McLeod Group Blog



McLeod Group Blog, March 24, 2017

From an international assistance perspective, Budget 2017 was disappointing, stingy and in some respects hypocritical. It mainly recycled old commitments and failed to provide any new money.

There has been no shortage of pressure to increase the volume of aid. Calls for a significant boost can be found in last year’s International Assistance Review, which generated a large volume of public input, as well as the report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, the report of the Finance Committee on the pre-budget consultations, and considerable commentary from development NGOs and respected international observers, The McLeod Group also called for a predictable aid budget increase in our blog, “Putting Money Where Our Mouth Is”.

However, the budget foresees no additional money for the next five years. Instead, it contains bland statements about the long-awaited international assistance policy statement, which is to “improve the impact and effectiveness of Canada’s foreign aid spending”. Don’t try spending that on poverty reduction in developing countries—the cheque will bounce. We have heard such promises before, including from the Harper government when it was cutting the aid budget and abolishing CIDA.

So what was in Budget 2017? The commitment of $650 million from already approved budgets to support women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, announced on International Women’s Day, March 8, was trotted out again. The government also re-announced the creation of a development finance institution, to be under the control of the Export Development Corporation and capitalized at $300 million. This “new” initiative had made an earlier appearance in the Conservatives’ Budget 2015. As previously announced last year, Canada will join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, at a cost of $256 million over five years, following the Canadian tradition of joining any club that will have us as a member. Neither of these two institutions gives or will give priority to poverty reduction and the most vulnerable populations.

This government, like its predecessor, chooses to style itself—in the language of Budget 2017—as a “global leader”. However, when it comes to the examples cited to support this claim, including the acceptance of Syrian refugees, the replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and programs to advance the empowerment and rights of women and girls, other countries consistently are doing more than we are. Budget 2017 won’t help building international support for Canada’s campaign to win a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021.

Nor does it help Canada position itself on the subject of development assistance in 2018, when we host the G7 summit. In 2015, Canada contributed 0.28% of gross national income (GNI) in official development assistance (ODA). This is far from the UN target of 0.7%, which several European countries have reached, and will fall in the coming years as GNI rises and ODA stays flat. Perhaps the government hopes the attention will go to Trump administration, which plans to chop great chunks from its aid budget.

The government has missed an important opportunity to move beyond the rhetoric of “Canada is back”. The reality, as shown in Budget 2017, is that we will attend the meetings, sign up to international agreements and sing from the songbook, but will sidle out the door when the hat is passed. The forthcoming international assistance strategy may contain some important policy messages about Canada’s commitment to sustainable global development, to gender equality, to poverty reduction and to assisting the most disadvantaged people. But there won’t be any additional money to do more than our current modest effort.