Home Page News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Advertising Subscribe Reuse & Permissions
Hill Times Events Hill Times Books Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Global

‘With all the talk of Canada being back,’ aid groups ‘alarmed,’ told to expect little from budget

By Chelsea Nash      

NGOs expecting to get something out of the months-long policy review are worried the time and money they spent will be all for naught.

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said it's her top priority 'to ensure that Canadian aid dollars make the greatest difference on the ground.' Leaders in the sector are worried this means moving money around, rather than a budget increase.
The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

In a matter of months, Canadian-based foreign aid groups have gone from being optimistic to deflated about the chances the government might boost flat aid spending.

When the government launched a full review of Canada’s aid policy last spring, groups were hoping the idea that Canada was coming “back” on the world stage would translate into higher aid spending. They were willing to spend time and money participating in the review, with the expectation of a positive ending.

But months later, with the review’s results set to be soon announced, several in the sector say they’re receiving signals from government officials that they should lower their expectations for a budget increase. They’re wondering whether the resources they spent on the review were all for naught.

Julia Sanchez, president-CEO of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, said it is “very concerning” that the sector is receiving what she described as the opposite of encouraging sentiment from the government.

She said the conversations between government officials and aid groups have been informal, and nothing official has been said, but that the tone of the conversations has distinctly changed.

“We’re getting close to the crunch,” she said, and there’s a sense members of the development sector and its supporters “might not be happy with what we see” in terms of a budget increase for international development they say is needed. The next federal budget is due out likely sometime in February or March.

“In the bigger scheme of things, we’re talking about two per cent of the federal budget. We’re talking about a rounding error [of the overall budget]. For this government, we’re finding it hard to believe, with all the talk of Canada being back,” she said.

Global Canada Initiative, a non-governmental organization advocating for more Canada in the world, released a report last week that outlined just how far behind Canada is when it comes to development spending. “Canada is worse than a laggard—it is last among its global peers,” it stated. The initiative is led by Robert Greenhill, a former president of the Canadian International Development Agency. Canada in 2015 spent 0.28 per cent of its gross national income on official development assistance (ODA), according to the OECD. The goal for developed countries is 0.7 per cent.

“Canada’s commitment to international assistance is near an all-time low. Canada is not back—it is far back compared to any reasonable international or historical comparison,” said the report.

Canadian Council for International Co-operation president Julia Sanchez says the government is sending signals in informal discussions with the sector to keep expectations low for the next federal budget. The Hill Times photograph by Kristen Shane

If there is not an increase to development spending in this year’s budget, which Mr. Greenhill’s report says could be the moment “when the Trudeau government puts Canada, after two decades of free-riding, back on a path to being a fully paid-up member of the international community,” then the Trudeau government “will have the lowest commitment to international assistance of any Canadian government in the last half-century.”

Should the development sector not see any significant increase to its budget, the feelings of concern within the sector, Ms. Sanchez said, will only be exacerbated by the fact that members have spent the last year in a holding pattern awaiting the results of the aid policy review, and investing a lot of of time, energy, and money contributing to the review.

Earlier in the year while the international assistance review was in full gear, Ms. Sanchez said the tone from both political and departmental staff at Global Affairs Canada was optimistic, encouraging, and ambitious. The review helped contribute to that sense of optimism, she said, and International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau’s office made it clear it was listening to the contributors.

“There’s snickering in town sometimes about all the consultations that are going on,” she said, “but we’ve happily and fully engaged” in the review process, and the “sector has invested fully.”

Ms. Sanchez said through informal conversations she’s had with government officials, both in the minister’s office and at Global Affairs Canada, she’s heard “talk of, we might have to make hard decisions.”

She said she’s heard from a few people in the department that “even in the worst-case scenario, we’re still going to find ways to implement this new vision.”

One director of a Canada-based non-governmental organization, who spoke on the condition neither he nor his organization would be named as it receives funding from the government, said “what we’ve been hearing from the past couple of months from conversations with government, is to lower the bar for our expectations.”

“Our organization put a lot of time and a lot of money into this with the idea that here was a chance Canada was promising to reinvest,” he said.

Now, he has the impression that the outcome of the review “will really be to tell us what to cut back on,” rather than what to expand on, as hoped.

“That is [the] kind of language we weren’t hearing before. People that are close to the Global Affairs file—it’s a much more cautious tone. It’s understandable as we’re getting close to the budget,” Ms. Sanchez said.

In an emailed statement via her communications director Louis Belanger, Ms. Bibeau said her main priority “is to ensure that Canadian aid dollars make the greatest difference on the ground.”

“Over the past year, we engaged with our partners and with Canadians to build a new international assistance policy. We are in the process of changing course and we will set a clear vision,” she said.

Another source, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity as her organization receives government funding, said while there’s been nothing official from the government, and she doesn’t expect there will be until the budget is released, “it’s just been a drip, drip, drip of positioning statements, or positioning comments.”

She said what is “galling” is “we’ve been waiting a year.” “It cost members of the sector money and time to engage so deeply with the department on what the new vision is for ‘Canada is back,’” she said. “At this stage, what we’re hearing is that all of this effort is going to result in a five-page policy statement…something barely better than the mandate letter.”

She said the sector is hearing “rumblings of really no ambition,” and “that’s putting it mildly.”

“We’ve given this government really the benefit of the doubt,” she said. What is appreciated is the government’s open and willing discussions it’s engaged in with the sector. “I will give them 100 per cent credit for the fact that they do seem to be responsive to policy suggestions.”

But, “the sector is alarmed,” she said. “We are starting to have these conversations, we’re starting to mobilize. If there’s any hope at all to influence, we will be doing so before the budget.”

Jacquelyn Wright, vice-president of international programs for CARE Canada, said she’s heard the concerns, but she remains optimistic.

“It’s definitely true that the level of funding over the past several years has declined. And that, of course, is very disappointing,” she said.

“We’re just waiting to hear the outcome of the policy review. It does seem it’s going to be challenging to make the overall budget of the government, but that’s not a surprise.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee tabled a recommendation to the government in the fall suggesting it commit to a timeline to increase its foreign aid spending with the goal of reaching the international goal of 0.7 per cent of gross national income by 2030. At the time, Ms. Bibeau said it was “ambitious.”

Ms. Wright said CARE wants to be “realistic” about what’s possible. But, “what we’re looking for is new money. Sometimes money is moved around, and looks like it’s new money, but it’s not actually new money.”

The sector needs “an actual increase,” she said.

cnash@hilltimes.com

@chels_nash

More in News

What happens if an MP’s found guilty of sexual harassment? No one’s saying

News|By Abbas Rana
All the federal political parties say they take sexual harassment “seriously,” but none will say what disciplinary action they would take against an MP found guilty of it. “We take sexual harassment allegations very seriously,…

Feds’ sweeping, new environmental assessment bill keeps power in ministers’ hands, say observers

The government’s new Impact Assessment Act includes hundreds of pages detailing changes to the environmental assessment process in Canada, but keeps ultimate power over approving natural resource projects in the hands of the federal environment…

NDP reviewing past, present harassment processes amid Stoffer, Weir allegations

The NDP isn’t currently investigating the specific harassment allegations against former NDP MP Peter Stoffer, but it says it's looking into how such complaints were, are now and will be handled, something strategist Robin Sears…

Patrick Brown gaining support since re-emerging to challenge sexual harassment allegations, says adviser, though Conservative MPs largely quiet

Patrick Brown, who in a dramatic move re-entered the Ontario leadership late Friday afternoon, is receiving strong support from all corners of the political world since publicly re-emerging to challenge the sexual harassment allegations that…

Some Liberal MPs frustrated with leadership for not sharing anti-abortion political strategy on Canada Summer Jobs program

Some Liberal MPs say they're frustrated the party leadership did not share the political strategy with the caucus on why the government was so adamant on keeping the new controversial reproductive rights clause in the…

NDP elects former Hill staffer Vick as new party president

NDP members elected a new party president on the last day of the party’s 2018 policy convention, with former Hill staffer Mathieu Vick being elevated to the role after garnering roughly 83 per cent of…

NDP delegates protest ‘watered down’ Palestine policy

In the waning hours of the NDP policy convention’s second day dozens of delegates stood in silence with hands raised holding posters proclaiming “Free Palestine” as they protested what some called a “watered down” resolution…

Galvanizing members, regaining momentum key for NDP at convention to be in fighting shape for 2019: strategists

With more than 1,800 New Democrats gathered in Ottawa to debate and help shape future party policies, NDP strategist and former national director Karl Bélanger says a top priority this weekend is to “galvanize” members…

NDP ‘shaken’ by harassment allegations, promises to root out problems in own ranks

The NDP's approach to anti-harassment was the first policy to earn mention at its convention in Ottawa on Friday—despite not being slated on the floor—with outgoing president Marit Stiles apologizing to party members who had…

WANT MORE EXCLUSIVE HILL TIMES CONTENT?

We’re offering 15% off a year-long subscription to the hill times online content.