Given that it’s an election year, a time when the spotlight shines brightest on domestic issues, are you surprised by what the April 21st federal budget proposed for our international development priorities? Probably not.
It’s a sad state of affairs that foreign aid has never been a major electioneering issue. In the realm of international affairs, aid is often overshadowed by the likes of trade, diplomacy, and defence. A question our government must ask itself is whether it can afford to continue to sideline its development agenda. In a January 2015 poll, “94% of Canadians say it is important to improve health, education and economic opportunity for the world’s poorest.”
Although Canada talks a good game, statistics show that compared to our G7 and OECD counterparts we’ve become a mediocre (at best) ally to our bilateral and multilateral development partners. While the sheer amount of aid a country provides is a poor metric for the quality of its assistance, in Canada’s case the 0.24 percent of GNI that we allocated in 2013-2014 is actually a decent reflection of our meandering and unsatisfactory contributions to development (the percentage is even less if you include the lapsed development budget funding that was intentionally unspent and subsequently returned to government coffers.) This newest federal budget has continued the 5-year freeze that’s been imposed on Canada’s development funding.
In a document that clocks in at 518 pages, a mere 4 pages has been devoted to “Assisting International Communities“.
Doing the math, that’s 0.75% of document space – so I suppose that’s better than the amount of GNI that we allocate towards foreign aid. However, the majority of these 4 pages describe how Canada is seeking to improve its remittance systems so that private individuals can send their own money to assist families and communities. While this is an excellent and targeted source of development financing, are we seriously asking some of our newest and least established citizens to take on the burden of Official Development Assistance (ODA)?
There is a silver lining to this budget: The government has committed to establishing Canada’s Development Finance Initiative (DFI), a more flexible and innovative way of funding the private sector in developing countries. (NB: EWB played a fundamental role in lobbying for this initiative.) Between the spectrum of micro-credit and commercial financing there exists a major gap in developing countries for small-medium enterprise to obtain the capital necessary to improve business practices and maintain sustainable growth. The CAD $300 million that has been set aside will improve Canada’s ability to push private sector development in Sub-Saharan Africa, which leads to more jobs, increased tax revenue, and better outcomes for the most marginalized in the global community. This is a win to be sure, but it is still a far-cry from Canada’s potential to be a global development leader.
Canada can do better. Canada needs to do better. We need to improve our country’s ODA regardless of partisanship and day-to-day politicking. Join us at #PoliticsAside and learn how you can make a difference today