Commentary | Hyde Park: Budget recklessly neglects foreign aid

In some ways, the budget process was heartening; the threat of a coalition forced the Conservatives to deliver a centrist budget, which – though woefully inadequate – is a step in the right direction. Sure, I’d like to see a united majority coalition with a backbone, instead of a Liberal spine snapped in half like a broken reed.

As a student of the “what the hell have we gotten ourselves into” environmental school, it’s nice to see that the popular press and the two opposition parties with balls – the NDP and the Bloc – have pointed out that a budget which refuses to address the medium-term environmental crisis is simply unacceptable. Ditto for the many issues of social justice exacerbated by pretty much everyone having less purchasing power.

However, the above indignation lies firmly in the “bitch with my friends between classes” category. There is another omission from the budget which lies firmly in the “reading this makes me so pissed off I just have to post it to Facebook, and angst over whether my friends share the same sense of white-hot rage” category.

The price of nutritional staples is going up all over the world. For most students, it means that food prices are increasing faster than inflation, leaving a feeling of being ripped-off at the grocery store. For some Canadians, it means trips to the food bank become the only option. If you’re one of seven million people surviving on World Food Program aid in Zimbabwe, it means that your ration is about to be cut in half. It means that your already inadequate 10-kg per month supply – still below the recommended minimum of 12 kg per month – is getting cut in half to about 600 calories per day. All this, while the average North American eats about 3,000 calories per day. Of course, the Zimbabwean dilemma is just one of the most egregious and visible examples.

So when Gilles Duceppe sends me a brochure about “le coup” of Parliament and Jack Layton harps on about how the most vulnerable aren’t receiving a huge boost in employment insurance, I agree – but I’m not burning with indignation. If our politicians really want a shining image of caring for their fellow man, why don’t they bring up the fact that we, as Canadians, have a duty not just to out-of-work Ontario auto workers and laid-off Quebec forestry workers?

This is, after all, the same government which promised to devote 0.7 per cent of its budget to foreign aid. Last year, it also promised to double aid to Africa by 2008-2009 and to double total international assistance by 2010-2011. Why aren’t Jack, Gilles, and Iggy pointing out that the 2009 budget doesn’t make any reference to foreign aid?

Looking south of the border, we see a country in far worse economic straits than we, but one that is still excited to renew its engagement with the world. Here, the government, opposition, and the fifth estate apparently don’t realize that Canada once did pride itself on being an international leader.

Kyle Bailey is a U3 Environment student, who like to hear from you at kylebailey260@gmail.com.


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