Even as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau escalates his campaign for a Canadian seat at the UN Security Council, a new international report has warned that his record on foreign aid spending is weaker than that of his predecessor.
Mr. Trudeau’s latest promise of an extra $2-billion for foreign aid over the next five years will fail to restore Ottawa’s aid spending to where it was in 2012 under the government of former prime minister Stephen Harper, according to the report by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
“Canada needs to increase foreign aid flows in line with its renewed engagement,” the OECD said on Friday as it released the report by its development-assistance committee.
“It is important to now set out a path to increase aid volumes to add weight to Canada’s global advocacy role,” said a statement by the committee’s chair, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka.
The report is sure to be noticed by many of the African and Asian countries whose votes Canada would need in its bid for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council. Later this month, as part of his campaign, Mr. Trudeau will be promoting Canada’s record on the UN development goals at a high-level event in New York, just before the opening of the UN General Assembly.
Under the Trudeau government, Canada’s official development aid has declined to 0.26 per cent of gross national income, compared with 0.31 per cent in 2012 under the Harper government, the OECD report said. Aid spending as a share of national income was reduced even though Canada was enjoying “robust economic growth,” it said.
Canada’s new aid level is far below the internationally agreed target of 0.7 per cent, but it is also below the average aid levels of all donor countries in the OECD development committee, the report said. The average among those countries is 0.32 per cent of gross national income, and five of its donor countries have reached the target of 0.7 per cent.
Canada should “introduce an ambitious target” to boost its aid spending as a share of national income, the report said.
After promising in the last federal election to bring Canada back into a stronger engagement with the UN and other multilateral institutions, Mr. Trudeau announced that Canada will run for one of the 10 rotating temporary seats on the UN Security Council in 2021-22.
Stephen Brown, a Canadian aid expert who is currently at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in Amsterdam, said the OECD report is further evidence that other donor countries see Mr. Trudeau’s performance on foreign aid as “very disappointing” in comparison with previous Canadian governments and in comparison with Canada’s peers in the donor community.
“To them, this really stands out as one of Canada’s biggest failings, and one of the areas in which Canada completely ignored the recommendations of the last review in 2012,” Mr. Brown told The Globe and Mail in an interview on Friday.
In a recent report, he estimated that the Trudeau government’s spending on foreign aid as a share of national income is lower than any federal government in several decades. By this measure of aid performance, it has been “the worst government in a generation,” he said in the interview.
International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, in a statement issued on Saturday, defended the Trudeau government's record. "We have put forward a progressive new feminist policy and our approach is being recognized in the OECD report for putting gender equality at the heart of our fight to eradicate poverty," the minister said.
“As an example of our ability to leverage and influence, Canada was able to mobilize $3.8-billion at the G7 this summer in Charlevoix to ensure that girls can continue to receive a quality education, even in times of crisis.”
Robert Greenhill, a former president of the Canadian International Development Agency, tweeted that the OECD report is questioning the gap between Canadian rhetoric and Canadian aid resources.
The OECD conducts reviews of the foreign-aid performance of each of its development committee members every five years. The latest review, released on Friday, compares Canada’s record in 2017 with its record in the previous review in 2012.
While criticizing Canada’s aid levels, the review praised Canada’s performance on many other aid issues. It said, for example, that the Trudeau government’s decision to create a new Global Affairs department to co-ordinate trade and aid policies has made Canada’s foreign policy more coherent.
The review praised the government for “stepping up its global leadership” on sustainable development, for its “responsive and innovative” aid policies, for its strong humanitarian aid performance, and for creating a new feminist international assistance policy, including a commitment to promoting gender equality.
The review found that the government increased its spending on resettling refugees within Canada by 89 per cent in 2016 without diverting funds from existing aid commitments.
But the government fell far short of its goal of directing 90 per cent of its bilateral aid to 25 priority countries, the review said.
Linda Duncan, the NDP critic for international development, said the review was a “call to action” for the government. “The Liberal government must increase official development assistance (ODA) to meet their own rhetoric of renewed engagement in international development, as well as internationally accepted targets.”