Global Development Aid Reaches All Time High in 2013, but Canada’s Lags Behind
April 15, 2014
Published in iPolitics
An annual survey of official development assistance (ODA) by the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), which represents 29 developed countries, shows that Canada saw one of the biggest decreases in development aid among member states from 2012 to 2013. While net ODA rose in 17 countries, including Japan, Germany, the U.K. and U.S., it fell in 11 countries, with some of the biggest decreases in Canada.
According to the OECD’s preliminary data, Canadian ODA fell 11.4 per cent from 2012 to 2013, due to federal budget cuts and “exceptional payments made in 2012 for climate change and debt relief.” North-South Institute (NSI) Senior Researcher Aniket Bhushan, who heads up the Canadian International Development Platform, said the data made available does not allow for greater analysis of the climate change explanation at this point.
However, Bhushan was able to shed a bit of light on the government budget portion. In addition to a 7.5 per cent cut to Canada’s aid program unveiled in the Conservative government’s 2012 budget, the government has also seen spending lapses on the foreign aid front in recent years. Spending lapses are described as the gap between the development money made available by parliament and the amount actually used by authorities in a given year. For instance, in the 2012-’13 fiscal year, an estimated $290 million in foreign aid funds went unspent and were returned to Treasury Board. Bhushan said recent data shows a rising trend in said spending lapses.
“The way we have been contextualizing it, to put it into perspective, is if all of this lapsed money was aid going to one country, this would be the third largest aid recepient of Canada,” said Bhushan.
The data also shows that, out of the 35 largest global ODA donors (including European institutions), Canada’s rank as an aid donor (in volume) fell from 6th in 2012 to 10th in 2013, during which time Canada’s foreign aid declined by $739 million.
Canada’s rank in the generosity index (ratio of aid to national income) also fell from 15th in 2012 to 17th 2013. At 0.27 per cent, Canada’s generosity index came in below the average among DAC countries of 0.4 per cent. For years, the United Nations has called on all OECD countries to aim for a commitment of 0.7 per cent of gross national income to development assistance, a proposal put forward by former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in 1969. Five DAC countries met the UN target in 2013 – Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the U.K.
While Bhushan spends a lot of his time crunching numbers, he says his research demonstrates an overarching problem for Canada’s development aid, which costs the taxpayer about $160 a year.
“I think the big picture finding is that in an age where developing economies are changing extremely rapidly and the aid business is changing extremely rapidly, Canada’s really struggling to figure out, ‘What do we really want to achieve through our scarce resources in this area?’” he said. “It’s made it really challenging for us to know what the narrative for Canadian aid is.”
Speaking with iPolitics last week, International Development Minister Christian Paradis acknowledged the new OECD data, but promptly pointed out that Canada met all of its foreign aid commitments last year and said he expects Canada to meet all of its commitments this year as well. He repeatedly highlighted the government’s work in the Philippines and Syria, as well as its leadership of the Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH).
“I put the focus on the results. We are present where the needs are,” said Paradis. ”I am happy with the results of our leadership in the files like Syria, the Philippines and especially the MNCH.”
While Engineers Without Borders Canada Director of Policy and Advocacy James Haga did not reject Paradis’ claim that Canada has met its aid commitments, he said there is no debating the country’s comparatively poor performance on the international development stage.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Haga in an interview with iPolitics. “We tout ourselves, and rightly so, as one of the strongest performing economies in the world right now and yet we’re not stepping up to the plate in a significant way on the development file and that’s disappointing.”
Haga partly attributed Canada’s lagging performance on the international aid stage to the government’s decision last year to merge the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) into the new mega Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD). Following the merger, the government unveiled its Global Markets Action Plan. The blueprint focuses on “economic diplomacy”, which puts commerce at the centre of Canadian foreign policy.
Haga said the plan is “somewhat problematic,” adding that he’s already seen evidence of Canada putting its own commercial interests ahead of the needs of the world’s poorest.
“We see Canada playing a a little bit less of a clear role of actively trying to address some of these global poverty issues, and more of a role in trying to use its dollars to advance its own interests.”