“Ottawa to role out foreign aid as part of the fight against COVID-19 spread,” detailed an announcement by Canada’s minister of international development, Karina Gould, that promised what is expected to ultimately be a $1 billion corronavirus response package to countries struggling to cope with the pandemic.
The article quotes the minister: “We can’t prioritize one population over another because it doesn’t matter who you are, where you live or what your socio-economic background is. The virus doesn’t care about those things.”
What Gould said is accurate, but I wonder whether there might be a better way to justify Canadian policy right now.
The minister framed the international assistance in humanitarian terms. Canadians, she suggested, have a moral duty to fight the virus everywhere, not just at home.
I don’t disagree, but it is worth recalling that over 6 million Canadians voted for a party less than a year ago that promised to cut foreign aid by 25 percent in order to focus federal budget expenditures on Canadian citizens.
So when hospitals across the country are scrambling to secure equipment, and thousands of Canadians are being laid off, calls for precious government dollars to be spent abroad are likely to be disconcerting to some.
(Indeed, while I was working on this post, one of the candidates in the Conservative Party’s leadership campaign tweeted out: “Foreign aid can wait. Right now, the Trudeau government should prioritize Canadians.”)
It is a shame that Gould didn’t frame the global covid-19 rescue package as part of the government’s defence of the national interest.
Global pandemics don’t end when one country rids itself of the problem.
Until the virus is totally eradicated, or scientists produce a viable vaccine, we all remain at risk of a second wave. All it takes is one asymptomatic traveller to restart the need for social distancing all over again. (The Chinese are dealing with this already.)
It follows that Canadians should be paying attention to every new case, not just the ones here.
And since we are fortunate to have the wealth necessary to support the eradication of this virus beyond our borders, it makes perfect sense to invest accordingly.
The real danger is that other wealthy states won’t do the same
We must do more than just flatten the curve here at home. We must ensure that the curve is flattened everywhere.
A generous international assistance package to complement our domestic effort is utterly consistent with the national interest.
On the history of Canada’s international assistance policy, I like the work of Jill Campbell-Miller. She has a chapter in a new, open access book by Greg Donaghy and David Webster, A Samaritan State Revisited: Historical Perspectives on Canadian Foreign Aid. On foreign aid today, I always check to see what Stephen Brown has to say. On global health politics, check out the work of Jeremy Youde.
If you need something longer to read while sheltering from the virus at home, you can find some my books here, here, or here.
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