Measuring Up: How Does Canada Compare on Sustainable Development?

Members of the Official Canadian Delegation meet with Canadians attending the High-Level Political Forum, including BCCIC youth. Photo by Tina Cobb.

Today, Canada presents a report to the United Nations that reviews the country’s progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 goals that aim to reduce poverty, address climate change, and build inclusive societies. Known as a Voluntary National Review (VNR), this report is the centerpiece of the global community’s accounting process to track whether countries are stepping up to fulfill their international commitments – or if they are lagging behind.

Canada’s VNR highlights its efforts to improve the lives of women and girls, lead the fight against climate change, and create better economic opportunities for Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. And with its Feminist International Assistance Policy and announcement of more than $3.8 billion for girls’ education, its Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change to reduce emissions, and its commitment to upholding commitments to both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Canada’s VNR certainly underlines the bold steps taken to advance an equitable, sustainable and just society.

If we look a little closer at the very statistics presented in the VNR, however, we see that Canada is regressing on multiple SDG indicators. Food insecurity is increasing, the percentage of Canadians in core housing need is growing, and access to water in Indigenous communities is decreasing. These findings are echoed in the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation’s shadow report to the VNR, where the case is made clear that Canada’s already marginalized communities are being left even further behind. The VNR strongly emphasizes public spending to solve these issues but the data show that it has not been enough, and that intergovernmental cooperation, regulation, education, partnerships, and other policy tools are also crucial.

In an effort to address the issue of inter-governmental cooperation, the VNR announces the launch of a whole-of-government SDG Unit that brings together seven ministries under the leadership of the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development. But is this enough? Should we not be looking at a whole-of-society approach? Organizations, businesses, youth, and Indigenous communities, among others, are already driving progress toward achieving the SDGs. Coalitions like Alliance 2030 are working across a national network to build a partnership model for engaging in the SDGs.

Many countries around the world are already miles ahead in bringing diverse stakeholders into the SDG process: Ghana’s SDG Implementation Coordination Committee involves civil society and the private sector at the highest level of government in the localization and implementation of the SDGs. Guatemala has a national SDG administrative structure with 18 civil society representatives who have budgetary authority to allocate funds for SDG prioritization. Germany launched the initiative “Partners for Review,” which is a network of actors from politics, civil society, the scientific community, and industry who are involved in the national reporting procedure on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

There is no reason that Canada – with its strong democratic and social institutions – cannot do the same. Only by bringing diverse stakeholders into Canada’s SDG implementation process – as formal partners at all levels and beyond consultations – can we ensure enough creativity and collaboration to bring Canada up to speed to reach its targets. Until then, we risk falling even further behind in our commitments to Canada and the global community.

Deborah Glaser is the Senior Policy Analyst at the BC Council for International Cooperation. BCCIC is a network of over 140 civil society organizations and individuals that work to share knowledge, build relationships, and develop their capacity towards achieving sustainable global development.

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