A fifth of Canadian aid reported to the OECD went to its refugees in 2023

(Ottawa) Although Canada is one of the largest contributors of foreign aid, among some of the richest countries in the world, a fifth of this spending never leaves Canada’s borders.


Posted at 1:49 p.m.

Dylan Robertson

The Canadian Press

About 19% of Canadian aid reported to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) last year benefited refugees and Ukrainians living in Canada.

“Most Canadians wouldn’t think it matters, because when we think of foreign aid, we think of something happening in other countries, not spending here,” remarked Elise Legault, Canada director of One Campaign, a group fighting extreme poverty.

Last month, the OECD released its analysis of aid spending in 2023. According to the organization, Canada ranks seventh for dollars spent on Official Development Assistance, a ranking made up mainly of rich countries .

Analysis shows Canada spent just over $8 billion on official development assistance last year, of which $1.5 billion went to supporting refugees, Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion and claimants asylum during their first year in Canada.

The ranking includes provincial and federal spending in this area, and includes Ukrainians who came to Canada on an emergency visa to wait out the war, but who are not technically refugees.

Canada compared to other countries

These expenditures represent 19% of Canada’s foreign aid, compared to an average of 13.8% among other OECD countries.

The US spends 9.7% of its aid budget domestically, while the UK spends 28% domestically.

Unlike other countries, Elise Legault therefore affirms that expenses related to refugees do not eat into Canada’s basic foreign aid budget.

“Until now, they have not undressed Pierre to dress Paul,” she imagined.

“Other countries like the United Kingdom and Sweden have dipped into their foreign aid budgets to cover the cost of bringing refugees into the country, and fortunately, Canada has avoided this route. »

The high proportion of money spent on refugees comes in part from resettlement programs, such as Ottawa’s pledge to bring 40,000 Afghans to Canada, as well as health care and temporary housing for people who seek asylum in Canada.

As for the share spent abroad, significant funds were intended to respond to the conflict in Sudan and hunger in Haiti, and 21.4% went to Ukraine, notably in the form of loans.

Untangling international aid

Mme Legault explains that for years, many have called for foreign and refugee aid to be reported separately, despite the long-standing practice of combining them.

University of Ottawa professor Christina Clark-Kazak, who specializes in migration and development policies, argued that combining them made sense, to a certain extent.

Whether we help a refugee in a refugee camp or we help them in Canada, it’s always money that is spent on non-Canadians. That’s why it’s calculated that way.

Christina Clark-Kazak, professor at the University of Ottawa

This recalls that these expenditures reflect a particularly unstable world, while a historic number of people around the world have been forced to flee their homes due to armed conflicts and natural disasters linked to climate change.

The two humanitarian aid experts argued that Ottawa should be more frank with Canadians, particularly about how it spends on international aid and where the money ends up. Currently, experts argue that expenses are reported in multiple formats and the terminology is inconsistent.

This spring’s budget does not include consolidated figures on how much Ottawa plans to spend on foreign aid. The Minister of International Development, Ahmed Hussen, and his team also did not provide any guidance after the budget was tabled.

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PHOTO JUSTIN TANG, CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES

The Minister of International Development, Ahmed Hussen

It is therefore difficult for analysts to determine whether Canada is actually following through on commitments made on the world stage, said Ms.me Legault. “Transparency is really important from government, especially in an area like foreign aid,” she said.

“Canadians have the right to know how much [les responsables] plan to spend, how much they spent and why. »

Reduction in international aid

The humanitarian sector was outraged by the 15% reduction in the international aid envelope spent outside Canada in the 2023 budget, despite the Liberals’ commitment to increase aid funding every year.

The government argued it had simply returned to spending levels that preceded a historic increase during the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Although Canada is the seventh largest donor among OECD countries in terms of gross amount spent last year, it falls well below tenth place when the amounts are compared to the relative size of the Canadian economy.

However, this is the highest amount that Canada has spent on foreign aid as a proportion of its gross domestic product since 1995, indicated Elise Legault.

The government must be given credit for the fact that Canada has responded to the numerous crises that have erupted in recent years, she conceded.

She adds, however, that governments are better prepared to respond to emergencies and seem less inclined to invest in proactive development projects intended to make countries more resilient.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson, in power from 1963 to 1968, set a target for rich countries to devote 0.7% of their gross domestic product to foreign aid. Canada only reached 0.38% last year.

Christina Clark-Kazak said it’s important not to view foreign aid as a “zero-sum game,” in which dollars flow overseas instead of helping Canadians.

She argued that funding for refugees in Canada helps them become productive members of society during labor shortages, pay taxes and support the economy.

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