Saturday, August 9, 2014

Canada leads world in empty rhetoric

Hey, it's what we call "punching above our weight"!

Not too many days pass without a press release from Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs condemning Putin or proclaiming Israel's right to defend itself. But where we really shine is in taking credit for our imaginary leadership role in saving women and girls and children in the developing world.

Big Steve latched onto that issue at the 2010 G-8 meetings with the so-called Muskoka Initiative. This was nothing more than the reiteration of the UN's Millennial Development Goals circa 1990, but ever since the Muskoka Initiative the Harperites have led us to believe we play some kind of leadership role. Besides, Big Steve hates the UN.

In the past three days alone we've had four press releases patting ourselves on the back for our leading role in saving the lives of women and children:

  • On 6 August we are informed that Canadian leadership in MNCH (Maternal Newborn Child Health)is saving women and children in the developing world.
  • On 7 August we are reminded that "Canadian leadership has once again brought MNCH to the forefront of the world's attention."
  • Later on 7 August, as if telling ourselves how great we are once a day isn't enough, we are told that Canadian leadership in MNCH will improve health and nutrition in Nigeria. We improve health and nutrition by subsidizing Monsanto and other First World agri-business conglomerates.
  • On 8 August we get more of the same, just in case we've forgotten. I'm writing this on 9 August and the day isn't over, so we could see another round of chest-thumping today.

Where we are leading  the most is in the ten nations where we focus our efforts. By far the largest of those ten are Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Ethiopia. Just for fun, let's see how "Canadian leadership" is saving women and children in those countries. The latest year for which comprehensive child mortality stats are available is 2012, so if we compare child mortality in the two years after Harper took ownership for saving women and children with the Muskoka Initiative, to the two years immediately prior, we should get a sense of the difference that our leadership has made. These numbers come from the World Bank.

In 2008 Nigeria had a child mortality rate of 142 per 100,000. By 2010 that had dropped to 132. That's a 7% decline. By 2012 the rate declined further to 124 per 100,000, or another 6%. In other words, the child mortality rate was dropping more quickly in the two years before the Muskoka Initiative than in the two years thereafter.

Bangladesh saw a drop of 14.5% in the two years before Muskoka, and a further 12.7% drop in the two years after.

The numbers for Ethiopia are 12.6% and 10.5%.

In the three largest "countries of focus" for our "leadership" in saving women and children, they were being saved more efficaciously before Prime Minister Harper declared our leadership!

Make no mistake; the goal of saving women and children anywhere is a noble one. But to constantly trumpet our great virtue in doing these great things when our "leadership" either doesn't exist or is making no difference seems more than dishonest.

If Canada's government wanted to make a real difference to the lives of women and girls right in their backyard, instead of scoring cheap PR points with empty rhetoric, they might try addressing the fact that child mortality rates among Canadian Indians are roughly double that of Canadian society as a whole.

As a Canadian, that's the kind of leadership I'd like to see.

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