By Fraser Reilly-King and Gavin Charles
The core takeaway for the international development and humanitarian sector from the federal budget, unveiled on March 22, is that Canada is not yet back.
After five years of significant decline in Canada's investments in addressing global development challenges and commitments made by the Liberal Party of Canada during the last election campaign response to a survey conducted by L'Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale (AQOCI), expectations were high to see the government substantially reverse that decline.
Coming on the heels of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, members of the international development and humanitarian community in Canada were looking for the Liberal government's first budget to make a significant increase in the amount allocated to the International Assistance Envelope (IAE), or Canadian aid budget.
We were also looking for a commitment to a 10-year timetable for meeting the long-established, internationally agreed-upon target of allocating 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) to official development assistance (ODA) -- core to ensuring predictable spending in coming years.
Instead, what we saw is a positive, but far too modest, increase in aid investments, and only for the next two years.
The amounts committed for 2016-17 and 2017-18 of $128 million per year, do strengthen Canada's position on the global stage in the "short term" -- the government's own language in the budget. But these limited and modest increases are not enough to position Canada as a leader on the global stage in the long term.
While the government has asserted that Canada is back, and the minister for international development recognizes the central importance of international aid in proving this point, the government has yet to match its rhetoric with a clear commitment to invest in these critical areas.
What's more, instead of providing clarity on future directions, Budget 2016 left a range of important questions outstanding and raised new ones.
We still do not know the base level for the International Assistance Envelope, which has not been disclosed since Budget 2012. We assume that the IAE remains frozen at the $4.62 billion level set following cuts to the base budget announced in Budget 2012, though our research suggests that further cuts may have taken place in the interim.
We also do not know if the government's welcome pledges of $2.65 billion over five years to climate finance, made in November, and $1.1 billion in humanitarian and development assistance to Iraq and Syria, made in early February, are new and additional. In other words, will these new initiatives be in addition to other development priorities, or be in addition to them? Are we robbing Peter to pay Paul?
The budget does not clarify if the climate financing will comprise grants and/or loans, and in what proportion, nor the balance between adaptation versus mitigation. Developing countries are in greatest need of grants and adaptation funding, but Canadian climate funding to date has prioritized just the opposite.
And while the only new money announced in Budget 2016 is $256 million over two years, a chart that accompanied these announcements suggests much more substantial increases to the IAE beyond this amount and timeframe. There is no reference to what these amounts are nor their intended target. This ambiguity makes it difficult to accurately assess the extent and immediacy of the government's commitment to international assistance.
The budget did not make any mention of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the new universal development framework adopted at the United Nations in September 2015. Fulfilling the SDGs will require a whole-of-government approach and a commitment of significant new resources at home and abroad. Implementation of the SDGs began in 2016, yet Canada's budget has failed to offer any clear indications on how it plans to help achieve this global development agenda.
Perhaps most disappointingly, there was no specific funding for women's rights organizations or other commitments to advance gender equality in Canada's international programming and policy either, despite the prime minister's expressed prioritization of this file.
On a positive note, Budget 2016 did highlight two key upcoming opportunities for engagement with stakeholders, including civil society organizations.
First, the budget affirmed that, over the next year, the government will conduct a review of the international assistance policy framework. We will be looking for the review to lead to a budget in 2017/18 that invests significant new money in creating development opportunities for people living in poverty, including and beyond responding to headline emergencies.
Second, Budget 2016 committed to a joint consultation by the Canada Revenue Agency and Finance Canada to clarify the rules governing the political activities of charities. This will be a key opportunity to ensure that new, unambiguous rules are established to guide charities in their activities and prevent burdensome, unreasonable and unnecessary audits of registered Canadian charities operating both at home and overseas.
Budget 2016 is a step in the right direction, and a welcome course correction from the repeated cuts of the past five years. But it's a very small step. Much more will be needed to match the ambitions of the new government to the needs of the planet and its people.
Fraser Reilly-King is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) where Gavin Charles is Policy Officer.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC or its members.
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The Liberal government delivered its maiden budget Tuesday, March 22. A deficit of $29.4 billion in 2016-17, nearly three times the $10 billion promised during the fall election campaign, and a projected deficit of $17.7 billion in 2019-20 rather than the balanced budget that was promised in October. (Source: The Canadian Press)
One of the earmarks of the budget is a commitment to spending on aboriginal issues. This includes: - $2.6 billion over five years for primary and secondary education on First Nations reserves, including language and cultural programs, plus $969.4 million over five years for education infrastructure. - $1.2 billion over five years for social infrastructure for Aboriginal Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and northern communities. - $10.4 million over three years for new women's shelters in First Nations communities, and $33.6 million over five years and $8.3 million ongoing for support services. - $40 million over two years for the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will be changing the structure of Canada's child benefits, ending income splitting and other tax credits for families and parents. This means: - $10 billion more over two years for a new Canada child benefit, absorbing and replacing both the Canada child tax benefit and the universal child care benefit. Targeted to low and middle-income families, the government says the new benefit provides an average increase of nearly $2,300 in 2016-17. - An end to income splitting for couples with children, the children's fitness tax credit and the children's arts tax credit. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The government will spend $2.5 billion over two years on a suite of changes, including reducing the required work experience for new entrants and re-entrants; halving the two-week waiting period; extending a pilot project to allow claimants to work while collecting benefits; simplifying job-search requirements; and extending the benefit eligibility window in specific regions with a higher unemployment rate. (Source: The Canadian Press)
- $5.6 billion more in benefits to veterans and their families over five years, including a disability award that increases to $360,000, retroactive to 2006, and an earnings loss benefit to injured vets of 90 per cent of pre-release salary. The government is also re-opening nine veterans' service offices across the country and adding a 10th. - Planned National Defence purchases worth $3.7 billion — ships, planes and vehicles — are being deferred indefinitely. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
Planned National Defence purchases worth $3.7 billion — ships, planes and vehicles — are being deferred indefinitely. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget includes $3.4 billion over five years to increase the guaranteed income supplement top-up benefit by up to $947 annually for single seniors, and restore the old age security eligibility age to 65 from 67. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals broke a major campaign promise to cut the small business tax rate. Instead, the rate will remain at the current 10.5 per cent on the first $500,000 of active business income. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will spend $1.53 billion over five years to increase Canada student grants to $3,000 from $2,000 for low-income students, to $1,200 from $800 for middle-income students and to $1,800 from $1,200 for part-time students. $2 billion over three years is also earmarked for a new strategic investment fund for infrastructure improvements at colleges and universities, in partnership with provinces and territories.
The Liberals' green infrastructure plan includes: - $2.2 billion over five years in water and wastewater treatment and waste management - $2 billion over two years for a low-carbon economy fund - Over $1 billion over four years to support future clean technology investments - $345.3 million over five years to Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada and the National Research Council to take action to address air pollution. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will spend $500,000 to help understand the role of foreign homebuyers in the country's housing market. The government says comprehensive and reliable data on the number of homes sold to foreign buyers does not exist right now. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The marquee Liberal commitment to Syrian refugee resettlement could end up costing taxpayers close to $1 billion. The budget provided an additional $245 million over five years to bring in the remaining 10,000 people needed to meet the Liberal promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
$142.3 million over five years will be spent to add new national parks and improve access during the 150th anniversary of Confederation. (Source: The Canadian Press
The Grits will provide up to $178 million over two years for the provinces for urgent affordable housing needs. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget earmarks $38.5 million over two years to strengthen and modernize Canada's food safety system. (Source: The Canadian Press)
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