Canada must increase its spending on foreign aid
Well, this is embarrassing. Canada has just had its wrist slapped by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development for failing to restore foreign aid spending to where it was — wait for it — under the Harper government.
This country’s official development aid has, in fact, declined to 0.26 per cent of GDP from the level of 0.31 per cent it was at in 2012, when Stephen Harper was prime minister.
Worse, it is only half of the 0.5 per cent Canada spent on aid a generation ago under prime ministers Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney. Even then, it fell well short of the goal established by the United Nations (0.7 per cent goal of GDP) that some OECD countries already meet.
It’s time for Canada to stop the downward drift in foreign aid spending. There’s a yawning gap between the rhetoric of the Trudeau government (playing a more active role on the world stage, doing the right thing, etc.) and its actions.
The need is great. Indeed, just last year the UN warned that the world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the organization was founded in 1945, with more than 20 million people in four countries — Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria — facing starvation.
Canada stepped up with more humanitarian aid for specific regions in the face of that crisis. But it has not increased overall spending on aid to help prevent catastrophes, such as famines and the mass migrations that follow them, from occurring in the first place.
Nor does spending reflect what Canada is capable of doing in this area. As the OECD noted, Canada is currently enjoying “robust economic growth.”
The contrast between words and actions in this area is stark.
First, during the 2015 election campaign the Liberals pledged to “reverse the decline” in foreign aid spending that took place under the Harper government. In fact, they let it get worse.
Second, the Trudeau government has made much of Canada “being back” on the international stage as part of its campaign to secure a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. But that bid is less credible while Canada’s commitment to foreign aid is allowed to wither.
None of this is to take away from the positive steps the Trudeau government has taken on aid.
Indeed, it is wisely spending the dollars it has allocated to promote gender equality. As International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau noted when the policy was adopted in 2017, “this is the most effective approach to reducing poverty and building a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous world.”
The World Bank, among others, has long made the case that countries where girls are educated, for example, have faster-growing economies, healthier populations and less government corruption. So kudos for putting the money where it will be most effective.
But now the government must start to close the gap between rhetoric and reality.
To do that it could follow a 2016 report from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. The MPs recommended the government increase its official development assistance to 0.35 per cent of GDP by 2020, and commit to meeting the UN’s goal of 0.70 per cent by 2030.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is right to aspire to play a leadership role on the world stage. Canada has much to offer. But if his aspirations are to be taken seriously, his government must back them up with the financial commitments needed to make the world a more equitable place.