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Why do the Tories want to copy Canada on International Development?

31 January 2010

It would appear that the Tories are looking across the Atlantic for their ideas, but not to Washington and President Obama, but to Ottawa and the minority government of Stephen Harper.

Earlier this month shadow Tory minister for International Development, Andrew Mitchell praised the approach of the Canadian government to international development.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, he was quoted as citing ‘the work of the Swedish and Canadian governments and the approach adopted by George Bush’ as models he wanted to follow, saying that they provided examples of how right-wing governments we’re embracing the aid agenda.

But a quick look at the Canada’s record on international development since the Conservative government formed a minority government in 2006 makes for worrying reading.

It’s a story of unfulfilled election promises, putting economic interests ahead of poverty reduction and cutting funding to well-regarded NGOs who dare to speak out.

Despite former Canadian Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson coming up with the idea of developed countries giving 0.7% of national income to international poverty, when he authored the ‘Partners for Development’ report in 1969. Even the most patriotic Canadian would find it hard to argue that the nation has ever been a leader, with level of ODA traditionally lagging behind those of others in the OECD.

But under the Liberal government in the early 2000s, the country saw increases it is ODA budget for a number of consecutive years, growing from $2.6 billion in 2000–2001 to $4.4 billion in 2005–2006. But that’s all been reversed since the Harper government came into power.

The independent Reality of Aid report in 2008 indicates that;

Canadian ODA performance has stagnated at 0.28% of GNI in 2007 and 0.30% 2008, with no plan for increases beyond 2010.

That after three consecutive budgets, it seems clear that the current Conservative Government is not living up to its election promises on aid made in January 2006. At that time, the Conservatives promised:

  • To honour all the commitments made by the then Liberal government (doubling Canadian aid between 2001 and 2010 with 8% annual increases to the International Assistance Envelope, and a $500 million one-off addition to aid in 2006 and 2007).
  • To put another one-off $425 million into the aid program before 2010.
  • To improve Canada’s ODA performance ratio to reach the average of OECD DAC countries, which according to the OECD DAC was 0.45% of GNI in 2007.

It’s a situation that doesn’t appear to be improving, with the Make Poverty History campaigning recently suggesting to its supporters that the country ‘was only aiming for a C in generosity, but was currently earning a D’.

On aid quality, despite the Canadian Parliament passing the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act (the Better Aid Bill), a groundbreaking piece of legislation which enshrined into law that the countries aid must be used to reduce poverty, take account of the perspectives of the poor and be constant with international human rights perspectives. However the Conservative government appears to set aside the law to pursue more politically expedient uses of its already limited aid budget.

Critics of the government have cited the decision to drop CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency) funding in to seven African countries including Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, in favour of increasing support to middle income countries in the Americas and Africa as evidence of broader foreign policy interests.

Finally, recently the government has been embroiled in a scandal after suddenly cutting all of its support to Kairos, one of the countries biggest ecumenical human rights groups, with a 40 year record of working around the world, because CIDA didn’t believe it fits with its ‘priorities’ despite the organisations very work being consistent with much of the countries Better Aid bill.

By Tom Baker

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