03/20/2013 12:59 EDT | Updated 05/19/2013 05:12 EDT

Let's Learn From the U.K. and Commit to International Aid


This week in the United Kingdom, David Cameron's Conservative government will announce that they have achieved the targeted 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) in their international aid budget. It will be the sixth country in the world to do so. This is an extraordinary achievement that should be sung from the rooftops. But at the same time, under the Harper Conservatives, Canada's aid budget is heading below 0.3% of our GNI.

In fact, at a time when the U.K. is meeting its international aid commitments, Canada is abdicating its responsibility. The 2012 federal budget saw unprecedented cuts to the International Assistance Envelope -- $377 million cut, of this $319 million from Canada's International Development Agency (CIDA). These cuts came on the heels of the freezing of Canada's Official Development Assistance by the Conservatives, abandoning our commitment to increase Canadian aid by 8% annually.

On top of these cuts, March 31, 2013 will mark the two-year anniversary of the last call for proposals for NGOs for the Partners for Development program within CIDA -- which supports the international work of Canadian organizations toward poverty reduction in the Global South. The lack of proposals, and lack of information on any upcoming assistance, is leaving many Canadian NGOs concerned that the landscape of Canadian aid has completely changed under Harper. Canada no longer provides any long-term or core funding to the Canadian development sector. The lack of transparency from Minister Julian Fantino's office means that Canadian NGOs no longer have any sense of predictability concerning government funding.

When I co-hosted an event on Parliament Hill last month for the national Reverse the Cuts campaign, I heard success stories in the field from several of Canada's development NGOs. Unfortunately these kinds of successes are now threatened with the Conservative government's approach to international development assistance.

I have consulted with many NGOs operating in Canada's international development sector. Many of them are concerned that the government's cuts mean they will have to reduce staff and cut long-standing partnerships with partners in the field. Many of these long-standing partnerships have been developed over decades and have achieved extraordinary success. Unfortunately, the results that Canada has achieved over the long-term seem not to matter to this government, which is focused on short-term, easy-to-measure results that may not reflect the kind of long-term transformation that development is meant to achieve.

Some NGOs are also concerned that the government's new focus on partnerships with the extractive industry mean that the only money on offer from this government will be for projects in partnership with Canadian mining companies. For many Canadian NGOs and their local partners, this is an unacceptable choice. Needs are not limited to the communities in which these companies operate. Perhaps the Conservatives need to be reminded that, by law, the purpose of aid is to reduce poverty, not to further private sector interests or short-term trade priorities.

The Harper government would do well to learn from the approach of the Conservative government in the United Kingdom who, in a difficult economic situation, have made the laudable commitment not to cut their aid budget. Scaling back our development assistance is, frankly, out of step with Canadian values. The Harper government's position makes no sense -- morally or financially.

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