Last summer, Development and Peace – Caritas Canada participated in the government-led consultations on renewing Canada’s international aid policy. These consultations provided an excellent opportunity to communicate the sector’s concerns and priorities to Canadian decision-makers. While the outcome of these consultations—as well as the country’s new funding framework for international assistance—is still pending, the 2017 federal budget leaves us perplexed about the future because it seems to be an omen of worse to come. In point of fact, this budget does not live up to Canada’s commitments and responsibilities for global sustainable development.
In the budget presented on March 22, the amount allocated to development aid represents about 0.26 per cent of the gross national income (GNI), which is well below the internationally agreed-upon benchmark of 0.7 per cent. And yet, at the end of 2016, the Finance Committee and the Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development recommended that official development assistance be raised to 0.35 per cent of GNI within three years. The 2017 budget will not encourage any progress towards that benchmark. In these circumstances, we believe that it will make it much more arduous for the Canadian government to meet its international commitments and truly regain its place on the international stage.
In September 2015, the UN, of which Canada is a member, made a commitment to implement 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that set a comprehensive, ambitious, universal and coherent public policy framework for the next 15 years. At the end of 2015, at the Paris Climate Conference (COP21), the Canadian Prime Minister proudly stated that “Canada is back.” A few months later, in April 2016, the Canadian government ratified the Paris Agreement, which committed the Canadian government not just to reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but also to assuming its historical responsibilities in terms of climate change by supporting the people and countries in the Global South, which are most affected by climate change.
Climate change: the government is setting the table for Canada’s climate framework, but people in the Global South are being left out
On the issue of climate change, funds have been advanced to improve the energy security and health of the citizens of indigenous communities. In addition, significant investments have been announced in energy efficiency, public transit, electric vehicles, and the production and distribution of clean electricity. Unfortunately, it can not be said that a similar effort has been made with respect to populations in the Global South. In reality, Canada is maintaining the same GHG reduction targets established by the Conservative government, and few measures have been put in place to stop subsidies for fossil fuels. In this way, it would seem that Canada will maintain—or even increase—its rate of GHG emissions while doing very little to help the populations of the Global South to cope with the impacts of climate change. Hence, contrary to the commitments made by the Canadian government when the SDGs were adopted, we will thus be leaving entire populations in crisis as they face such realities.
Absence of funding on human rights and trade issues
Commitment to human rights is an elemental part of Canadian identity, both in Canada and abroad, yet human rights and trade issues seem to be largely forgotten in this budget. Nonetheless, the behaviour of Canadian companies abroad is affecting the rights of communities, workers and Aboriginal peoples in several countries. This is particularly true in the case of Canadian companies in the extractive sector. Thousands of Canadians, as well as hundreds of organizations in Canada and in the Global South, have been lobbying the Canadian government to take action in this area for years, particularly with respect to the behaviour of Canadian mining companies operating abroad. A bill for the creation of an independent human rights ombudsman for the Canadian extractive industry was even presented to the Parliament of Canada in November 2016. Development and Peace is deeply disappointed to note that the current budget makes no provisions in that regard.
The most recent budget of the federal government leaves us pensive and a bit puzzled. That said, Development and Peace – Caritas Canada will continue to work with the Canadian government to meet the commitments made under the SDGs and the Paris Agreement in the best interests of the people of Canada and the Global South.
Serge Langlois, Executive Director
Development and Peace – Caritas Canada