Canada sings from a different song sheet on international assistance


The Canadian Government’s 2017 federal budget forgoes increasing contributions to international assistance, despite widespread calls for change.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s second budget sets out no new measures for bolstering Canada’s support for international aid and humanitarian assistance.

The budget, released on 23 March, repeats commitments to double Canadian money for programmes on sexual and reproductive health and rights for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations, as well as a pledge to contribute up to 600 military personnel to United Nations peace operations.

The budget also launches the Development Finance Institution with $300 million – a promise originally set out in the 2015 budget – that will use taxpayer dollars to bolster investments in sustainable development from the private sector, stopping gaps in areas where alternative financing is scarce.

However, the Government has delayed further announcements about its approach to international assistance until the publication of a new policy framework based on the findings on a comprehensive aid review undertaken in 2016. No new money has been announced to support the implementation of this new framework.

The lack of additional funding has left Canadian civil society organisations disappointed.

“The Government says it wants to improve Canada’s reputation as a global leader among its peers – and reach the most in need, in particular women and girls”, says Julia Sánchez, President-CEO of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, which brings together the voices of Canadian civil society organisations, “[w]ith Budget 2017, Canada falls short on one key metric: the broad and significant financial commitment necessary to achieve this objective”.

Canada’s development spending has plateaued over the past decade and while the 2016 budget announced a modest increase, the Government is far from reaching the global target of contributing 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) to international assistance.

Canada currently spends an estimated 0.26% of GNI on development spending and the Trudeau Government has given little support to the idea that they should put the country on track to reaching the international target in the next decade. This is despite recommendations from both the Parliamentary standing committees on Foreign Affairs and International Development and on Finance that the Government should aim to spend 0.35% of GNI on official development assistance by 2020 and set out a roadmap to reach 0.7% by 2030.

In a recent analysis by Robert Greenhill and Celine Wadhera on, the authors argued that Canada was “worse than a laggard” in comparison with its OECD peers, providing 40% less than the average G7 country.

When Canadian aid spending is put into context, the lack of additional funding becomes all the more striking. The UN estimates that 20 million people are currently facing starvation due to conflict and instability in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and north-eastern Nigeria, in addition to the some 60 million people currently displaced by conflict globally. Emergency aid from UN member states has failed to keep pace with demand. As of February 2017, the UN Coordinated Appeals has received just 7% of these funding needs, leaving a $21 billion funding gap.

To compound the funding difficulties, the new US Administration has put forward plans in its 2017 budget to slash funding for UN agencies like UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, in addition  to pulling money out of peace operations.

“Effective international assistance has positive system-wide effects that benefit Canada,” write Greenhill and Wadhera, “[i]t enhances global prosperity, stability and security. It builds ‘global public goods’ such as human rights, health systems, and peace. It helps reduce ‘global public bads’ such as crime, terrorism and infectious diseases.”

The 2017 federal budget suggests that the Canadian Government is on a different page.

Photo credit: bgilliard






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