June 16, 2015 - 7:00 AM
OTTAWA - U2 frontman Bono kept a low profile in Ottawa on Monday, avoiding photo ops or major announcements in favour of private chats with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Liberal and NDP rivals.
The Irish rock singer's visit sparked another round in the political debate over the Conservative government's development policy, which has focused on maternal and child health, while freezing overall development spending.
Bono remained above the fray, striking an upbeat note as he arrived on Parliament Hill repeating his mantra of "the world needs more Canada."
"Development assistance, or foreign aid as you call it here, is a really good way of showing who you are to the rest of the world," Bono said, surrounded by fans and well-wishers.
Fresh from a show in Montreal, Bono first went to the National Arts Centre near Parliament Hill to discuss foreign aid with several non-governmental organizations.
He is the co-founder of the international organization, ONE, which aims to eradicate extreme poverty and preventable diseases in places such as a Africa.
"It's my hope that Bono's visit will boost Canadian awareness and engagement on international development priorities," said Michael Messenger, president of World Vision Canada, who was at the NAC meeting.
"Today's discussions underscore that we cannot work alone — success and innovation happen when we're all at the table, committed to improving the lives of children."
Bono met Harper to talk about maternal and child health projects in Africa and elsewhere.
The Prime Minister's Office says the rocker-activist requested the meeting. Bono also met NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
Harper has committed $3.5 billion over five years toward the maternal and child health cause, his signature foreign-aid initiative aimed at reducing deaths among newborns and their mothers in the developing world.
But the NDP criticizes Canada's overall aid spending, which has fallen to 0.24 per cent of GDP, well below the 0.7 per cent target set by the United Nations.
The Harper government froze aid spending five years ago and the most recent budget did not reverse that trend.
The United Kingdom has committed to reaching the 0.7 per cent target, despite having a less robust economy than Canada's, said NDP development critic Helene Laverdiere.
She also said the government has also allowed hundreds of millions of aid spending to lapse that could have gone towards worthy aid programs.
"Those are cuts through the back door," she said.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said Bono's 30-minute meeting with his party was positive and focused on the party's development goals, which include a commitment to the 0.7 per cent target.
"One critique he had was the lack of focus on extreme poverty and that's something he said he was going to be pushing the prime minister on," said Dewar.
International Development Minister Christian Paradis said the government was "very happy to welcome a good philanthropist like Bono here" as he touted the government's aid focus on mothers and children.
Paradis said that under Harper's leadership, "we will help to save the lives of 1.3 million children and newborns, as well as more than 60,000 women."
Bono last met a Canadian prime minister more than a decade ago, when he and Paul Martin discussed the foreign aid priorities of the time, which included efforts to combat the spread of HIV-AIDS in Africa.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015