Foreign aid made a surprise appearance during the 2019 election campaign. One party proposed cutting the aid budget by 25%, suggesting that aid is used to prop-up foreign dictators, or is spent on wealthy countries that don’t need it.
These common myths about aid were thankfully debunked again and again during the campaign.
Another common misconception is that Canada is one of the countries that spends most generously.
So how can we separate fact from fiction? By looking closer at the facts! ONE published the Better Aid Scorecards to help bust those foreign aid myths and give us an accurate picture.
The Scorecards provide a snapshot view of how Canada (and the other 20 biggest donors) are doing in terms of three categories: aid volume, targeting, and quality.
So, how does Canada measure up? We rank 11th overall, but it’s a glass half full, half empty situation.
In two of the categories (aid targeting and quality) Canadian aid is among the best… but we are well below average in terms of volume (how much we spend). On foreign aid, Canada’s work has potential but is underperforming. It’s hurting our chances to achieve the global Sustainable Development Goals.
With a new Parliament, now is the time to have an open conversation about Better Aid. Foreign aid shouldn’t be partisan. At ONE, we look forward to working with all parties to get Canada back on track. With all that is happening in the world, now is the time to step up and improve Canada’s role in the world.
Glass half full: What Canada is doing well
Let’s start with the BIG MYTH BUSTER.
Canadian aid does not prop-up foreign dictators. Canadian aid is not spent on wealthy countries that don’t need it.
In fact, there are rules in place so that official development assistance cannot go to rich countries.
FACT: On aid targeting, Canada ranks 2nd and scores a ‘very good’ grade. This means that our aid dollars are effective and are going to the right countries.
Canada does well in terms of where we send our aid. We send 35% of our total aid to countries who need it most—the least developed countries. Like other donors, we could still improve and increase that share to 50%, but this is an area where Canada is well above average.
Most of Canada’s remaining aid budget goes to lower-middle income countries like Bangladesh and Côte d’Ivoire. They may not be the absolute poorest in terms of income, but people in these countries still live with less than $4,000 a year, and some of them are facing a devastating humanitarian crisis, like Myanmar. This is still effective aid targeting and shows real Canadian leadership.
Canada spends nearly half of our foreign aid on critical areas, like health, education, and social protection. This is good because these areas produce real results and help people escape poverty. We are also gender champions, with 80% of our aid contributing to gender equality, showing the effect of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.
Our aid is also of good quality when compared to other donors.
We rank 3rd on aid quality, mostly because of a good performance on aid transparency. Canada is a world leader in making information about our aid readily accessible to people. If you go online, you can browse through hundreds of aid projects that Canada invested in over the years.
One of the areas we could do better, is using country systems. Aid is more effective when it is closely aligned with priorities in a developing country. Again, Canada aid is above average in this category.
Glass half empty: what we need to improve on
In terms of aid volume, we are well below average and rank 14th compared to our peers.
As Canadians, we see ourselves as a generous country, but compared to other donor countries, our Government doesn’t do that well.
For every $100 of national income, we only spend 28 cents on foreign aid.
The international standard for measuring “fair share”, or how generous a country is, was set by Canada’s own Lester B. Pearson 50 years ago. The ratio takes the total “official development assistance” or foreign aid and compares it to our gross national income (a measurement of our entire economy). This ratio is supposed to be 0.7%.
Not only do we fall far short of the fair share target, but Canada is also well below the average. If you look at the foreign aid generosity of all the rich countries (the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee) their average is 0.38%. There are some high performers like the UK, Norway, and Sweden. However, our peers and allies (France, Germany, Ireland, and Belgium) are all more generous than Canada too.
So, in this category, Canada is well below average and needs to step up!
Canadian aid has a real impact on people’s lives in developing countries. Our recent contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and malaria will help save 790,000 lives. Canadian foreign aid is generally well-targeted and of good quality. But despite this potential, we are underperforming because of an aid budget that, following years of cuts, has remained stagnant even when our economy was strong.
This scorecard shows that Canada needs to step up and increase the aid budget. If we improve and just reach average, we will help millions more people.