I hate to say it, but on Middle East funding in the wake of the Arab Spring, I am more with Stephen Harper on this one than I am against him. To a point. At the G8 meeting in France, French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised a $20B aid package to encourage the evolution of democracy in Tunisia and Egypt, and U.S. President Obama pledged a $2B package of direct loans and debt forgiveness.
According to the Globe and Mail, the aid package will total nearly $40B, with $20B coming from the proposed package of direct G8 aid, $10B in “bilateral aid from G8 countries, and another $10B from Arab gulf states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.” An interesting mix of industrial and oil money being used to support the pro-democracy movement against the potential rise of extremism left in the wake of fledgling democracies in financially dire-straights. The concern is that anti-Western radical movements will fill the void that a near-bankrupt, pro-democracy movement cannot.
In response to this, Harper has differentiated Canada from the rest of the pack in two ways.
The first is slightly less noble, but I can understand his hesitation. Canada already pays out $12B annually to global financial institutions for aid purposes, and Harper seems hesitant to commit even more aid to a cause that could potentially require billions more in assistance funding. Canada, he is saying, is willing to play ball in the big leagues of global financial aid, but we are not a bottomless source of money for the developing world.
Personally, I think Harper has reached this decision prematurely: Canada is a generous nation on the world stage, but perhaps we are patting ourselves on the back prematurely. We have never reached our stated goal of donating 0.7% of our GDP to foreign aid (the closest we came is .49% in 1991, and we sit typically at .3%), and there is always work to be done, since we have always punched below our weight. So paying lip service to supporting the Arab Spring, while refusing to donate any new money to the cause, is rather callous of us. We are proving in this case that we are not willing to put enough money where our mouth is.
The second way in which he have stood out is the manner in which we are demanding money be distributed to Egypt and Tunisia. Rather than submit the money as direct aid to North Africa, Harper is suggesting that the money be better distributed through global financial institutions like the World Bank and the European Development Fund. I wonder if this has anything to do with the fear that money marshaled directly into a country in turmoil might easily end up in the wrong hands, or be used against those fighting for democratic elections?
In his resistance to direct aid, I would have loved for Harper to have suggested that the aid money be channeled into North Africa through respected aid organizations, global NGO’s that have years of experience and respectability and trust in the field. Companies that know the problems on the ground like Amnesty International or Doctors without Borders, although I realize their mandates are very specific. While I do agree with Harper that transitioning the money to North Africa through an established (and, theoretically, accountable) organization like the World Bank or the European Development Fund would be preferable to direct aid, I feel as though an opportunity has been missed to support the good work being done by many reputable global aid NGO’s.
The important thing is getting the funding to North Africa right the first time around. The G8 should not be too hasty in determining the best way to administer the massive $40B fund they will soon have to play around with. This is not money to be squandered due to poor administration or corruption, as happens all to often in organizations and countries from the developing world right up to the World Bank and the IMF. Nor should they wait too long, however, as timing is critical on the ground.
But if Canada is hesitant to commit more than our current donations already, I cannot imagine the fiscally-conservative Stephen Harper opting to throw good money after bad.
And, despite the importance of the cause, nor should he.