Canada sinks lower on the list of foreign aid donor nations

Reduced overseas contributions reflect ideology and the changing times


Sgt. Kevin Macauley/CP

Come austerity season, foreign aid budgets are often the first to go under the knife.

The last time the federal government decided to take a serious stab at the deficit, in 1995, then-Finance Minister Paul Martin cut international assistance spending by more than 20 per cent over three years.

Jim Flaherty and the Conservatives weren’t hesitant to place aid funds on the chopping block in last week’s federal budget either. By the 2014-15 fiscal year, spending on foreign aid will have shrunk by $377.6 million. That’s more than 7 per cent of the current total. And if you consider that the aid budget has been frozen since 2010, the cuts appear all the more significant.

“On the generosity index, this budget moves Canada closer to the bottom of the world’s 22 donor countries,” said Oxfam Canada’s Mark Fried in a statement last week.

According to a 2010 report put out by the World Bank, Canada was already pretty close to that rank. Out of 38 aid-providing countries and institutions, Canada ranked 29th based on factors like predictability, coordination with other donors and alignment with the priorities of recipient countries. Most European countries, including debt-plagued Spain and Italy, placed higher than Canada.

“I think this is eating away at our reputation,” says Edward Jackson, a development consultant and professor of public policy at Carleton University.

Jackson says much of this has to do with how the government decides which aid programs and organizations to fund, and which to cut. He refers to recent cuts to foreign aid groups like KAIROS and Development and Peace, a Montreal-based NGO that will receive less than one-third of the $49.2 million it requested over the next five years.

The government has instead chosen to fund projects that work more closely with Canadian businesses overseas. Last year, for instance, World University Service Canada was granted funding to partner up with mining giant Rio Tinto Alcan to provide skills training to 400 young people in the community near one of the company’s mines in Ghana.

“It’s very ideological,” says Jackson. “If you have a vaguely progressive or left wing approach to doing development, this government is not going to support you.”

A large majority—85 per cent—of the foreign aid spending cuts announced in the budget will come from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). By the 2012-13 fiscal year, CIDA will lose 4.5 per cent of its total budget.

That’s consistent with a long-term trend that has seen the agency lose influence over the portfolio it was founded to administer, says Patrick Johnston, former president of the Walter Gordon Foundation now working as a philanthropy consultant in Toronto.

In a 2010 essay, Johnston describes how the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade now takes the lead on major international assistance efforts, such as Canada’s operation in Haiti following the devastating earthquake there in January 2010.

He believes this reflects how Canada’s international aid agenda has shifted away the goals people typically associate with such activities—like the alleviation of poverty and the delivery of basic services. “We’re using foreign aid to sort of serve our own foreign policy and security interests,” he says.

At the same time, Johnston contends that the rise of online microcredit organizations like (which allows anyone to send small loans to entrepreneurs in impoverished countries), aid organizations led by billionaire philanthropists and the increasing ease with which money is transferred electronically have changed the way international assistance is done in the years since CIDA was founded in 1968. There are more players on the aid scene, and that gives government room to back off.

Johnston points to money transfers from people in Canada to relatives and friends in the developing world. According to the U.S. Hudson Institute, US$12.2 billion in remittances were sent from Canada to recipients in developing countries in 2009. That’s more than twice the government’s total aid budget.

For these reasons, Johnston predicts that CIDA will “implode under the weight of its own irrelevance,” and be folded into the Foreign Affairs Department. “I’d put money on it that CIDA will disappear,” he says. “You heard it here first.”

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Canada sinks lower on the list of foreign aid donor nations

  1. Perhaps CIDA should disappear as a separate entity and become part of a senior Ministry like Foreign Affairs.

  2. Good – it’s long overdue that our money goes to those who are willing to change their ways- including their outdated corruption that prevails most of their countries- and their prevailing corruptive  politics at the top of their societies.    

  3. Why is our government giving millions of dollars in aid to countries riddle with vioence and corruption?  None of these countries would give us aid if our situations were reversed. Indeed, in many cases the aid third world countries receive isn’t even distributed to their own people. 

    Who says that achievement oriented nations that work hard and productively, have to support those who don’t bestir themselves to help their own people. Better to spend that money at home helping the less fortunate amongst us, and our aborginal peoples.

  4. As far as I am concerned cut off all foreign aid – period! A waste of money that would be welcome in our own country. Invest in Canada – leave the others to their own mess – they created it – they can straighten it out.

    Canada first – no exceptions!!! 

  5. Let’s look at our backyard and our Seniors where poverty is all of what they get living in Canada let keep that money for our own people.

  6. I have never read such ignorance of developing countries and efforts made by the more developed countries than I have read in the preceding comments. Those commentators seem to have forgotten that we are one world and one people. Disgusting!

    • We do have one world but the “disgusting” comments you disagree with are founded on the belief that north america has principles which should try to be emulated by corrupt countries. That being said. ” A bad tree cannot produce good fruit”.

  7. I say we keep throwing our money in with organizations that are doing real tangible good for the world’s most needy people…like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  They are vaccinating the whole world and trying to erradicate illness, hunger and suffering everywhere.  They have a fantastic track record and many big money have signed on with them including Warren Buffet.  Now that an HIV vaccine is in trial, this foundation will have even more success in the future.

  8. I’m with “Supporter of Live Aid”. The NGO’s which have been cut off from the gov’t funding that provided A PART of their total annual budgets are helping poor people and the oganizations indigenous to the nations which are trying to alleviate the inequities of life there. Many Canadian extractive industries CONTRIBUTE to those inequities and are protected by unscrupulous governments from the need to respect local people, their ways of life and their universal human rights.

    I say cut bilateral aid to such countries, but INCREASE aid to organizations which promote their peoples’ wellbeing.

  9. Harper’s “disdain” of Canadians, is only matched by his utter disdain of anything resembling charitable foreign-aid donations’. 

  10. All the NGO’s are professional dogooders that foremost dogooding for themselves while pouring scorn on hardworking Canadians for not giving them more money,  

  11. Money for the likes of Haiti, Sri Lanka, Pakistan???

    Cut them all off and let their citizens fund them with their remittances sent from Canada back home.

    I do not wish to fund terrorist organizations in Pakistan and definitely do not feel that they or Afghanistan, will ever be ready for democracy. Their culture and religion is too backward and inflexible to adapt to the world that has left them behind.

  12. just a thought… according to this, we spend about 5 billion dollars on foreign aid… according to a quick google search, in 2007 we had about 1.5 million people on welfare or social assistance (I’m assuming here that this also includes odsp) Welfare for a single individual is roughly $600 a month, odsp is roughly a grand… assuming an even split, 450 million on welfare, 750 million on odsp… That’s 14.4 billion dollars a year. Compare that to the 5 billion spent on helping other countries… We spend 30% helping other people, where that money could be better spent helping our own citizens. I challenge anyone who feels we need to help other citizens. Take $600 out of your bank for one month, spend only that $600. Pay your rent, your hydro, your cable, cell, food. Can’t do it? Then start thinking how 750,000 Canadian citizens feel every month. Try with 1000… can’t do it? Think about what 750,000 disabled Canadian citizens feel every month. If we cut foreign aid, that’s 5 billion dollars that can go into helping our own countries citizens. That will increase their monthly checks by $280. Not a huge amount, but it does make it a little easier to afford basic necessities like food and toiletries.