Relief projects for Rohingya refugees will be among those cut as Development and Peace-Caritas Canada deals with major aid cuts in Canada’s latest budget. CNS photo/Ruma Paul, Reuters

Development and Peace protests foreign aid cuts

  • April 5, 2023

The federal government plans to spend a lot of money — $496.9 billion in 2023-24 — but the growth in federal spending projected by the latest budget hasn’t done anything for Canadian agencies that deliver humanitarian assistance and development aid in poor countries around the world.

Over 100 non-governmental organizations and charities, including Canada’s Catholic aid agency Development and Peace-Caritas Canada, have signed onto a letter protesting a $1.3-billion, 15-per-cent cut in Canada’s foreign aid spending.

“I cannot pretend I know the reasoning of the Canadian government,” said Development and Peace executive director Carl Hetu after Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland presented her latest budget in Parliament March 28. “I just know that once again cutting international aid is the least politically costly for a government. They cut 15 per cent, $1.3 billion, when we were promised they would do the opposite.”

Hetu suspects the cuts have already cost Development and Peace partners working with vulnerable, marginalized migrants. Just before the budget came down, the Catholic development agency was unexpectedly turned down for funding that would have gone to help Venezuelan migrants in Colombia and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

“Suddenly we are told — last minute — that we’re not going to get a penny,” Hetu said. “Thousands of refugees in both countries are not going to be helped.”

In the case of the Rohingya, who just endured another major fire in the largest collection of refugee camps in the world, the consequences are particularly dire, Hetu said.

This year’s cuts come in the context of an overall rise in Canadian international aid and assistance and the sun setting on some extraordinary expenses related to COVID, said Global Affairs spokesperson Geneniéve Tremblay.

“Overall, the international assistance envelope has grown from $4.63 billion in 2015-16 to an anticipated $6.89 billion in 2023-24, an increase of 49 per cent,” Tremblay said in an email.

The decreases in spending this year were expected as pressures from COVID have eased over the last year, said Tremblay.

“Those allocations were in response to exceptional circumstances and were not intended to continue over the long term,” she said.

While the federal budget shovels money at Canadian investments in the green economy, money for communities in poor countries struggling to cope with climate change is insufficient, said Hetu.

The evidence is in the global migration crisis that has come knocking on Canada’s door, he said.

“The world and all the continents are burning down. In a time when we need to find solutions and peace-building and reconciliation and more democracy, it’s like we turn away from what needs to be done,” he said. “It’s by investing in peace, by investing in development, by investing in human dignity that people will remain in their countries. We are aggravating the problem.”

The 270-page budget document claims the government cares about the same things and sees the same problems Development and Peace does.

“With human rights and the rule of law under threat from authoritarian regimes around the world, Canada has an important role to play in fighting for the values we cherish. Indeed, as a democracy, Canada has an obligation to take steps to protect the most vulnerable and help to build a safer and more prosperous world for people everywhere,” the document declares on page 182.

In 2021 Canada spent 0.32 per cent of Gross National Income on overseas development aid, according to OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) statistics. That places Canada 14th out of 30 donor nations and just under the average for all OECD countries. The 0.7 per cent standard in aid spending for donor nations was first proposed by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in 1969 and adopted by the United Nations. Canada has never reached 0.7 per cent.

Development and Peace now turns to its 10,000 members and thousands of donors to try to sustain its work in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.