McLeod Group Blog

A Letter to the DAC Peer Review Team

A Letter to the DAC Peer Review Team

McLeod Group Blog, November 15, 2017

Next week, a team from the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), including representatives from Norway and Germany, will be in Ottawa as part of the preparations for the peer review of Canada’s international cooperation efforts to take place next June. Here is the McLeod Group’s letter of welcome to the visitors.

Dear Peer Reviewers,

Welcome to Ottawa! It has been five years since the last DAC review of Canada’s international cooperation activities and your visit comes two years into the current government’s electoral mandate, the midpoint of its program. Compared to the strategy-free and policy-free environment encountered by your colleagues in 2012, Canada now has a bold framework, the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), for guiding its activities to support international development cooperation and the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With the FIAP in place, the issue is now: Where to go from here? Policies are important, but an implementation plan is essential. Canada’s bilateral, multilateral and civil society partners need to know how the policy framework will look in action. Your assessment will be critical as to whether the agencies of the government, Global Affairs Canada, the International Development Research Centre and the newly planned Development Finance Institute, are fit for purpose. Is there evidence that the government is investing in the capacities required to put into practice the programs to deliver the aims of the FIAP? Some sceptics suggest that Global Affairs’s senior management does not really believe in official development assistance (ODA) and instead is focussing on leveraging other sources of finance, mainly from the private sector, which are not necessarily appropriate for sustainable poverty reduction, as required in Canada’s Official Development Assistance Accountability Act. Next year will mark the Act’s 10th anniversary: Is Canada living up to the spirit and the letter of the law?

The community of development cooperation practitioners and observers in Canada has been discouraged by the flat aid budget since the Liberal government came to power. The absence of additional funds takes place in the context of strong economic growth, the best in the G7. It seems contradictory to announce a robust new policy – the FIAP – but not match it with additional financial resources. Stopgap measures, such as counting the costs of refugee resettlement in Canada, will not halt the downward slide of our ratio of ODA to gross national income (a measure of commitment to development cooperation), currently at 0.26% and already below the DAC average.

The government has proclaimed that “Canada is back”, but is Canada actually showing up? Having spoken in empathetic terms about the situation of women in fragile and failing states, the perils experienced by LGBTQ people in Central Asia and the Caucasus – most notably Chechnya –, the crisis of displaced persons and refugee populations in and around Syria and Myanmar, not to mention the impact of weak governance and criminality in Central America, and the impact of drought and political instability in the Lake Chad Basin and the Horn of Africa, where is the substantive agenda setting out what Canada will do?

With a frozen or shrinking ODA budget, reserving a large proportion of funds for gender equality, as called for in the FIAP, means less or no money for other things. What will not be done? Also, the FIAP does not address the issue of policy coherence for sustainable development, which the OECD has urged its member countries to adopt to support eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity. In the absence of designated priority countries, how will Canada avoid dispersing its assistance via many small allocations, shifting from one country to another every 2-3 years, which risks having little development impact? The FIAP has a strong donor-driven tone, calling into question its consistency with commitments made by Canada under the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness – and constitutes a continuation of the behaviour criticized in the DAC’s 2012 peer review.

In your dialogue with Global Affairs, you should explore how the peer review can help Canada identify development goals and objectives that justify ODA and demonstrate how aid works. The government should be encouraged to invest leadership and political capital in persuading Canadians that the game is worth the candle.

There is still time in the current government’s period in office to go beyond the rhetoric and make specific commitments. Take a rigorous approach in your conversations with your interlocutors and explain how Germany and Norway are working to help achieve the SDGs and reduce poverty globally. With encouragement from you, Canada can formulate and adopt an action agenda, with the ODA resources required to make a difference.