Bono still hasn't found what he's looking for

Thursday, December 1, 2005

  • Bono & Martin in happier times

    Bono & Martin in happier times

Last week, on a visit to Ottawa, Irish rock star Bono announced to the world that he was “disappointed”, “crushed” and “mystified” by Prime Minister Paul Martin’s continuing refusal to commit to meeting the aid target of 0.7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). “I'm not just disappointed; I'm crushed actually, because I really believed that the Prime Minister would do that… I felt, as a former finance minister, he would be able to make the numbers work.”

Bono added that he expected Canada, as the only G8 country with a budget surplus, should be setting an example. “If it doesn't work for Canada, it's very hard to ask why Irish people should commit to 0.7 per cent or French people or English people. So there is a lot at stake here… I just think it's a huge opportunity that he's missing out on. This is important to the Canadian people. I think the prime minister will find out if he walks away from the opportunity, he will hear about it in the election. I am absolutely sure of that – this is not to be underestimated.”

What is more surprising than his remarks of last week is the fact that it has taken Bono more than two years to realize that Paul Martin is very good at mouthing the right words, but sadly lacking in the willingness to actually deliver solutions to whatever problem is being discussed. Unfortunately, Bono is a much better singer and advocate than he is a judge of political character. He was duped.

Back in late 2003, Bono was all too willing to accept that Martin’s lofty rhetoric would be matched by action. He was positively effusive in his speech to those present for Martin’s coronation as leader. “Paul Martin took my phone calls. He let me in. He promised to help and he kept that promise. While he might come to regret it, I am here for Paul Martin and I am honoured... I've been talking to Paul Martin, I feel confident he's going to make that journey [to meeting foreign aid commitments],” said the U2 front man.

Perhaps foreshadowing his most recent comments, Bono did warn Martin of the consequences of not delivering. “So how I am going to return Paul Martin's favour? I'm going to become the biggest pain in his ass! Paul Martin thinks he likes me. He doesn't know what he signed on for – more lobbying about debt, begging for letters, petitions for unfair trade, phone calls about money for the global health fund. I already told him earlier today that if Canada puts in its fair share of three times the current amount by the way, they'll embarrass the rest of the world into doing the same," Bono said.

But, even six months into Martin’s term – just prior to the June 2004 federal election – Bono was still a Paul Martin fan. “Wow – a politician who doesn't break his promises. This is real leadership. It is important that Canada continue to lead the world on this issue ... It means that other countries have to follow in its wake.” Aware that he might be accused of tipping the balance in the pending
election, Bono insisted that he was “not here to elect Paul Martin or the Liberal party.” Still, he did understand his effect on the Canadian political climate: “Yes I'm being used. I want to be used. That's my job here - to provide applause when somebody does the right and courageous thing and to provide criticism when they don't.”

A year later, in April 2005, Bono felt that he had finally waited long enough for Martin to act. Professing himself to be “bewildered” at Martin’s refusal to match other G8 countries in committing to meeting 0.7% by 2015, he wondered why Martin “would want to hold up history... We were looking for Canada to lead rather than be a laggard.” In a separate interview, he complained that “The Prime Minister is acting like a number cruncher and not a statesman in his approach to foreign aid.”

If Bono had done even a little bit of research, he might not have fallen so hard for the Martin mystique – and he might not have been so “bewildered” or “crushed” when Martin failed to do what he was being asked to do. In the years that Martin was Finance Minister, he cut $2.8 billion from foreign aid (calling it “discretionary spending”), even after turning a deficit into a series of record surpluses. Instead of making progress in meeting the longstanding foreign aid target of 0.7%, Martin actually oversaw a fall from 0.44% of GDP in 1993 to a mere 0.27% (with plans in place to increase it to 0.32% by 2010). It’s really no surprise that Martin has no plan to meet the 35-year-old commitment. And, equally, its no surprise that anyone who believed that he would do so is now disillusioned.

Of course, the crushing disappointment now being felt by Bono is nothing compared to that felt by those Canadians who voted for Paul Martin. Not just on this issue but on many others (e.g. eliminating “the democratic deficit”, protecting public health care, etc.), Paul Martin has simply not delivered what Canadians expected from him. Indeed, for someone who flies into the country only occasionally, Bono’s current disillusionment with Martin makes him something of an honourary citizen.

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