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Prime Minister Harper discusses government’s role in East African Famine relief

6 September 2011 No Comments

Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets his counter parts at the G8 summit in Muskoka. TORONTO STAR/STEVE RUSSELL

By Samuel Getachew

With the recent tragic East African famine still fresh in the minds and hearts of Canadians, Sway catches up with the Prime Minister of Canada, The Hon Stephen Harper. He reflects on the ongoing governments effort to help the millions of victims as well as reflect on his future legacy as our 22nd Prime Minister.

Mr Prime Minister – Congratulations on your great win earlier this summer. Thinking fifty years from now, how do you want Canadians / historians to view your Prime Ministership?

Well thank you very much. It’s a wonderful honour to have been given a strong mandate by Canadians to focus on what matters to all of us, and that’s the economy. Look, I don’t write the history books, I’ll leave that to others. What I do know is that I will always be proud to have been a part of a government that has worked and continues to work hard to help Canada navigate through the recent global economic problems, and making us a stronger and safer country in the process.

Canada and Canadians have had a profound role in the world for a long time. It is no longer strange to walk in to any world event and find lots of Canadians taking part in making a positive contribution. The current famine situation in East Africa is one example. Please share with us Canada’s great response to this tragedy?

Well, as you know, we’ve done quite a bit so far. Canada had already committed $22.3 million dollars which has gone to programmes like the World Food Program (WFP), the UNHCR, World Vision, Oxfam Canada and MSF to help in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti, areas affected by the drought.Canadian funding has also been used in Kenya to help provide access to water and sanitation services to Kenyan host communities – that’s over 10,000 households –  affected by drought and the environmental effects of hosting a large Somali refugee population.Through the East Africa Drought Relief Fund, the Government of Canada will complement the generosity of Canadians. This means that for every eligible contribution made by individual Canadians to registered Canadian charities responding to the East Africa drought, from July 6 until September 16, 2011, the Government of Canada will set aside one dollar for the fund.

In 1984, a Conservative Prime Minister (of Canada) took a leadership role to help Ethiopia. He called on rich countries to make “a Herculean effort on the part of all member nations” to help the 1984 famine in that country. Why is it important for governments such as ours to still be engaged in world affairs and especially in time of great need?

Canada is one of the most fortunate countries in the world in so many ways. We face many challenges but unlike so many places around the world, we haven’t been wracked by years of civil war or plagued by massive natural disasters. When you are this fortunate, it’s important to do what you can to help those who need help. It’s as simple as that, and Canada will always do its part.

Since you became Prime Minister about five years ago – you have taken multiple trips to Africa. What has surprised you most about the continent and what are some of your government’s signature policies when it comes to Africa?

My first opportunity to go to Africa was in 2007 when I attended the Commonwealth Heads of Governments meeting in Uganda. Canada and much of Africa have a lot in common. Vast geographic distances and breathtaking natural beauty among them. Many African nations also belong to the Commonwealth or la Francophonie, and it has been a great experience interacting with member countries from both organizations to address problems all over the world. While Canada has been involved on the African continent for many years through traditional aid and development programs, one of the initiatives of which we are most proud is last year’s Muskoka Initiative, announced at the G-8 in 2010. We announced that the total Canadian contribution for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health would be $2.85 billion over five years.

Many around the world wonder about Canada’s great and peaceful multiculturalism. As Canadians, to what do we owe that success?

Canada has, and continues to be a country of immigrants which has always given this country a comparative advantage, and new Canadians continue to be the engine of our economy.  Last year alone we welcomed over 280,000 new immigrants to our country. And over the past five years we have welcomed an average of 254,000 new Canadians per year. That’s more immigrants on average than any government in Canadian history, and we accept more immigrants and resettle more refugees per capita than any other western country, of which I’m extremely proud. We are able to do this because Canadians are a very tolerant people and the vast majority of us are recent immigrant ourselves. We know what it’s like to come to a new country and we know what it takes to integrate and to succeed.

There are many aspiring young politicians in Canada of all backgrounds wanting to be active in elected office. What advice would you have for them and why do you think, despite the rough and tumble reality of retail politics, elected office is a great way to contribute to the betterment of Canada?

Holding public office is an honour as well as a huge responsibility. I think most people who go into politics do so because they want to make their town, province or country a better place, regardless of political stripe – the main difference is the way we believe this is accomplished. You’re right, politics can be very hard, but the opportunity to contribute to public life and to build a better, stronger Canada is worth any hardship.

Any parting words?

I would like to thank you for this opportunity. I look forward to chatting again.

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