1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 148, Issue 151

Tuesday, April 16, 2013
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

International Cooperation

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, since 1990 more than 11 million people have died as a consequence of drought and more than 2 billion have been affected by drought. Droughts are a primary cause of most ill health and death because they deny access to adequate water supplies and often trigger or exacerbate malnutrition and famine. Drought has had more impact on human lives in the last 23 years than any other physical hazard.

As of March 2013, 194 countries and the European Union had ratified the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. Along with the United States, Japan, Germany, the U.K., France, Italy and others, Canada was a leader on this issue. Canada contributed $290,644 to the convention’s budget in 2011. That is less than one millionth of a per cent of Canada’s annual expenditures. Now, Canada is the only country in the world not to be a party to the convention.

My question is the following: If the government chooses to quit an organization of every single country in the world dedicated to solving this important problem, how does it propose to make meaningful progress in helping to save more than 2 billion lives?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, that would have been a very laudable objective if that was, in fact, what this organization did. Canada’s contribution was basically spent on people meeting and discussing issues, and not delivering services where the services were required to be delivered.


Senator Jaffer: In September 2007, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification adopted a 10-year strategic plan to be in place from 2008 to 2018 to enhance the implementation of the convention. The 10-year strategic plan focuses on improving the living conditions of affected populations; improving the condition of affected ecosystems; generating global benefits through effective implementation of the convention; and mobilizing resources to support implementation of the convention through building effective partnerships between national and international actors.

If Canada did not want to sit in on any more committee meetings, why did it stop participating in a strategic plan that may have resulted in less meetings and more action?

Senator LeBreton: Again, our government has changed Canada’s approach with regard to CIDA from the way things were done in the past to a new approach. We are committed to making Canada’s assistance more effective and efficient.

As I have pointed out, we felt that the money for this program was being spent more on bureaucrats having meetings than on combating desertification. Canada has helped almost 4 million farming households in 11 countries across Africa access nutritionally-enhanced and drought-resistant bean seed varieties. This is real work dealing with real people. Canada has helped to provide over 250 million children with vitamin A supplements and has helped over 30 million people gain access to clean drinking water.

These are the programs to which we are directing our efforts rather than paying UN bureaucrats to attend meetings.

Senator Jaffer: Honourable senators, I asked the leader why we would withdraw just before the strategic plan was to be implemented. She spoke about how Canada is helping in Africa. Africa is a very large continent, and we know that there is a severe problem with desertification there. What really upsets me is that Canada was learning things from participating in this convention that were benefiting our own country.

In Canada, southern regions of the Prairies and the Interior of British Columbia, my home province, have been severely affected by drought. The impact of agriculture, forestry, industry, municipalities, recreation, human health and ecosystems in Canada is significant, and scientists predict that the problem will only worsen due to climate change.

Why are we withdrawing from such important work, which not only literally raises the quality of life for millions but also saves lives?

Senator LeBreton: First, we gave notice. Second, we committed to paying the dues that we agreed to.

I do not believe, honourable senators, that sitting with a group of UN bureaucrats will do anything to help deal with the drought problem, wherever it may be. I have just put on the record many examples of our workers actually working with countries, delivering programs for planting nutritional food and providing clean drinking water. That certainly was not happening with this bureaucratic body. Rather, Canada’s money was going basically to send people to meetings.