OTTAWA – Canada should step up its support for education in the developing world in the name of fostering peace and economic growth both at home and abroad, says former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard.
Gillard, who chairs the board of Global Partnership for Education, is meeting this week with fellow members in Ottawa, where she’s urging Canada to increase its contribution to the international advocacy group she leads.
That contribution currently stands at $120 million over four years, the result of a pledge from the previous Conservative government.
“We think the world is lifting ambition around education,” Gillard said in an interview.
“Global leaders like Malala (Yousafzai) are calling on Canada and the world to lift ambition, and we do think that what we do fits absolutely with Canada’s priorities for change.”
The message from Gillard, the first woman to become prime minister of Australia, goes beyond the money.
The world is looking to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who also holds the youth portfolio, to show leadership on the issue, she said — especially since Canada is hosting the G7 summit in the Charlevoix region of Quebec next year.
Her plea comes in a year when the federal budget included no new foreign aid spending, and when Finance Minister Bill Morneau has talked about doing more with less, including by involving private companies in financing poverty-reduction projects.
It also comes as the Liberal government gingerly navigates its complex trading relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump.
That has led Trudeau to be a rather muted critic on the world stage, although Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland signalled a change on that front Tuesday in a major speech that called for Canada to step into a global leadership role.
It’s understandable for a politician to focus on jobs and economic growth at home, Gillard said — but what happens elsewhere can also have a significant impact, she added.
“The long term for Canada’s peace and prosperity does depend so much on what happens around the rest of the world.”
Improving access to quality education — especially for girls — can improve health outcomes, increase vaccination rates, lower the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and decrease infant mortality rates, she argued.
And societies with greater education levels are more likely to resolve conflicts through peaceful means, she said.
“I think there’s the pressing issues of today, but where will Canadian jobs and prosperity come from in 10, 20, 30, 40 years? Part of answering that very big question is looking to global growth, global circumstances, global peace and stability,” she said.
“I’m absolutely a believer that education is the key to unlocking the best future for all of us.”
International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau is expected to unveil the new federal international assistance policy on Friday.
The Liberals have said it will focus on the rights of women and girls and gender equality.
Author: JOANNA SMITH