Skip to main content

A woman draws water from a tap installed in her village as part a Canadian-funded aid project aimed at preventing cholera in Malawi in 2009.Erin Conway-Smith

Canada needs to reverse cuts to international aid and set out a clear vision for how it carries out overseas development, a new report says.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said Tuesday that a decade's worth of progress by Canada through doubling its aid spending could be reversed by the recent budget cut to overseas development.

This year's federal budget cut $380-million, or 7.5 per cent, from Canada's $5.3-billion annual aid budget.

The report urges Canada to adopt a plan to boost aid from its current 0.31 per cent of GDP to 0.7 per cent, the international target for aid spending first espoused by former Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson.

And it says that while Canada has done good things in Haiti and Afghanistan, it still lacks a broad vision on how it wants to do development in the Third World.

"Canada lacks a clear, top-level statement that sets out its vision for development co-operation," the report said.

"The new approach to Canadian aid is not yet supported by sufficient or transparent decision-making criteria, complicating its processes and public accountability and constraining discussions with key stakeholders, including Parliament."

The six-month, peer-reviewed study of Canada's aid program was conducted by the OECD development assistance committee with the help of France and the Netherlands.

The report commends Canada on a number of fronts, including its decision to largely untie food aid, which allows developing countries to buy food locally for less money.

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said in a statement that Canada will seriously consider the findings of the report because "Canada places value" on the OECD's peer review process. Ms. Oda did not directly address the report's core criticism.

A leading aid agency expressed hope that the findings might persuade the government to reverse its planned aid cuts.

"We hope the government will take this seriously, and work to make Canada's aid more effective and more substantial," said Oxfam Canada's Mark Fried.

The report credits Canada for following through on a commitment to double aid spending in the decade to 2011. During that time, Canada also doubled its aid spending in sub-Saharan Africa.

But the Conservative government announced in 2011 that it was freezing aid spending until 2015 as a deficit-fighting measure, which disappointed non-governmental organizations that rely on funding.

This year's decision to further cut aid spending shocked aid groups altogether.

"It's certainly not sufficient to make a dent in the federal deficit, but it makes a big difference to poor countries on the receiving end that are being cut," Mr. Fried said.

The government also reduced to 20 the number of countries where Canada's aid spending was focused. That decision has also sparked criticism because it reduced to seven the number of poor African countries on the donor's list.

The OECD called on Canada to place a higher priority on African countries.

"The reductions ... since 2011 – combined with its plan to concentrate on fewer countries, many of which are middle income – may undermine the support it has given in recent years to poor countries with weak capacity, especially in sub-Saharan Africa," it said.

The report also says the Canadian International Development Agency places more emphasis on whether aid money is being spent accountably, rather than placing the emphasis on whether it is being effective.

Ms. Oda said the government has been committed to making Canada's international assistance "more effective, focused, and accountable" since taking power in 2006.

"This is a process that takes time, but we can be proud of our progress and the steps we took to make our international work more effective," she said.

"While there will always be areas for improvement, the peer review confirmed that Canada's progress to untie aid and focus its efforts by country and themes, is achieving important and meaningful results."

Interact with The Globe