On April 4, 2023, Cooperation Canada organized a panel discussion to examine Canadian aid trends, reflect on the 2023 Federal Budget, which was tabled on 28 March, 2023, and discuss its connections with the global cooperation architecture. The panel, moderated by Kate Higgins, CEO of Cooperation Canada, comprised of Aldo Caliari (Jubilee USA), Nilima Gulrajani (ODI), Idee Inyangudor (Wellington Advocacy), Elise Legault (ONE Campaign), and Brian Tomlinson (AidWatch Canada).
Download Readout PDF
In the first part of the event, Brian Tomlinson presented an overview of trends in Canada’s international assistance, describing the various funding flows, the government agencies delivering international assistance, the implementing agencies, and the breakdown of Official Development Assistance (ODA) by components, including development, humanitarian assistance, climate finance and in-donor refugee and student costs. The presentation highlighted that the addition of COVID-19 spending and in-country refugee costs increased Canada’s ODA, but when these components were removed, funding for development decreased between 2019 and 2021. This downward trend was confirmed by Budget 2023, which projects an international assistance envelope of $6.8 billion, a 15% cut from the international assistance budget committed in Budget 2022, a decision heavily criticized by Canadian civil society organizations (CSOs) working in international cooperation and humanitarian assistance.
Following the presentation, the panel acknowledged that the 2023 Federal Budget, though expected to be fiscally prudent, was a missed opportunity for Canada to demonstrate global leadership. The possibility of off-cycle funding announcements in the coming months neither mitigates the sector disappointment, nor constitutes sound public policy, unless Canada decides to transparently present the federal budget as a floor rather than a ceiling. As the defence budget is growing, it was proposed that one way Canada’s feminist vision could be better demonstrated could be to adopt a lock-step approach, aligning defence and development spending.
Putting Budget 2023 in a global perspective, panel members noted the imperative to regain the ground lost during the COVID-19 pandemic and make faster progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The current global financial system is clearly not fit for the multiplicity of shocks facing the planet. On the one hand, OECD countries are pressured to address inflation and focus on domestic needs. On the other hand, developing countries grapple with an escalating debt burden resulting from the combination of insufficient concessional finance, forced reliance on expensive private lending to meet their basic needs, slow deployment of pledged climate finance, and limited access to the Special Drawing Rights, the reserve asset maintained by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Against this bleak backdrop, the panel agreed that new models of resource mobilization are urgently needed. This requires going beyond the narratives advocating for aid increases and exploring ways to do more with available resources, including dormant private capital. In terms of blending public and private resources for development, Canada has been playing catch-up for too long, with FinDev not delivering on expected results. Canada should become more strategic in leveraging private sector instruments as soft power assets.
The panel closed with remarks about what lies ahead for international cooperation actors globally and in Canada. The inadequacy of the international assistance architecture is acknowledged by many, including the OECD – Development Assistance Committee (DAC), in their most recent report, Debating the Aid System. There are emerging perspectives departing from the mainstream North-South development dichotomy and embracing the view of development as a global reality shared by all countries. One such narrative proposes to reframe ODA as a distributed investment in global public goods. Given this and other emerging perspectives challenging the paternalistic aid approach, international cooperation actors in Canada, in particular CSOs, should take the opportunity to engage in broader development conversations about the quantity and quality of aid, refocusing their attention on development outcomes.
Cooperation Canada looks forward to continuing to convene conversations on these critical issues as we work to position ourselves, and support others, to be relevant and effective partners in contributing to a fairer, safer and more sustainable world.
Ottawa – March 28, 2023: At a time of enormous need globally, the Canadian government has failed to deliver on its promise to increase foreign aid every year. As part of the Federal Budget 2023, the government declined to announce new investments for any international aid programs.
The coalition of 90 NGOs – representing a wide-range of development, humanitarian, environmental and advocacy groups – said that compared to Budget 2022, the overall international assistance funding was cut by no less than $1.3 billion – a 15% cut. The decision by the government to cut foreign aid comes amidst a world facing multiple crises around climate change, hunger, conflict and an erosion of human rights and democratic values.
“The word of the day is ‘undermine’,” said Kate Higgins, CEO of Cooperation Canada that represents over 95 organizations working on development and humanitarian assistance in countries around the world. “This budget undermines Canada’s standing in the world, it undermines progress on sustainable development, and it undermines our security. At a time when the world faces compounding global crises, Canadians expect their government to commit to bold global leadership. This budget does not deliver on this.”
In recent months, a sustained campaign by the international cooperation sector urged the government to prioritize funding commitments towards programs promoting gender equality, health, education, food security and nutrition, climate adaptation, and social justice.
In a letter to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland in February 2023, more than 75 aid agencies emphasized the importance of foreign aid as a smart investment in global security and prosperity. They called on the government to commit to a predictable, three-year increase to reach $10 billion by 2025. Budget 2023 is lacking that clarity and predictability on how the government will be increasing its foreign aid envelope annually.
Elise Legault of the ONE Campaign added: “Canada has been there for Ukraine, but we are now letting other countries down. Canada’s commitments in today’s budget not only fail to meet this call but actively threaten progress as we know it. We made a promise to the world to increase international assistance every year, and instead there is a 15% cut in the middle of an unprecedented food crisis and countries crumbling under the effects of climate change. This isn’t the leadership that Canadians or the world expects.”
The coalition said they are hopeful that more funds will come later in the year, as this budget blatantly failed to announce new investments. For example, the government indicated its intentions to renew its historic investments for girls education globally made at the G7 in Charlevoix in 2018. Without that renewed investment, four million girls and young women around the world are left with an uncertain future as Canadian-supported education projects will end in the coming months.
“Canada has been a champion of women’s and girls’ rights, but the Feminist International Assistance Policy is an empty promise if Canada fails to back it with concrete actions and resources,” says Julia Anderson of CanWaCH, a coalition of organizations working on women’s and children’s health and rights. “At a time when the world is calling on Canada to step up and deliver on the vision and leadership it promised, this government chose to step down.”
Louis Belanger – Bigger than our Borders – 613-265-4417
Sabrina Grover – One Campaign – 403-614-6498
Gabriel Karasz-Perriau – Cooperation Canada – 514-945-0309
Charmaine Crockett – CanWaCH – 613-863-9489
Note: The coalition of aid agencies represent a broad group of civil society organizations working in the field of advocacy, education, economic development, women and children’s health, sustainable livelihoods and food and water security, nutrition, gender equality and human rights. The group includes:
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
Action Against Hunger
Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA)
Alberta Council for Global Cooperation
Atlantic Council for International Cooperation
Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale (AQOCI)
Bigger Than Our Borders
Bright Hope for Tomorrow
British Columbia Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC)
Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID)
Canadian Feed the Children
Canadian Foodgrains Bank
Canadian Lutheran World Relief
Canadian Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases
Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health
Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan
Centre d’étude et de coopération internationale (CECI)
Collaboration Santé International
Cooperative Development Foundation of Canada
Développement international Desjardins (DID)
Development and Peace-Caritas Canada
Dignity Network Canada
Engineers Without Borders Canada
Equitas – International Centre for Human Rights Education
Farm Radio International
Fondation Paul Gérin-Lajoie
Food for the Hungry Canada
Global Disciples Canada
Grandmothers Advocacy Network
Health Partners International Canada
Human Concern International
Humanité & Inclusion
Hungry For Life International
International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO)
International Teams Canada
Islamic Relief Canada
Jane Goodall Institute of Canada
Journalists for Human Rights (JHR)
Kentro Christian Network
Lawyers Without Borders CanaAda
Manitoba Council for International Cooperation
Mary’s Meals Canada
Médecins du Monde Canada
Mennonite Central Committee Canada
Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA)
Never Again International – Canada
Northern Council for Global Cooperation
Ontario Council for International Cooperation
Opportunity International Canada
Partners In Health Canada
Penny Appeal Canada
Plan International Canada
Presbyterian World Service & Development
Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund
Public Service Alliance of Canada- Alliance de la Fonction publique du Canada
RÉFIPS, région des Amériques
Right To Play International
Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation
Save the Children
SOS Children’s Villages Canada
The United Church of Canada
Unité de santé internationale de l’Université de Montréal
UPA Développement international
Veterinarians without Borders Canada
War Child Canada
The Wellspring Foundation for Education
World Hope International (Canada)
World Wide Hearing
World University Service of Canada
World Vision Canada