It is now several decades since Canada took the pledge; that was a promise to dedicate
0.7% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to development assistance. That
target was set by the United Nations as recommended in a Pearson Commission report
in 1969 (Lester Pearson was Canada's Prime Minister from 1963 to 1968).
Umar Khan "Darweesh" / CIDA
Rebuilding in Kandahar. According to The Dominion “Afghanistan has been the single
largest recipient of Canadian bilateral aid, with almost $1 billion allocated from
U.S. President Kennedy’s Decade of Development
This was also the decade when U.S. President John F. Kennedy proposed that the industrial
nations make the 1960s the “Decade of Development” and pledged one percent of his
country’s GDP to the effort. Many other countries also took the pledge but, so far,
only five north European nations have hit the UN target - Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway,
Denmark, and Holland.
Canada has never reached the target, but was at 0.49% of GDP in 1991. By 1999, Canada’s
foreign aid had dropped to 0.30% of GDP, and currently, it ranks 16th out of 22 industrialized
countries in its foreign aid commitment when measured as a percentage of GDP.
Failed Foreign Aid Pledges
In 1992 in Munich, Germany, the Group of Eight countries (Canada, the U.S., Britain,
France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia) committed themselves to increase the quantity
and quality of development assistance and to direct it increasingly toward the world’s
But, 10 years later, Canada’s aid to the 49 least developed countries (LDCs) declined
in real terms by almost 50 percent, to $180 million U.S. from $350 million in 1992.
For the G8 as a group, aid to LDCs dropped by 56 percent for the same period. During
the same decade, not only had aid declined: the proportion of Canadian tied aid,
aid the recipient must spend on Canadian goods and services, went up to 70 percent
of the total from 44 percent in 1992. Some experts argue that to really help the
poorest countries, aid should have no such ties.
Meeting Millennium Development Goals
By 2002, the World Bank estimated that developed countries needed to double annual
aid, an increase of $50 billion U.S. a year, to meet goals agreed upon in 2000.
After the U.S. government announced plans to raise its aid budget by 50 percent -
$5 billion U.S. - by 2006, and the European Union promised to increase its yearly
aid by about $7 billion, Canada was under pressure to do the same. So, Prime Minister
Jean Chretien said Canada too would boost its development assistance budget ($2.3
billion in 2002) by at least eight percent a year.
The February 2003 federal budget did include an eight percent increase in foreign
aid spending - an extra $180 million - after many years of severe cuts. That’s short
of the Throne Speech promise four months earlier when the government vowed to double
Canada’s foreign aid budget of about $2.3 billion by 2010: that would require annual
increases of about nine percent in each of the next eight years.
At this rate, it has been estimated that it will take until 2040 for Canada to meet
its United Nations commitment of 0.7% of GDP. As far as Globe and Mail columnist
Jeffrey Simpson is concerned Canada simply is not pulling its weight.
In January 2003, Mr. Simpson wrote that Canadians are living in a fantasy world if
they see themselves as international do-gooders. Noting that Canada has shrunk its
commitments to the world, he says we can make no claim to moral superiority. Despite
the aid budget dollar increase, he says the real, after inflation, budget of the
Department of Foreign Affairs is about 30 percent less than a decade earlier.
“Canadian Aid or Corporate Raid.” Harsha Walia, The Dominion, October 28, 2006.
“Billions of public dollars have been wasted on corrupt and ineffective foreign-aid
programs over the past several decades, but even so, rich countries must fix such
flaws and increase their spending on development aid, says a new report by Oxfam
The global shortfall in aid currently stands at $3 trillion based on the 0.7% of
GDP pledge made by developed countries in 1970.
In February 2009, Ottawa announced it was concentrating its foreign aid in just 18
countries, down from the 25 that had been targeted under Prime Minister Paul Martin.
Rwanda, Cameroon and Kenya, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Nicaragua and Guyana have been dropped.
According to a Canadian Press report “The following places have been added to Canada’s
list of favoured recipients: Afghanistan, Colombia, Haiti, Peru, Sudan, and the West
Bank/Gaza and Caribbean regions.”