On the eve of the G-7 meetings, in Scotland: CCCB Social Affairs Commission is asking Canadian leadership

Sunday, June 26 2005

Rt. Hon. Paul Martin, M.P., P.C.
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons,
Ottawa, Ontario,
K1A 0A6

Dear Prime Minister Martin:

We write to you on the eve of the G-7 meetings that will take place this July in Gleneagles, Scotland, to encourage you to propose farsighted initiatives to eradicate global poverty. In particular, we ask you to demonstrate Canadian leadership in two specific areas: canceling multilateral debt, and increasing Canada’s overseas development assistance to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI).

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, launched in late 2004, declares that  “At the beginning of the New Millennium, the poverty of billions of men and women is “the one issue that most challenges our human and Christian consciences,” quoting Pope John Paul II’s World Day of Peace Message in 2000 (italics in original). Certainly a huge impediment to eradicating global poverty, and an impediment to achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, lies in the immense debt overhang with which the countries of the Global South are still burdened. While more than 130,000 Africans die every week from preventable causes, Sub-Saharan African countries continue to pay about US$12 billion a year servicing onerous debts. For Africa to emerge from the debt trap, this money is urgently needed for health care, potable water, education of the young and so many other social priorities that are much more pressing than payments to assuage the seemingly endless appetites of lenders.

While we applaud the recent initiative of the G-7 Finance Ministers to drop the debts of 18 countries, it is clear that at least another 40 impoverished nations are in dire need of debt cancellation. We urge you to move beyond half-hearted proposals to suspend debt service payments until 2015, and rather to adopt the Jubilee vision to cancel illegitimate multilateral debts outright, without the imposition of stringent structural adjustment conditionalities.

In terms of Canada’s commitment to overseas development assistance (ODA), we were encouraged by the announcement of an additional $500 million (over two years) that was devoted to foreign aid in the May 3 budget bill agreement. But Canada still lags behind 11 other countries that have either reached the 0.7% of GNI goal for ODA, or which have at least set targets to do so by 2015. The Catholic Bishops of Canada suggest that an announcement of a firm timetable to reach the 0.7% of GNI commitment, in advance of the Gleneagles Summit, would set Canada on a welcome path to moral and political leadership in global development issues.

In your Foreword to Canada’s International Policy Statement last month, we have noted that you wrote, “Canadians have demonstrated, time and again, a remarkable generosity toward the world’s poor and suffering, most recently in the response to last December’s Indian Ocean tsunami disaster. Whether as members of religious congregations, as supporters of non-governmental organizations, or as private individuals working and contributing on their own, Canadians have done a great deal to share their good fortune with others.” We have also noted the February 17 letter signed by leaders of the three opposition parties, which called for “steady and predictable increases to Canada’s ODA.” Increased and more effective Canadian development assistance, fully devoted to the aim of poverty reduction, would be positively embraced by Canadians, unanimously supported by the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and appreciated by all the peoples of the world.

As the G-7 meeting approaches, we ask you to provide leadership in global poverty eradication, especially in the areas of debt cancellation and increased development assistance. It would be the right thing to do, and the right moment to act.

For our part, while encouraging our government to act, the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs will support the Make Poverty History Campaign and continue to encourage Canadians to sensitize themselves to these issues so crucial to the creation of an international order of justice, peace, security and solidarity.

With my assurance of sincere prayers for the success of this very important encounter of world leaders, I remain,

Yours truly,

Most Reverend Blaise Morand
Bishop of Prince Albert
Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Cc Hon. Ralph Goodale, Minister of Finance
Hon. Aileen Carroll, Minister for International Cooperation

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