Over the Labour Day long weekend, the Debate Broadcast Group announced the topics for the official Federal Leaders debates set to take place Wednesday and Thursday evenings this week. Conspicuously absent from the English debate is any discussion of foreign policy and all it encompasses.
Throughout the campaign, leaders have made big commitments on affordable housing, and health care. Policy areas that are within provincial jurisdiction. Unlike these issues, Foreign Policy – including all its facets of trade, international development, global health, defense, and immigration – is solely the domain of the federal government. In the only official debate to be held in English, Leaders must be asked about the many critical foreign policy issues that continue to shake Canadians through the campaign.
For weeks Afghanistan dominated the headlines, highlighting the community leaders, humanitarian workers, and women’s rights defenders who worked alongside Canadians to build a future for their country that they could be proud of. Leaders of all political parties need to be transparent with their plan for the region, Canada’s responsibility to the many who have been left behind, and how the Afghanistan experience should shape Canadian foreign policy in the decades to come.
As these stories fade from the newspapers, it is essential that they not be forgotten. This is equally true for the billions of people around the world that have yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. As Canadians grapple with a growing fourth wave of the pandemic, the evidence is clear that we cannot end COVID-19 here until we end it everywhere. Yet today less than 2% of people in low- and middle-income countries have been vaccinated. This statistic indicates that we are a long way off from ending our fight against this virus. Canada’s approach to foreign policy will have an important role in ending the threat of new variants and safeguarding our economic recovery.
Our global recovery from COVID-19 and the risk of losing two decades of progress on women’s rights in Afghanistan are just some of the important global conversations that cannot be swept under the rug. Including foreign policy in the French language debate is an important step, but it is simply not enough. In 2019 over 14 million Canadians tuned in to the English debate compared to the 5 million viewers of the French debate. Leaders are accountable to Canadians in both official languages. As it stands, most of the country won’t hear the parties’ plans for a central pillar of federal responsibility.
Nicolas Moyer, Chief Executive Officer of Cooperation Canada says, “Debates are important to our democracy. They should matter, but they can’t when major issues are left off the table. That is why we’ve joined along with many associations in the foreign policy space since the election began to call on the debate commission to include foreign policy as a debate topic. With our country and our world at a turning point, Canada’s plan for its role in the world has never mattered more.”
This election, let’s give our leaders the opportunity to have an honest conversation with Canadians about our global future by putting foreign policy on the agenda.
Keeping Canadians safe is the most important role of the government. That means eradicating COVID-19 from around the world, urgently addressing the climate crisis, and ensuring an equitable pandemic recovery. Our economy is global, our population is multicultural, and we cannot solve global challenges in isolation. Canada will not recover until the world recovers.
Today, the Government of Canada announced budgetary measures aimed at eradicating COVID-19. This includes $375 million towards the global pandemic response – a critical contribution that will save lives. Yet this modest figure stands in contrast with the Government’s commitments last year, amounting to an estimated $1.2 billion and does not reflect or respond to the dire humanitarian needs around the globe: with 97 million people pushed to extreme poverty and 270 million facing acute hunger. COVID-19 is not a fleeting crisis. It calls for political leadership and strategic investments to make up for the 25 years of human development progress lost in the first 25 weeks of the global pandemic. Today’s budget is a missed opportunity to demonstrate such political leadership.
Women and girls, marginalized communities and historically disadvantaged countries are bearing the brunt of the harshest economic, social, and health effects of the crisis. Securing their futures requires ambitious action. This is why the international development sector has been calling for the government to invest 1% of its COVID response to support the global response and recovery. Today’s Budget provides for $375 million in COVID-19 global response, encapsulated in a $1.4 billion increase in international assistance, spread over five years. Such an increase emerges as insufficient against the backdrop of the biggest global crisis in a generation and the need for long-term investments in mechanisms of global health, social protection and economic collaboration on which depends our ability to recover from COVID-19 and prevent and mitigate future crises.
Canada is currently contributing far below its global fair share and its international commitments, investing only 30 cents in international assistance for every 100 dollars in gross national income. Despite an increase last year, Canada continues to perform below the average of donors of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Low levels of funding, exacerbated by unpredictable new allocations that follow political trends and media attention instead of the humanitarian needs and development strategies, are threatening the achievement of the government’s own Feminist International Assistance Policy.
Canadians understand the need for a bold budget with robust measures to address the crisis within and beyond our borders. While Canada grapples with its own vaccine roll-out, many lower-income countries have not received a single dose, endangering lives, and threatening the health and economic recovery everywhere.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how important it is to address global crises in a timely manner,” said Nicolas Moyer, CEO of Cooperation Canada. “Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector has been calling on the Government to commit to a strategic, long-term investment in global solutions to the multiple concurrent crises affecting us everywhere. This Budget missed an opportunity to answer those calls.”
Today was also not the day Canada presented a vision for addressing international climate challenges. Looking forward, the Government must tackle the climate crisis with determination. This means allocating Canada’s fair share of the global climate finance commitments, which corresponds to $1.8 billion in annual contributions, on top of the current international assistance levels. Our global crises cannot be solved in isolation. Climate adaptation and mitigation, humanitarian interventions and development efforts are mutually reinforcing and as such deserve comprehensive and strategic investments that match the severity and the urgency of the crises we are facing everywhere.
Canada has an opportunity to do better later this year at the G7 Summit and the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) with a chance to invest in progressive and principled global development, that is in everyone’s interest. It is time to commit meaningfully to effective efforts to build back healthier, safer, more equitable and sustainable communities for us all.
About Cooperation Canada
Cooperation Canada brings together and advocates for Canada’s international development and humanitarian organizations by convening sector leaders, influencing policy and building capacity. Together, we work with partners both inside and outside Canada to build a world that’s fair, safe and sustainable for all.
Cooperation Canada applauds Canada’s announcement today to contribute an additional $75 million to support a more equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines. This is an invaluable investment as historically disadvantaged countries which are disproportionately affected by the pandemic struggle to access vaccines. It is essential that vaccines be made available on the basis of need and prioritize the most vulnerable, wherever they are. The current pandemic clearly demonstrates that our economy is global, our populations are deeply interconnected, and we cannot solve global challenges in isolation. Canada will not recover until the world recovers.
Today’s announcement brings Canada’s contribution to a global COVID-19 response to an estimated $2 billion. This investment is a clear indication of Canada’s global leadership since the beginning of the pandemic, which is helping solve global challenges and motivating other countries to step up. COVID-19 is not the crisis of a season – it has already left a lasting impact on all aspects of our societies, exacerbated inequalities and disrupted 25 years of global human progress in a matter of months.
Sustained investments in global capacity to prevent and mitigate crises such as this one are key. Today’s announcement and Canada’s important COVID-related global contributions are critical steps towards ensuring Canada contributes its fair share to global development. Much progress is still needed in this area. To strategically address the current global challenges, Canada must ensure that predictable long-term funding is in place to fulfill Government promises outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Feminist International Assistance Policy. This should include a roadmap for increasing Canada’s international assistance. A first step would be anchoring the existing COVID-19 budgetary allocations to the permanent international assistance envelope. This should be accompanied by further increases, in the next two fiscal years, with the overall objective of allocating at least 1% of Canada’s COVID-19 response and recovery budget towards sustainable global recovery to the pandemic crisis.
We are in this together. Only together can we build back a stronger, more resilient and equitable world.