In the next 20 years, Canada will become a country of large, diverse urban centres with a growing visible minority, Indigenous, and newcomer populations. By 2036, according to the latest Statistics Canada figures, around 30 per cent of all residents will have been born outside the country. These demographic shifts are not isolated, but rather reflective of an increasingly globalized world.
At a time when the pace of change continues to reshape our communities, Canada’s thoughtful approach to sustainable development is going to matter more. Canada is currently, and rightfully, basking in the glow of its recently released feminist foreign policy and is looked to as leader on the international stage.
That’s why Canada’s take on the internationally-agreed-to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is of critical importance. Almost two years ago, goals to end poverty, protect the environment, and promote human dignity were adopted, with a plan to achieve the goals by 2030.
What makes the universal SDG framework such a powerful force for social change is that it is both relevant to Canadians today, and the next generation of global citizens who will continue to care deeply about gender equality, human rights, climate change, access to education, and so much more.
The SDGs apply equally to both developing and developed countries and provide a compelling framework in which to shape Canada’s ambitious domestic and international agenda.
So, what can Canada do to improve its policy alignment in this area, and seize the opportunity to use the SDGs to advance its policy objectives on the domestic and global stage?
We don’t have to look far to see an important opportunity for Canada to make a significant contribution. This week, governments from around the world are converging in New York for the High-Level Political Forum 2017, a platform of the United Nations for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The 2030 Agenda calls on member states to report annually on progress made towards the SDGs. This is a voluntary reporting mechanism. To date, in 2016 and 2017, 66 countries have already volunteered. Unfortunately, Canada is not among that group. At this year’s High-Level Political Forum, we would invite Canada to step forward and join other countries in volunteering to report on SDG implementation and progress.
At the forum, Canada can also play an important role in ensuring a strong focus and progress on achieving gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.
Next, achieving the SDGs requires an all-of-government and all-of-Canada approach. The ambitious 2030 Agenda cannot be accomplished by any one sector or actor alone. If we are to succeed in achieving the SDGs, we must work in partnership across sectors and regions. To that end, an inter-ministerial committee on the SDGs should be established to better integrate the government’s social, economic, and environmental policies into a coherent approach to sustainable development both at home and abroad. This committee should report directly to the prime minister, coordinated by the Privy Council Office.
And finally, the federal government should support and join a multi-stakeholder national conversation to engage Canadians around solutions to sustainable development and foster a whole-of-society approach to implementing the SDGs. Just a couple of weeks ago, our two organizations convened a national conversation in Canada on the SDGs. Domestic and internationally-focused civil society groups are already embracing the SDGs as a framework that can strengthen the effectiveness of the work they do. And they have taken the lead in starting up this conversation.
Municipalities, provinces, and federal government departments are also working to integrate the SDG platform into their planning processes. And groups that work on women’s rights, poverty elimination, truth and reconciliation, climate change, corporate-social responsibility, and much more are seeing the power that this new transformative agenda can bring to their work in Canada and abroad.
We look to continued leadership from the Canadian government, both this week in New York and in Canada, where the type of collaboration that the universality of the SDGs will unlock has already begun to play out through the involvement of government and civil society in working to achieve these goals.
Canadians care about ending poverty and hunger, ensuring health and well-being for all, achieving gender equality, building resilient infrastructure and fostering innovation, and protecting our planet. By working together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we will be building a better world—one that the new future face of Canada will expect to see.
Julia Sánchez is the president-CEO of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation. Andrew Chunilall is the chief executive officer of Community Foundations of Canada.
The Hill Times