Aid organizations say they are disappointed with the proposed funding for international assistance in the federal government’s budget, saying more is needed to respond to the pandemic and other humanitarian needs.
In the budget tabled on Monday, the Liberal government outlined spending of $1.4-billion over five years in international assistance to support developing countries and help vulnerable populations.
The budget also proposes to provide up to $375-million in 2021-22 to Global Affairs Canada (GAC) for Canada’s international pandemic response. It also includes an additional $165-million to Global Affairs to provide international humanitarian assistance to “save lives and alleviate suffering resulting from conflicts, food insecurity, and other crises in developing countries.”
Nicolas Moyer, chief executive officer of Cooperation Canada, which represents almost all major Canadian aid organizations, applauded the domestic initiatives in the budget, but said the elements concerning international engagement appear to be “an afterthought.”
“In a moment where the world is facing its greatest crisis of a generation, the apparent ambivalence of our budget to the global crisis can arguably be interpreted as negligence. … You will not end COVID until you end it everywhere,” he said in an interview.
“It really begs the question, where is the leadership? Where is Canada’s leadership on the international stage? And we don’t know.”
Mr. Moyer said his organization is advocating for Ottawa to put 1 per cent of its spending for domestic COVID-19 programs into the global response, which would amount to $1.9-billion this year. He also called for predictable funding for next year. He said budget has some good items, such as contributions to help relieve the Rohingya crisis and the Venezuelan refugee crisis. Still, he said, it is not the scale of ambition he hoped to see.
The budget proposed $288.3-million over three years, beginning in 2021-22, to Global Affairs to respond to the Rohingya crisis, and $80.3-million over two years, beginning in 2021-22, to GAC and the immigration department for the Venezuelan refugee crisis.
International Development Minister Karina Gould said Canada has mobilized more than $3.25-billion to date in international assistance to address the effects of the pandemic internationally.
“The challenges have not gone away, and with Budget 2021, we are hence bringing an additional investment of $1.4-billion over five years to go towards international development initiatives, global health and humanitarian programs,” she said.
Michael Messenger, president and CEO of World Vision Canada, said while his organization welcomes the increase in funding for this year, it “does not go far enough.”
“We’re disappointed by the absence of robust annual increases in international assistance funding,” he said in a statement. Mr. Messenger said Ottawa needs to step up over the coming years to protect the world’s most vulnerable children from COVID-19, adding that this would help Canadians, too.
“We won’t be safe until the whole world is safe. And there will be no Canadian recovery until there is a global recovery,” he said.
Oxfam Canada said much of the $1.4-billion is being allocated this year and that long-term sustained investments are needed to end the pandemic, but also to help countries with the economic fallout.
Siham Rayale, women’s-rights policy specialist at Oxfam Canada, said women have been at the centre of the COVID-19 response in low-income countries as the majority of frontline health-care workers.
“Canada’s feminist international-assistance policy ambitions cannot be fulfilled when there are limited resources to support the global COVID-19 response,” she said in a statement, adding that the government knows keeping Canadians safe means eradicating COVID-19 around the world, and “that will require leadership and resources.”
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