02/06/2014 06:10 EST | Updated 04/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Why Isn't Canada a Leader in International Development?

This week is International Development Week. This year's theme is "We are Making a Difference." Canada should be making a difference -- a real, sustainable difference. Unfortunately, under the Conservative government, we are going in the wrong direction.

Under Prime Minister Harper, Canada's aid budget has suffered significant cuts. In 2012 the government cut our foreign aid budget by 7.5 per cent. Yet these public cuts are not the whole story: last year, Canada's aid budget lapsed by nearly $300 million. This is a way of cutting our foreign aid through the back door.

Worse, we have seen this year how Canada's aid priorities are increasingly tied to our trade priorities. With the Global Markets Action Plan announced last Fall, the government has pulled back the curtain to reveal what we already knew: its priority is the promotion of Canadian extractive companies abroad.

The irony can be seen in this week's funding announcements from Minister Christian Paradis: $15.5 million for private-public natural gas projects in Tanzania; $18.5 million for skills training in the extractive industry in Mozambique; up to $25 million a year for further funding in the extractive sector in Africa. Yet there seems to be little understanding that the extractive industry, while a key part of a country's economic development, often brings human rights and environmental challenges -- and Canada should be addressing these challenges as part of its international development agenda.

While the Minister prioritizes extractive partnerships, we are still waiting to know the fate of the International Youth Internship Program and the International Aboriginal Youth Internship Program, which have been in limbo for over a year. As I've noted before, (former) CIDA's Public Engagement Funds program has not offered any new funding since 2012. And Canada's NGO sector is suffering from major cuts in government funding, with many offices closing, employees forced to move on, and knowledge lost.

Canada's NGOs have created a petition in advance of next week's Budget to urge the government not to cut foreign aid further. This week I signed that petition, and I encourage you to do the same at

The world expects Canada to be a progressive leader in international development. I can promise Canadians that under an NDP government, we will be.