As the world marks International Development Week this week, aid groups are calling on the Trudeau government to significantly boost Canada’s assistance to developing countries devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cooperation Canada — the national association of international development and humanitarian organizations formerly known as the Canadian Council for International Cooperation — says the federal government must live up to commitments on additional funding for historically disadvantaged countries.
With worldwide economic losses caused by the pandemic estimated to be more than $10 trillion and 71 million people facing extreme poverty, these countries are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 effects, said Cooperation Canada CEO Nicolas Moyer.
The pandemic could wipe out decades of development in lower-income and middle-income countries, he added.
“This is an absolutely critical time, it’s not a time for Canada to be withdrawing from the world, it’s quite the opposite,” Moyer told Radio Canada International. “There are huge pressures not only on global progress but our own values. Democratic values are under threat, human rights are under threat as they haven’t been before.”
There is a real void of global leadership on international development assistance that Canada has a chance to fill, he added.
“What’s clear is that Canada has continued on a downward decline historically in the last few decades around its contributions to the official development assistance,” Moyer said.
“And we think it’s time to really amplify the message that we need to do our fair share, and now more than ever.”
Canada should invest at least one per cent of its domestic COVID-19 response in additional international assistance funds in its upcoming 2021 federal budget and years to come, Moyer said.
Canada’s investment in international assistance of $6.2 billion in 2018-19 is equivalent to just 0.27 percent of the gross national income (GNI), well below international commitments and the contributions of peer countries, Moyer said.
Canada is at the lowest point in 50 years in terms of the ratio of its international assistance to the GNI, Moyer said, adding that Cooperation Canada is calling on the government to increase its contribution to foreign aid to $7.8 billion in the upcoming federal budget.
‘It’s time for Canada to step up’
Canadians often take for granted how much Canada’s prosperity depends on the rest of the world doing well, he added.
“We do well when the world does well, when the global economy grows, and right now the world is not doing well,” Moyer said. “We need a multilateral global order that suits us and that represents our values of democracy and human rights. Those are all under threat right now.”
However, Canada has been underinvesting for decades in development assistance, as well as in other pillars of its foreign policy, Moyer said.
“It’s time for Canada to step up,” he said. “We’ve seen the government make some very encouraging moves in that direction, but it can only be the start. There is a whole recovery that needs to be funded globally and it’s a real opportunity for Canada to have an influence, make a difference.”
Canada ranks ninth among OECD countries
Patricia Skinner, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said “guided by its Feminist International Assistance Policy,” Canada has increased its international assistance in recent years.
“In 2018, the government announced an additional $2 billion in international assistance over five years; and in 2019, an additional $700 million to international assistance in 2023-2024.”
In 2019, Canada was ranked in ninth position in terms of official development assistance volume among the 29 Organisations for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee members states, according to OECD data, she added.
“Canada also places strong priority on ensuring the quality and effectiveness of its assistance, and on contributing to policy innovation that can get better results for the poorest and most vulnerable,” Skinner said. “Canada is also working hard to better leverage its official development assistance to attract new sources of capital in support of development objectives.”
Canada’s international assistance response to COVID-19 has also been consistent with the principles outlined in its Feminist International Assistance Policy, Skinner said. Since the beginning of the outbreak a year ago, the federal government has announced commitments of nearly $1.6 billion in direct support to the global response to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on developing countries, she added.
Canada is one of the top donors to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) Facility, Skinner said.
“Canada and all other donors are working together to make sure that the COVAX AMC has the funds it needs to accomplish the goal of getting 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the AMC eligible economies,” Skinner said.
On Jan. 15, Canada announced the appointment of International Development Minister Karina Gould as co-chair of the COVAX AMC Engagement Group.