From the international development perspective, Budget 2019 is the most disappointing federal budget since the current Liberal government was elected. Foreign aid warrants a mere three paragraphs. The first repeats past commitments and the third describes how the government will report on Canadian aid, as legislated by the most recent omnibus bill. Hardly juicy stuff.
The actual news on Canadian foreign aid is limited to two sentences. The only significant content is the announcement of “an additional $700 million.” That sounds impressive.
But wait, not so fast. The funds won’t be made available until 2023–2024, which is to say the last year of the next government’s mandate. Still, that is something, no?
Not so much. Dig a little deeper and you will find, buried in the fine print of a table on page 210, that $600 million of the “additional” $700 million had already been budgeted. The text of the budget document is deliberately misleading: the actual increase is only $100 million.
Imagine you asked your employer for a raise and your boss offered you only an extra 2% — and only in four years’ time to boot. It would be hard not to be offended by the peanuts on offer.
Those two sentences present these peanuts as a means to “continue Canada’s efforts as a global leader […] and to reinforce our commitment to reduce global poverty” and argue that the additional funds will “continue our leadership on the global stage.” Yes, that was two mentions of Canada being a global leader — an accolade that successive Canadian governments have loved to give themselves — in two sentences.
However, like the budgets before it, this one’s refusal to commit significant new funds to foreign aid belies those claims of leadership. While Ireland becomes the latest country to set a timetable to reach the United Nations’ target of spending 0.7% of its gross national income on foreign aid, Canada is content to let its aid budget languish at 0.26%. Justin Trudeau’s government is the least generous toward impoverished peoples in developing countries in over 50 years. What happened to the Liberal government’s loud claims that with its Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), announced in 2017, Canada represented “a leading voice for progressive international assistance”? The FIAP was launched without commitments for new funding, and this budget fails to follow through with meaningful new resources.
Canada also compares very poorly to its OECD peers. In 2017, it ranked 16th out of 29 member states. However accurate, “We’re #16!” does not make a good campaign slogan. Better to tell Canadians over and over again that we are leaders, and hope no one notices the truth.
The budget document boldly claims that “Canada plays a leading role in the world by […] providing assistance to some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens. The values that underpin these actions help to define who we are as Canadians, and contribute to […] Canada’s future as a leader in an increasingly interconnected world.” Again, two mentions of global leadership in as many sentences. However, if our role in the world and our national identity depend on our international assistance, Canada’s stinginess means that we are deeply deluded about both.
Stephen Brown teaches in University of Ottawa’s School of Political Studies. This academic year, he is a fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences in Amsterdam. This article was originally published by The McLeod Group.