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.
Cooperation Canada urges Canada and the international community to mobilize all the necessary resources to address the human rights crisis in Afghanistan. Following the expedited withdrawal of American and NATO forces after 20 years of military intervention in the country, the Taliban have swiftly taken over major cities across Afghanistan, resulting in the collapse of the Afghan Government. Civilians, including human rights defenders and humanitarian workers, who had supported Canadian and other international actors are now disproportionately targeted, with the safety and security of their families on the line.
The people of Afghanistan have endured conflict for over four decades. Countless Afghan civilians, human rights defenders, humanitarians, diplomats, politicians, members of international militaries, and volunteers have lost their lives. The situation is deteriorating by the minute, with the local population abandoned as international actors evacuate the country.
In this time of conflict and insecurity, many are fleeing the country and seeking asylum to ensure the basic safety of their families. Canada has committed to resettle 20,000 refugees and has also promised to evacuate Afghans who have worked alongside Canadians in Afghanistan. Among these, civil society leaders and human rights defenders must not be forgotten. Women’s rights activists and journalists, as well as their families, are facing a disproportionate safety risk – one that Canada as a feminist actor must address.
After decades of interventions in Afghanistan, Canada and its NATO allies have a responsibility to contribute to a constructive resolution of this crisis, to preserve civilian lives, and uphold core human rights. Recognizing the very real constraints of this volatile crisis, we urge Canada, as a respected global actor, to support global coordination that prioritizes the lives of Afghan civilians whose safety and security are in the balance.
Why are we talking about the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act?
Canada’s international assistance is legislatively outlined in the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act (ODAAA). In force since 2008, ODAAA sets the terms for the eligibility of funding considered as the Official Development Assistance (ODA) and applies to all relevant federal departments. As such, the ODAAA is of instrumental value for all Canadian organizations engaged in international cooperation, many of which were a part of the co-construction process that led to the bill’s adoption.
Multiple amendments of significance have been made to the ODAAA since it was adopted. One has changed the very definition of ODA already, while Private Members’ Bill C-287, presented by the Conservative Party’s Opposition Critic for International Development, Garnett Genuis, seeks to further edit the provisions of the ODAAA. To cast light on this bill and its importance for our sector, the impact of the recent legislative amendments, and the proposed changes, Cooperation Canada has prepared this short guide.
What does the ODAAA entail?
The bill protects the integrity of ODA, understood as funding “with a central focus on poverty reduction and in a manner that is consistent with Canadian values, Canadian foreign policy, the principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness of March 2, 2005, sustainable development and democracy promotion and that promotes international human rights standards”. ODA is therefore interpreted in section 1 as the funding:
- Aimed at “promoting the economic development and welfare of developing countries” in a concessional character, meaning that at least some portion (in this case 25 percent) must be in the form of a grant, as per the three-point criteria outlined below; and
- Is aimed at humanitarian assistance.
Development (understood very broadly as non-humanitarian assistance) ODA must meet the three-criterion test, which suggests that ODA-eligible funding must be:
- Contributing to poverty reduction;
- Taking into account the perspectives of the poor; and
- Consistent with international human rights standards.
In this way, Canada’s legislation guarantees a human-rights-based approach to international assistance, which must be applied regardless of any institutional policies. Global Affairs Canada guidance documents offer instruments for the interpretation of all three criteria items.
The bill requires government reporting on ODA, including the Report to Parliament on the Government of Canada’s Official Development Assistance (which is generally co-produced by the Minister of International Development and the Minister of Foreign Affairs) and the Statistical Report on International Assistance, published by Global Affairs Canada for each fiscal year.
Recent changes to the ODAAA
In 2019, the ODAAA was amended to align with the ODA definition “published on the website of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development [OECD].” In force since June 2021, this amendment changes the calculations from the new grant equivalent measure. While the past OECD guidance and the original text of the ODAAA both referred to ODA with a grant equivalent of at least 25 percent (calculated at a rate of discount of 10 percent), the current Development Assistance Committee (DAC) consideration of ODA-eligibility based on the grant element is more complex, varying across countries’ economies and type of assistance, as outlined here.
The updated version of this bill, however, still protects the three-point criteria outlined above and other reporting requirements and other elements of this bill. Additional amendments (since 2013 and 2018) have further repealed some provisions relating to the reporting requirements pertaining to Canada’s influence on the Bretton Woods Institutions and resulted in a single report outlining Canada’s assistance across various multilateral and bilateral channels. Additional changes have eroded the transparency of Canada’s ODA reporting, particularly around the transparency of official development assistance and the predictability of the base levels of the international assistance envelope.
The bill also calls for government consultations on ODAAA (which are organized by the Ministry of Finance every two years – Cooperation Canada’s latest submission is here) and the Statistics Report. The recent amendments stand the chance of loosening up criteria for ODA (by reducing the threshold for grant-equivalent percentage of the funding), this can only happen through broader erosion of ODA criteria at the OECD DAC level. With the latest amendments in mind, the coordinated action of civil society at the OECD DAC level, as well as with the Global Affairs Canada teams informing Canada’s position at this global forum, assume great importance.
Don’t fix what’s not broken? Implications of Bill C-287 proposed changes
In April 2021, MP Garnett Genuis tabled Bill C-287, which aims to add additional elements to the three-point criteria outlined above, which would prevent Canada’s ODA from being allocated to foreign governments that have arbitrarily detained Canadian citizens or permanent residents, or have “engaged in a crime against humanity, genocide or a war crime.” Lastly, an additional criterion proposed in C-287 requires ODA to be consistent with Canada’s broader efforts of international peace and security.
Cooperation Canada welcomes all conversations and legislative changes that can improve the effectiveness of Canada’s international assistance. While we believe that great strides can be made around the predictability, transparency, inclusivity, and broader scale of Canada’s international assistance, the proposed bill does not reflect the current priorities of Cooperation Canada.
Canada’s international assistance is, to a significant extent, dedicated to humanitarian assistance, which follows global humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality, prioritizing the lives and livelihoods of crisis-affected populations (civilians who, according to the international conventions, cannot be held accountable for the actions of their governments) over political interests of any such actors.
While we agree with the importance of ensuring ODA reflects normative stances of Canadians and international commitments, the existing criteria already protect the human rights standards of ODA, as well as the broader category of poverty alleviation, which is contingent on the cessation of conflict and the achievement of international peace. Lastly, Canada’s ODA is largely allocated through multilateral organizations that depend on flexible funding to direct international assistance to those where it is most needed. As such, Canada, much like other countries contributing to multilateral arenas, cannot exercise undue influence on these organizations and earmark countries where Canada’s assistance can and cannot be deployed. The effectiveness and the efficiency of multilateral institutions are also protected by global governance frameworks of the OECD DAC and the UN, which would make ODAAA criteria incompatible with Canada’s global commitments.
Interested in learning more about ODA?
Canadian civil society has weighed in on approaches to ensuring that Canada’s international assistance respects the provisions of ODAAA. A Time to Act report outlines key insight based on discussions organized by the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC, now Cooperation Canada).
A broader case for Canada’s Official Development Assistance is presented in the Together Project, which outlines the achievements of Canada’s global engagement and traces a way forward for a strategic scale-up aimed at solving global challenges affecting us everywhere. The Together Project also outlines strategic areas of intervention across 11 thematic areas.
The Together Project amplifies the voice of the entire sector, calling for increased international assistance. Despite the long-standing international commitments, Canada contributes less than half of its global fair share, investing only 30 cents for every $100 of its national income in solutions to global challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate emergency, and global pandemics. Using an evidence-based approach, the Together Project urges the country’s leaders across the political spectrum to commit to sustainable increases of Canada’s international assistance that reflects the urgency of our global challenges.
*Cooperation Canada is grateful to Brian Tomlinson (Aid Watch Canada) for his insight and guidance throughout this analysis.
July 8, 2021 – The international cooperation sector’s Anti-Racism Task Force for Accountability published its baseline report on anti-racism today.
The report outlines key recommendations based on surveys completed by organizations that have signed onto the Anti-Racism Framework for Canada’s International Cooperation Sector, developed by an advisory group convened by Cooperation Canada. Through data collected from these surveys, the Task Force studied existing institutional commitments to anti-racism in administration and human resources; communications, advocacy and knowledge management; and program design, monitoring, evaluation and learning, and operations among 70 signatory organizations within the sector.
Given a general lack of data on racial justice in our sector and beyond, this report is an important step in informing institutional and collective efforts in propelling anti-racism within the international cooperation sector.
Findings include that organizations have “largely been reactive rather than proactive on issues related to racial inequality,” and that “there is a widespread lack of coherent, accountable and specifically antiracist efforts across signatory organizations.” Encouragingly, data collected indicate that 88% of signatory organizations have staff and/or volunteers who work and participate in equity, inclusion and anti-racist groups.
In addition to establishing benchmarks, the report outlines seven tangible recommendations on how organizations in the sector can make meaningful anti-racist , starting with the development of a coherent organizational anti-racism strategy.
Key findings and recommendations were shared on June 21, 2021, during the “Anti-Racism Report Launch: Where We Are, Where We’re Going” session at the Cooperation Forum.
Moving forward, organizations will be able to sign onto the Framework on an ongoing basis and become signatories on March 21 of each year, having submitted the annual survey that will inform annual progress reports. The Task Force for Accountability is hosted by the Anti-Racism in Cooperation (ARC) Hub, the institutional and collective capacity of signatory organizations to make progress against the commitments outlined in the Framework.
This Framework is not perfect or final, nor is it the destination. It will, however, provide a common ground, guiding instruments, and a momentum for a more anti-racist international cooperation sector. You are invited to sign on to the Framework, reach out to others to do the same, and engage with us moving forward. This is just the beginning, and we can’t wait to begin this work with you.
Read the baseline report here.
Cooperation Canada is delighted to announce the addition of five new Board Members. Elected on June 22, 2021 at the annual general meeting during the Cooperation Forum, we welcome the following members to the Board of Directors:
- Nabil Ali (Director of Programs, International Development and Relief Foundation)
- Christine Bui (Senior Director, International Programs, Oxfam-Quebec)
- Leah Ettarh (Executive Director, Alberta Council for Global Cooperation)
- Katharine Im-Jenkins (Chief Programs Officer, World University Service of Canada)
- Dr. Dorothy Nyambi (President and CEO, Mennonite Economic Development Association)
We would also like to congratulate Eileen Alma, Nicole Hurtubise, and Tanjina Mirza on their re-election.
On behalf of its membership, Cooperation Canada thanks outgoing Board Members Zaid Al-Rawni, Michael Simpson, Rachel Vincent, Jessica Wood, and April Ingham (who served two years as Co-Chair and a total of six years on the Board) for contributing to and supporting our mandate.
“Cooperation Canada is incredibly lucky and honoured to welcome such talented people to the Board for this fiscal year,” said Nicolas Moyer, CEO of Cooperation Canada. “We look forward to their important contributions as we advance our work to support the sector’s bold sustainable development agenda.”
See the full Cooperation Canada Board of Directors here.