"The modest increase is welcomed by Catholics who feel their country should be sharing more of our wealth in the name of defeating poverty, war and injustice in the world. The small move forward should embolden us to raise our voice even louder," Luke Stocking writes. Photo by Michael Swan

Luke Stocking: The 0.7 per cent aid solution requires massive push

  • March 12, 2018
The question in Section 5 of the form stares at me from my computer: “Estimated Attendance?” I am filling out the Nathan Phillips Square Special Event Application form provided by the City of Toronto. On April 25, we plan to gather as young Catholics to raise our voices for a more generous Canada.

Since September, students from across the Greater Toronto Area have been gathering signatures on postcards and petitions for the Development and Peace action campaign, “Women at the Heart of Peace.” They are asking the federal government to support women working for peace and to commit Canada to a plan to hit the UN target of dedicating 0.7 per cent of our gross national income to international assistance.

I have described the initiative to students as a $6.9 billion fundraiser. That is roughly the difference between the 0.26 per cent where we stood on Feb. 26 and the 0.7 target.

“We are going to have you hold bake sales where you charge $100,000 a cookie,” I joke with them. When I tell them we can achieve this without a single bake sale or any other school fundraiser they are at first puzzled.

Then when I explain, they are empowered. Given that the federal government just unveiled the 2018 budget on Feb. 27, it is a good time to have empowered Catholic students on this issue.

The number of 6.9 billion is now set to decrease slightly. After a 2017 budget increase of exactly zero dollars to international assistance last year, anything would have been an improvement in Budget 2018. This time, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that Canadian generosity would increase by $2 billion over the next five years.

The modest increase is welcomed by Catholics who feel their country should be sharing more of our wealth in the name of defeating poverty, war and injustice in the world. The small move forward should embolden us to raise our voice even louder.

This announcement represents roughly a two-per-cent increase to the existing budget. It is estimated that in order to hit the 0.7-per-cent benchmark by 2030, we would need to see annual increases of 15 per cent. The 2030 target date appeared in a report published by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development in 2016.

We could spend energy lamenting that not enough is being done and we are therefore unlikely to reach the goal. I suggest another approach: The government has given an inch, and it is time for us to take a mile on behalf of the poor.

Hence, it is time for a rally. On April 25, every school that participated in the campaign will bring all the signatures they have collected to City Hall. We have asked them to transform thousands of small pieces of paper into a powerful voice that stands in solidarity with the poor and oppressed and the vision of 0.7 per cent. On April 25 they will get to witness that voice firsthand.

At the rally they will also get to meet the Ottawa delegation that consists of two students from each participating school who will take the signatures collected at the rally to Ottawa on May 2. It is the hope of the Ottawa delegation to be able to personally deliver the signatures to the prime minister.

And so the question on the form continues to stare at me: “Estimated Attendance?” When one is a dreamer like myself, it is tempting to stay in the dream and not worry about the actual reality. But behind the dream of the rally I know there are a hundred mundane tasks that need to be carried out to reach it.

I have been watching the number of days until April 25 written on my office whiteboard shrinking and shrinking.

As the days speed by, it seems like the tasks keep multiplying. I contemplate what number to put down on the form. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement said, “You can spend your time agonizing or organizing.”

I put the dreams out of my head for the moment and concentrate on the next e-mail, the next presentation. And what number did I finally put down? You will just have to come to Nathan Phillips Square April 25 and see for yourself.

(Stocking is Central Ontario animator with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.)

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