributing to a whole range of countries but we weren’t in the top 5% of contributors to any one of those countries, so you would have to ask yourself whether you were getting a real bang for your buck.

The notion was to focus in on those countries where we found that we could make more of a difference and also, to be brutally honest, although this is not so much a Commonwealth issue although it’s a bit of a Caribbean issue, we have also said that our own neighbourhood, the Americas, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, should be a focus of our activity and that has drawn some of those resources, as you would imagine. I don’t think that you will find that Canada will be in any way less than generous in the process going forward, but the notion that we’re going to distribute the same amount of money all the time to the same countries without regard to their progress on these knee-pad issues of democracy, anti-corruption and the rest I think is not on and it wouldn’t matter very much whether Mr Harper was Prime Minister or another party.

Five years ago in 2007 I co-authored a Senate Committee Report on foreign aid to Africa, which was very critical of the way the money was being used, the level of effectiveness and impact, and called for reforms. Many of those reforms are now being put into place by the government. So, for example, DFID (Department for International Development), or our friends in France, or Scandinavia, or the US had many more staff in the target countries, working with local NGOs (Non-Government Organisations) and others to achieve a measure of success.

We had 85% of our staff in a headquarters office in Ottawa. They are now beginning to decentralise that staff, to move more of that staff into the regions and we think that will produce more coherent aid opportunities and that will have an impact. We have not ring-fenced foreign aid, the same way that our British colleagues have done to their credit, but that being said I don’t see foreign aid being reduced that is the case for any part of government in our present effort to reduce expenditures by about 5%, to meet our deficit goals. So that’s we’re we sit as we speak.