While Canada is stereotypically recognized as a large country filled with nice people who play hockey and say “eh,” there’s one stereotype we should be proud to embrace: the one that assumes Canadians are committed to helping vulnerable populations around the world.
Canada has long been considered a leader in immigration and gender equality, and the country ranks high on the list of top development aid donors.
The last federal budget saw an increase of $2 billion in official development assistance (ODA) over five years, which marked a step forward for Canada in meeting its international obligations to continue raising its aid budget.
Still, there have been notable moments in the country’s history of development aid, and they deserve to be celebrated, as they have contributed to saving millions of lives. Past commitments can now serve as a road map for future development aid endeavours.
For International Development Week 2019, Global Citizen is remembering some of the big commitments made by Canada in the fight to end extreme poverty by 2030.
On Maternal Health
At the G8 Summit in Huntsville, Ontario, in June 2010, Canada announced the Muskoka Initiative — a policy that called on member nations to contribute an additional $5 billion between 2010 and 2015 on maternal, newborn, and child health in developing countries.
Maternal health became then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s development aid legacy. In May 2014, Harper pledged an additional $3.5 billion to maternal, newborn, and child health for 2015 to 2020.
Harper explained that the funds would go to immunization and nutrition programs in developing countries, and tools to gather statistics around infants’ birth and death rates, according to the Star.
His commitment was further solidified in September 2014, when he spoke at the UN General Assembly.
“Saving the lives of children and mothers is a fight we can win. To get it done, two things are needed now: the political focus and renewed financial commitment,” he said in his speech. “I know we all have many competing priorities … but to have come so far [and] to stop now would be a tragedy.”
His dedication to this cause was applauded by many, including Melinda Gates, who said that Harper’s commitment earned Canada a global reputation of leadership on maternal health.
In 1988, the World Health Assembly established the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), and Canada was one of its first major donors.
Polio is an infectious disease that can cause irreversible paralysis and death, and at the time it affected 350,000 children per year.
Now, thanks to commitments like Canada’s, polio has been eradicated from every country except for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. It is 99.9% eradicated, which makes the fight to end the disease all the more pressing.
“As long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. Failure to eradicate polio from these last remaining strongholds could result in as many as 200,000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world,” the World Health Organization reports.
Efforts to eradicate polio have also improved vital health systems that help communities confront epidemics like Ebola and Zika.
Canada has contributed to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, since 2002. Most recently, Canada pledged $500 million to Gavi for the period of 2016 to 2020, but the country’s overall investment totals more than $1 billion.
Gavi brings together public and private sectors looking to increase access for children to life-saving vaccines. Since its inception in 2000, it has vaccinated more than 700 million children globally and has saved over 10 million lives.
Just this month, philanthropist Bill Gates penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal showcasing the global impact made thanks to investments in global health, calling out the importance of organizations like Gavi and its impact on child mortality rates.
According to Gates, the number of children under the age of 5 dying in low- and middle-income countries has decreased by about 40% since Gavi was founded.
On HIV, AIDS, and Tuberculosis
That same article by Gates touched on initiatives to combat HIV, too.
“The progress on HIV is perhaps the most astonishing, especially if you remember the state of the epidemic around 2000,” he wrote.
On Sept. 17, Global Citizen held its first festival in Canada as a finale to the Global Fund’s Fifth Replenishment Conference, which was hosted by Trudeau.
On the day of the festival, leaders pledged over $12.9 billion USD over three years, which was set to save 8 million lives and prevent 300 million infections.
On Gender Equality
Since Trudeau took office in November 2015, the prime minister has made it clear that gender equality is on his radar.
In March 2017, Canada pledged $20 million to She Decides after President Trump implemented the ”global gag rule.” Days later, on International Women’s Day, Canada announced a $650-million commitment to support sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
A few months later, on June 9, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau announced Canada’s new feminist international assistance policy. This policy puts women and girls at the heart of international assistance.
And in November 2018, Canada promised CAD $50 million to the Global Financing Facility specifically for 2019, which takes Canada’s total commitment to the initiative to $290 million through to 2020.
2018 marked an important year in commitments to education.
Today, more than 130 million girls are out of school around the world. Conflict, poverty, and natural disasters are all crises that affect girls’ access to education.
"Now get out there and change the world!"— Global Citizen Canada (@GlblCtznCAN) December 2, 2018
Canadian PM @JustinTrudeau couldn't make it to #GlobalCitizenFestivalSA, but he has an important message for the thousands of Global Citizens in Jozi right now! 🇨🇦
Join us and take action on education here: https://t.co/LoqQZLYzXgpic.twitter.com/TrGyAe7lah
Ahead of Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, more than 45,000 Global Citizens called on Canada to commit to Education Cannot Wait — and Trudeau responded with a commitment of $50 million.
This contribution will affect the lives of almost 340,000 children and is part of a larger commitment of $400 million to education for girls in crisis that was announced at the G7 Summit in Charlevoix, Quebec, in June 2018.
Canada’s commitments in development aid have been instrumental in the progress made on achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We cannot stop now. Join Global Citizen in celebrating Canada’s commitments and in looking forward to continued efforts in the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030.