I leave tomorrow morning for Africa, Sudan/Darfur specifically, to begin construction of a high school for Darfur refugees, as well as assessing the various water and micro-enterprise projects we’ve had on the go there for the last decade. Yet I visit the region with a certain sense of foreboding that has only surfaced in the past year. Since I was there last January, word has spread that the government has pulled a large part of its development funds out of numerous African countries. The matter was further complicated when a large number of African ambassadors visited the foreign affairs committee in Ottawa to plead with Canada to stay the course and help to enforce the many improvements that had emerged in the last decade – they were turned away empty-handed.
But the African continent now has far greater troubles than just Canada’s poor showing. The effects of climate change are felt more there than any place else on earth, and yet they caused hardly any of the emissions that led to the emergency. The Copenhagen climate talks concluded that millions upon millions of Africans are on the verge of becoming “environmental refugees,” and their impending plight is bound to shake our globe in challenging ways.
Like many reading this blog, I’ve done a lot of thinking over the present prorogation of Parliament and I presume I’m in the vanguard of those who are deeply troubled by the development. Yet in so many ways, Canada has been prorogued for years. Suspending or cancelling our international commitment to Africa is bad enough, but where also is our commitment to battling climate change, or how could we spend so abundantly with no plan in place for how we pay it off? While our Aboriginal communities still suffer from our prorogation of the human spirit, this country yet refuses to sign the UN’s Declaration of Aboriginal Rights. We went AWOL on medical isotopes and have done absolutely nothing to deal with the emerging healthcare crisis already at our doorstep. Child poverty is roughly what it was 20 years ago and we still haven’t figured out what our development plans look like as we leave Afghanistan.
Heck, this country has been in prorogation for a long time, enough that it might be time to worry that it’s becoming part of our collective DNA. In our inability and lack of maturity surrounding minority government, we take the kind of incremental steps that lead to … nothing. Parliamentarians sit fewer days in the House than ever before and these significant issues lie in wait for someone to use power for anything other than the desire to hold on to it.
Now that we’ve prorogued our commitment to Africa as well, what do I tell the men, women and children we meet about why our largesse is no longer showing up? I know the answer already, and it has little to do with government. Canadians in the literal millions have donated to so many African causes in the last decade that it’s staggering. Individuals, churches, agencies, mosques, temples, service clubs, synagogues, boy scouts, schools at every level, grandmothers, and African Canadians themselves – these, and so many more, have accomplished what government has failed to do. They don’t know what prorogation of compassion means.
To the present government, Africa remains that dark and forbidding continent, but the only thing “dark” is our ignorance of it. Nevertheless to Canadians, Africa is a beacon of hope, progress and profound human endeavour.
And that’s what I’ll tell the Africans while I’m there. I’ll remind them about NDP MPs Judy Wasylwcia-Leis and Paul Dewar, Bloc members Joanne Deschamps and Francine Lalonde, and Liberals like Romeo Dallaire and Bob Rae (and those individual Conservatives committed to Africa but afraid to challenge their own party) – all sincere Parliamentarians dedicated to Africa. And I’ll talk about former prime ministers Joe Clark and Paul Martin and their dedicated efforts for the continent. Finally, and ultimately, I’ll remind them that Canada one day will be back and that the days of prorogation will be over. For the present, Canadians of all stripes and all ages have kept the faith; soon enough, the Canadian government will return and Parliamentarians like those mentioned above will guide us to a new era of commitment. Talk to you in a couple of weeks.