Last week, more than 26,000 delegates converged on Toronto for the 16th international AIDS Conference.
The event, the largest in Canada this year, featured many world leaders and high-profile thinkers, including Stephen Lewis, Bill Gates and Bill Clinton.
Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasn’t among them.
Harper bowed out and got as far away from the affair as possible — he toured the North.
In his stead, he sent his second bananas — Health minister Tony Clement and International Co-operation minister Josee Verner.
While on his northern schmoozfest, Harper was protected by a phalanx of gun-toting security guards while he hyped armed icebreakers, military training facilities and a deepwater port in Iqualuit.
Harper had little reason to come to Whitehorse.
Nevertheless he touched down and announced $9 million in Canada Games funding that had been committed long ago.
Not much of a whistlestop. But it kept the guy well away from the AIDS conference.
And that was the whole idea.
Harper didn’t want to be rubbing elbows at an AIDS event.
The disease still bears a stigma — especially among members of the lunatic right — and the image-obsessed Harper didn’t want to be associated with it in any way.
Besides, Canada has failed to keep its promise to supply AIDS-ravaged Africa with cheap generic drugs that might blunt its spread.
With the world focused on Canada, Harper could have announced new AIDS funding, renewed the mandate of Vancouver’s safe-injection site or guaranteed Africa its drugs were en route.
Instead, he chose to talk up Canada’s military.
Asked why, he noted it wasn’t the time to talk about AIDS because the issue is “so politicized.”
Every 6.5 seconds, another person is infected.
According to the UN, by the end of last year 39 million people in the world had been infected by the disease.
Last year, that figure grew by 4.1 million. And only 20 per cent of those infected received treatment for their illness.
Last year, 2.8 million people died of AIDS, most in Africa.
In Canada, the disease is spreading among drug users, aboriginal people and women between the ages of 15 and 29 — not exactly the demographic courted by Harper’s crew.
To fight the spread of the disease, more has to be done.
The stigma has to be removed.
But Harper isn’t interested in such leadership.
His focus is solely on the military.
The change in Canada’s global focus couldn’t be more striking. (RM)