Here is what the University of Ottawa’s Stephen Brown – one our leading experts on ODA – said about Canada’s numbers through a blog for the McLeod Group (later reproduced by the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies):
“Despite talking a good game when it comes to foreign aid … it is clear that Canada is refusing to contribute its fair share of development assistance.”
Brown goes on to declare that “under the Trudeau government, Canada is less generous than under Harper.” Put another way, even though the Liberals have actually increased the international assistance budget since 2015, ODA as a percentage of gross national income has dropped from an average of 0.30% under the Conservatives to 0.27% in 2019.
I agree with this element of Brown’s analysis.
Canada has the capacity to contribute more to international assistance. Moreover, investing extensively in foreign aid is consistent with the national interest.
Canada is a trading nation. It is in our interest to increase the number of prospective consumers of Canadians goods and services around the world by helping struggling members of the international community pull themselves out of poverty.
Canada is also an aging nation, reliant on a steady stream of educated immigrants to maintain our economic prosperity. Supporting poverty alleviation around the world is a logical component of any proactive immigration strategy.
Later in the same blog, when Brown points out that “Norway and Ireland, Canada’s ‘rivals’ for a seat on the UN Security Council … are providing foreign aid equivalent to 1.02% and 0.31% of GNI, easily outshining Canada,” he appears to imply that Canada’s efforts to secure a seat on the UN Security Council this summer could be compromised by its lack of generosity relative to Norway and Ireland.
That contention, which has been made more explicitly by others, is less convincing.
Critics of Canadian ODA policy often fail to note that the same OECD data also show that, on a grant equivalent basis, Canada provided more aid than either of its Security Council competitors in 2019.
Some will respond that since the Canadian economy is much larger than Norway’s, and Ireland’s, the international community could punish Ottawa for being miserly.
But for the recipients of development assistance, it’s the total dollar amount that counts.
If I’m looking for seed money to start a new business, I’ll take $30,000 from a less generous Canada over $25,000 from a more generous Norway every time.
We therefore shouldn’t expect Canada’s disappointing record in international assistance to have any real effect on its campaign for a Security Council seat.
In fact, with more than four times Ireland’s development budget, Ottawa will be in a favourable position if the election comes down to using aid to sway a country’s vote.
If you’d like to read more about ODA, especially in Africa, take a look at the work of my fellow Trent alum, David Black. I also recommend anything that Shannon Kindornay has written. She is currently a senior analyst at the Canadian International Development Platform, a critical source for any student of Canadian foreign and public policy.
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