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G7/8 Oral History

Interview with Susan Whelan,
Minister for International Cooperation, Canada

with Professor John Kirton,
Ottawa, May 15, 2003

JK: Hello, I’m professor John Kirton, Director of the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto, and your lead instructor for G8 Online. We’re very pleased to be here today with the Honourable Susan Whelan, Canada’s Minister for International Cooperation here on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Welcome, Minister.

SW: Thank you.

JK: Ms Whelan, in September of 2002, the world saw the birth of a new centre of global governance for development cooperation, the first ever stand-alone G8 development cooperation ministers meeting, taking place in Windsor, Ontario. You were the host of that meeting; you were the architect of it. Can you tell us why you saw the need to bring that institution into being and why you shaped it the way you did?

SW: Well, basically when I became Minister in January 2002 there was a process underway in which Canada would be hosting the G8 summit. And I asked a number of questions and had an opportunity early on in my new tenure as Minister to meet with the representative, the G8 sherpa, who was Ambassador Bob Fowler. We had a large discussion about Africa and the focus the Prime Minister was going to be putting on the G8 and how Canada could contribute to that and how I could continue to contribute to that in my role. I left that first meeting with Ambassador Fowler and decided that we should have the development ministers come together the way the finance ministers come together, the way the foreign ministers come together, the way other ministers are coming together, to discuss the issues that affect the G8, to also allow Canada to continue to play a role and the Prime Minister to continue to have leadership on the G8 file, and the development aspects with regards specifically to Africa but other development issues as well.

By setting up the forum as I did, hosting it in Windsor, it was in a very international context, because sitting in a room in Windsor looking across the river at Detroit at the United States shows how we are so interconnected, and yet how we all have different countries. And how we have to come together as we are working in the developing world in a coordinated, cohesive fashion. It allowed me an opportunity to continue on with what had taken place at the G8 Summit in Kananaskis. To continue on with the commitments we made in Monterrey before the G8 Summit. And to bring the development ministers to a new level where we can exchange views and come together and to discuss the commitments we’d made over the year prior, such as the commitment to new financing that was made in Monterrey and how could we implement that in a more coordinated fashion. Another issue was country ownership: how could we as a G8 country show leadership in directing country ownership and allowing countries to lead themselves?

It became quite a discussion that took place at that meeting. I was quite pleased with the level of activity and the ability for us to agree on some areas of focus, particularly as I said, country ownership, the new resources that were going to be available, as well as the aspects of rural development and how do we move education to the forefront. And there was a lot of good discussion.

There has been some serious progress since that meeting. Canada went on to announce money particularly for education under the fast-track initiative; other counties have now joined that same initiative. We’ve been able to come together in discussions on agriculture and rural development. The WSSD summit was almost a prefab to that meeting and it allowed us to really get down to some basic issues.

I am very optimistic that things will continue. My counterpart in France has already hosted the G8 development ministers this time in the lead-up to the summit, which I think is critical to show the importance of development on the agenda at the G8 Summit that will taking place in Evian. And I am pleased that I was able to start something in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, that will now allow other development ministers to continue to ensure that the development agenda stays high on the G8 agenda. And we have to have that commitment for the long term, because the Prime Minister of Canada was very committed to the Africa issue. It can’t just to be a one- or two-summit issue. It has to be a long-term issue, and that’s the key, ensuring that it’s long term — and by engaging the development ministers and ensuring there is a focus we can continue to ensure that the development agenda is on the G8 agenda, which means we’ll be able to make that progress that we haven’t been able to make in the past.

JK: It’s certainly good to see that the legacy of your leadership at Windsor lives on in the second meeting of development cooperation ministers of the G8 in Paris, and it looks like the Prime Minister’s legacy at Kananaskis will be living on in the attention to Africa, in the invitation to African leaders to come to the Summit at Evian-les-Bains, to focus on water and other important priorities. But of course the world will be asking, as they always do G8 meetings, what has really been accomplished since Kananaskis, since the Windsor meeting of development cooperation ministers. I know Canada has been trying to show equally leadership through the Canada Fund for Africa, through regular CIDA programs and through other initiatives in education. What are you most proud of having accomplished by way of implementation?

SW: In fact, the Canada Fund for Africa was a number of initiatives announced at the G8 summit by the Prime Minister, about $420 of the $500 million that had been set aside, but that was just the start of the process for implementation. It allows us to move forward in a number of strategic areas, in health, education, water management and governance as well as investment. At the same time I have been able to simultaneously engage in a couple of policy initiatives at CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, on agriculture and rural development, and on private sector development, which will complement the G8 initiative. We also were able to announce our strengthening of aid effectiveness policy, which allows Canada to take development in a new direction and to clearly to build on the NEPAD process, on the G8 Africa Action Plan by engaging in country ownership and country strategies and letting countries drive the process, which will bring, I believe, proof to the pudding, I guess you could say, as we move forward in the development agenda. I’m also very pleased to see that we’ve been able to come together as countries. We have a number of good working groups in the education sector, in the health sector, in some of the countries in Africa where donors are sitting at same table, and donors are discussing issues and pooling their resources and their funds in a coordinated, cohesive fashion that enhances the direction the country has set, working with the country and the government in place and letting a democratic process take hold. So I think there are a number of achievements that have happened and there are a number more that we can do.

JK: So, we’re off to a good start in the first year, but I guess we are all conscious of the Millennium development goals, the very ambitious targets lying ahead. You’ve just come back from Paris, the second meeting of the forum, where you sat down with your colleagues and heard their views. Looking ahead, particularly to those Millennium development targets, what do you see as the major challenges lying ahead from a Canadian perspective, perhaps ones where Canada can really make a difference in the world?

SW: Canada has been able to show that it is going to make a difference by the Prime Minister’s commitment as well at Kananaskis where he said there would be an 8 percent aid increase in our budget. That has happened with the budget of 2003, and 50 percent of those resources will go towards Africa. How do we get to reach those Millennium targets that the Prime Minister embraced at Monterrey, that we’re so committing to, by having half the people have access to clean water by the year 2015, by reducing child mortality, by having education for all. Those are critical goals for Canada and we’re really trying to focus in on the Millennium development goals in our programming, in the results we are trying to achieve, looking at the ways that we can do that, again in a coordinated fashion. What we’ve done is identify nine countries of focus at CIDA, six of which are in Africa: Ghana, Senegal, Mozambique, Mali, Tanzania, Ethiopia. And we’ve also identified three countries outside of Africa — Bolivia, Honduras and Bangladesh in Asia — where we are trying to focus in on a number of sectors where we can have that country-driven process, increased resources, better effectiveness and better management. It has really been quite a challenge for us to be able to move forward as quickly as we’ve had. But if you look at the other things we have done to try and meet the Millennium development goals, the untying of our aid, the tariff and duty-free access as of January 1 for the least developed countries and most of Sub-Saharan Africa, Canada has made great strides forward. It has been an incredible 12 months of activity from a trade perspective, from a foreign policy perspective, from a development perspective and as well from a defence perspective. We are all trying to work very much together. We’ve changed the direction and the focus of how we work as a government together. I have regular meetings with my counterparts from Defence and Foreign Affairs and International Trade, trying to make sure our agenda is cohesive and coordinated from Canada’s perspective and that we meet the needs of the developing world. And that’s how we’re going to make changes. The challenges that international trade faces affect what is going to happen in the developing world. How we implement our agriculture rural development policy is greatly affected by the round of WTO talks, so there’s a number of things we have to do together. But I’m very pleased to see that we’re on track to achieving and working toward the Millennium development goals. The targeting is there; Canada is committed to it. The most recent announcement that we’ve had on immunization is a good example again of Canada trying to deal with the rate of child death and trying to reduce the rate of child mortality before the age of five. We’re looking in at those areas: education, the fast-track initiative. We added recently Honduras to the list. We’re looking again at how we meet those targets, how do we ensure we that we all work together. And I think Canada is definitely on the right track and Canada is definitely making a difference in the world.

JK: Well, this is a formidable set of challenges in a globalizing age, trying to do development differently in full partnership on a democratic foundation. So I think our friends in the Commonwealth, the Francophonie, Canadians, our friends in the G8 and elsewhere, thank you, Susan Whelan, for being there to lead us into this new age and for your initiative in making sure that the G8 will always be there in a focused fashion to follow where you led in Windsor just a year ago.

SW: Well, thank you. We hope to be able to allow that to continue and we hope that the G8 process will live on and evolve and that development will stay high on the agenda and that the Millennium development goals and targets will be met and that Canada will have shown tremendous leadership on behalf of all Canadians.

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