Launch of the 2023 Canadian Aid Trends Report: Q&A with Author, Brian Tomlinson

Launch of the 2023 Canadian Aid Trends Report: Q&A with Author, Brian Tomlinson

On the sidelines of the 2023 Canadian Aid Trends report launch, its author, Brian Tomlinson, Executive Director of AidWatch Canada, met with Darron Seller-Peritz, Policy Analyst and Program Officer at Cooperation Canada, to discuss the report’s objectives and Brian’s vision of the future of international cooperation.


What is the specific context in which you have come up with this analysis and why at this time? 

Levels of Canadian aid are a crucial measure of our international responsibilities, including to the long-standing UN commitment of 0.7% of Gross National Income for aid. However, I think it is equally important to understand changing trends in the channels and modalities through which Canada works with international partners in supporting effective development cooperation.  

The scope and allocations of Canadian aid have been shifting over this past decade, responding with new modalities to address urgent global challenges (the pandemic and the deepening climate crisis) as well as Canada’s foreign policy preoccupations. The motivation for this study was to document changes for aid in the Canadian context as a foundation for understanding better the current trends that can inform priorities for our aid advocacy.  

An overarching goal for AidWatch Canada, as a member of Cooperation Canada, is to be a resource for the wider CSO community. Ultimately, this report is a resource for members and others in Government and academia, which I expect Cooperation Canada will want to keep updating. We can make it a living document through feedback, questions and proposals for future work on the trends set out in the report. 


The report outlines many trends in Canadian ODA. What do you think are the most impactful trends to watch out for in the coming years? 

The report highlights a number of crucial areas that are inter-related and together will be important to follow closely for their impact on Canadian aid in the coming years. 

The Government has promised aid increases each year up to 2030 but has failed to define clearly the scope and intent of these increases. We need to see meaningful transparency in annual Budgets for the International Assistance Envelope, with a clear detailed fiscal plan going forward to 2030. As a benchmark for a future Government, such a public plan is even more crucial in the coming year as we enter into an election period, with an uncertain outcome. 

The weight of climate finance in Canadian ODA is growing as Canada doubled its five-year climate finance commitment in 2020. What impact will a new post-2025 climate finance goal that truly meets the needs of highly vulnerable countries and populations have on Canada’s aid priorities up to 2030?  Will they be additional or “compete” with other aid priorities for reducing poverty and inequalities? 

As Canada relies on multilateral and civil society channels in delivering its aid, how will this aid reflect crucial development effectiveness principles – country ownership, inclusive partnerships, alignment with country plans for results, and accountability and transparency – for strengthening government and civil society leadership in partnership at country level? 

Finally, recent trends demonstrate the Government’s preoccupation with mobilizing private sector finance in its development programming. We need to closely monitor how Canada’s continued reliance on blended finance mechanisms with the private sector will impact the pre-eminent objectives for Canadian aid as a resource that directly addresses conditions for people living in extreme poverty, increasing food insecurity, and persistent gender and other inequalities.  


In light of the report’s findings, how can various stakeholders, including the Canadian public, civil society organizations, and international partners, engage with the report and its recommendations to advocate for positive changes in Canadian ODA policies? 

The report is a background resource for Cooperation Canada members to reference in designing their advocacy on Canadian ODA. While it points to important trends as noted above, it does not suggest particular avenues for advocacy. This is the prerogative of Cooperation Canada and its individual members. The report’s overview of current trends may be suggestive of important future directions for Canadian aid. But further analysis of the wider political environment and more detailed examination of particular objectives for Canadian aid will be needed.  

CSOs with particular sectoral interests, for example, might want to expand on the report’s overarching findings with more detailed research. Cooperation Canada members who are organized in various policy coalitions may wish to pursue this level of analysis. AidWatch Canada, for example, works quite closely with the Canadian CSO Coalition on Climate and Development (C4D) in analyzing in detail Canada’s climate finance. Through the policy staff at Cooperation Canada, I expect that they too can be a resource for members in not only maintaining and updating the report’s data, but also exploring issue areas of interest to the broader membership.  


Through the years, you have seen many changes in the Canadian ODA sector and shifts in priorities and trends. Where do you see Canadian ODA in 10 or 20 years? 

There have indeed been many shifts in Canadian aid priorities and trends over the decades. Today, we may be at a pivotal moment for aid, one in which Canada may influence, but not determine future trends. The latter have been driven by the major donors. It is a moment that is also deeply influenced by the convergence of global crises, which have revealed substantial weaknesses and the need for reform in international financial architecture.  

At the UN, the G20, the World Bank, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Canada and the international community are grappling with various proposals for reforming a 60-year international financial architecture that has become largely dysfunctional. A few questions need to be answered as we are searching for the best path forward: 

      • Where should, and where will, aid as the only resource available for programming for addressing poverty and inequalities fit in the emerging architecture of finance for developing countries? 
      • Will these reforms create new and essential resources for addressing not only the irreversible impacts of the climate crisis, but also biodiversity loss and growing threats of current and future pandemics, or will they rely on scarce resources for aid thereby further marginalizing other crucial purposes for reducing poverty and inequalities? 
      • Given these trends, can we restore the core purpose for aid as an essential resource dedicated to Agenda 2030’s priority to “leave no one behind,” focusing on health systems, education and civil society at the partner country level?  

How these tensions will be reflected in aid in five- or ten-years time is highly unpredictable. Directions are very dependent on trends in continued political polarization in donor countries, including Canada, on mushrooming impacts of the climate crisis, rising humanitarian needs, and geopolitical tensions, including the war in Ukraine. My hope is that international civil society, including Cooperation Canada members, will continue to challenge and contest these trends, with the goal of safeguarding aid as a resource for leaving no one behind.  

The future outcomes for aid are not predetermined. My hope is that this report can begin to inform deeper discussions on not just expected trends, but also on strategies to renew a path for increased aid that is directed to strengthening developing countries and their citizens in realizing outcomes that benefit both people and the planet. 

Access the highlights of the 2023 Canadian Aid Trends report.

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New Report: 2023 Canadian Aid Trends

New Report: 2023 Canadian Aid Trends

Cooperation Canada and AidWatch Canada are proud to collaborate on an important report looking into Canadian international assistance. The information unearthed in this report is crucial for anyone following Canada’s contributions to international assistance and a fairer, safer, and more sustainable world. Accompanying the full length report is a document highlighting 20 key trends as well as a Q&A piece with the author, Brian Tomlinson.

Global Affairs Canada CSO Partnership Policy – A Brief Guide and a Call for Engagement

Global Affairs Canada CSO Partnership Policy – A Brief Guide and a Call for Engagement


The ambitious objectives outlined in Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP) can only be achieved in consultation with international and local civil society. Coherent with the Istanbul Principles and related frameworks such as the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness and the Busan Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, FIAP is strengthened by a Policy on Civil Society Partnerships for International Assistance (the CSO Partnership Policy). Constructed in consultation with civil society, this policy outlines and defines how Global Affairs Canada (GAC) will engage with civil society actors on the implementation of the FIAP across nine action areas.


Nine action areas include:

  1. Empowering women and girls, promote gender equality, and reach the poorest, most vulnerable and most marginalized as the most effective means to eradicate poverty
  2. Facilitating a safe and enabling environment for civil society
  3. Protecting human life and dignity
  4. Fostering CSO leadership in innovation
  5. Integrating the role of CSOs as independent actors into international assistance programming
  6. Establishing more predictable, equitable, flexible, and transparent funding mechanisms
  7. Fostering multi-stakeholder approaches to international assistance
  8. Engaging Canadians as global citizens in international assistance
  9. Promoting sustainability, transparency, accountability, and results


Policy Objectives – CSO Implications

The human rights-based feminist approaches of FIAP require fundamental shifts in the structures, policies, processes, and programs of civil society actors working with GAC. Many of these shifts require institutional prioritization and resources, as we learned from civil society organizations (CSOs) partaking in the Women’s Voice and Leadership initiative.

Integrating considerations that account for gender norms and existing inequalities as well as devising tools and processes that allow for more gender-responsive and gender-transformative programs is a sector-wide challenge that can be achieved through collaboration, predictable and inclusive consultations, and continuous learning among diverse partners. To support these efforts, GAC and Canadian civil society crafted a policy outlining the entry points for strengthened government-civil society collaboration.

The CSO Partnership Policy highlights the responsibility of civil society actors to consult marginalized groups, including women and girls and ensure their perspectives are integrated across all areas of program design, delivery, and evaluation. Specifically, organizations are called to employ human rights-based approaches and institutionalize gender-based analysis in all of their work. CSOs should also collaborate with local/national responders as indicated through the guidance A Feminist Approach: Gender Equality in Humanitarian Action to strengthen the organizational and response capacity of local humanitarian actors as well as their long-term sustainability.


Implementation Plan

The CSO Partnership Policy is operationalized through the Implementation Plan, which lists proposed action for each of the nine action areas outlined above. To ensure progress towards the targets outlined in the Implementation Plan, Global Affairs Canada and Cooperation Canada have convened a Civil Society Policy Action Group (CPAG), which is open to civil society actors across the country. The two co-leads comprise the CPAG Secretariat, which on the GAC side reports to the Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) for the Partnerships for Development Innovation Branch. CPAG gathers specialists from the sector, with each of the nine action areas co-led by representatives from relevant GAC teams and CSOs, who in consultation with broader coalitions formulate recommendations for policy implementation.

In 2018, CPAG devised a national survey, which informed the prioritization of: Objective 1 (Empower women and girls and promote gender equality); Objective 6 (Establish more predictable, equitable, flexible, and transparent funding mechanisms); and Objective 8 (Engage Canadians as global citizens). The implementation plan for the remaining objectives were approved in 2019, offering a policy tool for CSOs working towards a range of FIAP targets.


High-Level Narrative Update on Progress

In 2022, the CPAG produced a series of high level narrative updates on progress. The progress update captured key accomplishments, challenges and opportunities. They were presented in June 2022, as part of the annual CSO-GAC dialogue co-hosted by Cooperation Canada and Global Affairs Canada. 


Next Steps

CPAG is re-convening in 2023 to examine the group’s mandate and reinvigorate progress towards the CSO policy in a changing international cooperation context.

Cooperation Canada Attends the Third High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC)

Cooperation Canada Attends the Third High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC)

On December 12-14, 2022, governments, civil society organizations (CSOs), and businesses gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, for the 3rd High-Level Meeting (HLM) of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC or Global Partnership), also called the Effective Development Co-operation Summit. Established at the 2011 Busan Forum on Aid Effectiveness, the  Global Partnership is a multistakeholder network of countries and organizations united around four foundational principles of effective development cooperation: country ownership, focus on results, inclusive development partnerships, and transparency and accountability. Departing from previous aid effectiveness commitments made in Rome (2003), Paris (2005) and Accra (2008), Busan shifted the focus from traditional aid to development cooperation, recognizing the important roles of diverse development actors. 

The development cooperation landscape has significantly changed since the Busan Forum. The adoption of the Sustainable Development Agenda in 2015 stressed the importance of tackling global challenges by using development assistance in a more “catalytic” way. However, global efforts to drive sustainable development are facing profound headwinds, from growing inequality to escalating conflicts compounded by climatic shocks. The 2022 Summit participants recognized that development cooperation must continue to take place under increasingly challenging circumstances and converged on the value and relevance of the four effectiveness principles. They also pointed to the need to attend to development cooperation trends and varied country contexts. In his opening address, Mr. Ignazio Cassis, President of the Swiss Confederation said that what differentiates us should not divide us: “Common values and a mutual respect are our compass. We must take responsibility and act together. This is the raison d’être of the Global Partnership.” 

Civil society delegates, represented through the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness, condemned the dwindling of development resources and the slow pace of collective action. They voiced the sector’s positions about conflict and fragility, climate finance, and shrinking civic space at the Unmet Gala, a parade highlighting unmet commitments towards sustainable development goals. CSOs also acknowledged the Summit gains, including the emphasis on building trust to make development cooperation more effective, and the momentum in favor of a revised national monitoring framework. Beginning in 2023, the 35 countries that subscribed to the new monitoring framework should drive enhanced accountability, encourage inclusive and evidence-based dialogue, including with the private sector, and promote behavior change.  

Following the Summit, the CSO Partnership vows to further promoting multi-stakeholder initiatives that enable civil society to play its role in effective development. Here at home, Cooperation Canada will continue to consult with the CSO Partnership and work with its members and the Government to boost Canadian leadership in favor of the SDGs and in support of country ownership of global solidarity initiatives. Cooperation Canada welcomes Canada’s endorsement of the Donor Statement on Supporting Locally Led Development released during the Geneva Summit and looks forward to collaborating with the Government around effective and coherent approaches to advance development, humanitarian, and peacebuilding efforts. Canada’s feminist leadership can and will make a difference in turning words into the global action called for by multiple commitments, including the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (2011), the Agenda for Sustainable Development (2015), the Grand Bargain (2016), and the OECD-DAC Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance (2021). 


Carelle Mang-Benza

Carelle Mang-Benza

Policy Lead, Cooperation Canada

Want more information? You can contact our Policy Lead, Carelle Mang-Benza. 

Cooperation Canada’s congratulatory message to the members of Canada’s 44th Cabinet

Cooperation Canada’s congratulatory message to the members of Canada’s 44th Cabinet

Cooperation Canada congratulates the members of Canada’s 44th Cabinet under the leadership of Justin Trudeau who were sworn in yesterday. We look forward to working with cabinet ministers and their staff as they address the urgent, yet complex, challenges of ending the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring a strong economic recovery, while addressing the gaps in social safety nets that the pandemic has highlighted, and mitigating the ongoing climate emergency.

Our sincere gratitude is extended to the outgoing Minister Karina Gould, an unwavering believer in international cooperation and solidarity, whom we wish all the best in her new mandate of advancing social prosperity in the domestic context. We are looking forward to working with Minister Harjit Sajjan, who will be taking on the international development portfolio. This is a critical time for international cooperation, and we are excited to support the Honourable Sajjan in his efforts to ensure Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy is prioritized, adequately resourced, and strategically implemented.

As traditional foreign and national priorities increasingly overlap, Canada’s international cooperation is emerging as a core pillar of the country’s future prosperity, impacting our health, economy, and our ability to help solve our environment and humanitarian crises such as the one in Afghanistan. We look forward to working with ministries whose work spans across all pillars of Canada’s global engagement, including those of climate justice, human rights, racial and gender justice, refugee protection, diplomacy, defense, equitable international trade, and environmental sustainability. We also look forward to working with Ministers Chrystia Freeland, Mona Fortier, and Diane Lebouthiller to ensure Canada’s global engagement is fair and backed by sufficient resources, enabling legislative and regulatory frameworks and civic space.

As a national association of organizations working in international development and humanitarian contexts, Cooperation Canada has informed Canada’s global engagement for over fifty years. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with political leaders in this pivotal moment of Canada’s history, which calls on investing in solutions to global challenges that affect us everywhere.


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Your guide to the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act: Protecting the Legislative Environment of Canada’s International Cooperation

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:  

  1. 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  
  2. 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:  

  1. Contributing to poverty reduction; 
  2. Taking into account the perspectives of the poor; and 
  3. 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.