Canadian aid: myths busted and questions answered 

By: Results Canada Published: 06/02/2024

This International Development Week, we’re addressing your questions on Canadian aid. Being a global leader in helping others has been a part of Canadian identity for decades, but where do we stand today? It’s not always clear how we are – or should be – spending abroad and why we are – or should be – doing so. In this post, we will try and answer the most frequently asked questions about Canadian aid and why it’s so important for the world and for Canada.

first of all: what is Canadian aid?

Canada contributes a small but important portion of its budget to support global cooperation efforts – pooling resources to tackle major challenges like pandemics, poverty, climate change, and conflict.

When people talk about aid or international assistance in Canada, they are usually referring to the international assistance envelope (IAE), which is a dedicated pool of funding in the federal budget. The vast majority of the IAE is Official Development Assistance (ODA), which is regulated by Canadian legislation and must go towards poverty alleviation efforts in countries who meet the low-income criteria to ensure our contributions go where they are most needed.

Canada delivers aid through many partners including multilateral organizations (like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance), Canadian organizations (like Save the Children), multilateral development banks (like the World Bank), as well as local and international organizations and governments.

The largest investments in Canadian aid go to health, humanitarian responses (to natural disasters or conflicts), governance, and climate change projects and initiatives.

myth #1: Canadians aren’t interested in international development

Woman writing on a blackboard covered with positive messages about changing the world.

We know that people in Canada are primarily concerned with what happens at home, but also care about how we show up in the world. They firmly believe in the importance of helping others. According to recent polling, 90% agree that countries around the world need to work together in order to solve the big issues of today and 81% express support Canada providing Official Development Assistance (ODA). Canadians are concerned with global issues, notably poverty, climate change, and conflict.

Most of those polled also agree that Canada should be a world leader on improving the health of women and children everywhere, be involved and active in international organizations like the United Nations, and be engaged and working to improve global problems. Most want Canada to maintain its image on the world stage as contributing its fair share to solving global problems.

But we also know that there are a lot of differences in opinion on how Canada should do this and misconceptions about what we’re doing right now.

myth #2: we shouldn’t send money abroad because we have people living in poverty in Canada

Young person receiving a vaccine from a community health worker.

We get this question a lot and completely understand why. Poverty in Canada absolutely demands attention and action, especially as the cost of living is rising and we still have people – especially in Indigenous communities – without access to basic needs and rights such as clean drinking water.

But this does not mean that we ignore the needs of those outside of our borders. In 2021, for instance, 1 in 14 children in sub-Saharan Africa died before reaching their fifth birthday—15 times higher than the risk for children born in high-income countries like Canada, and many are trying to survive on under $2.15 a day. This is extreme poverty, and it is both the right and smart thing to do to support people in low- and middle-income countries to educate their children, feed their families, and care for their sick. Ensuring that everyone, everywhere has the opportunity to thrive prevents disease outbreaks, builds sustainable markets and communities, and helps defuse crises like armed conflicts before they begin.

And as we learned during the pandemic, our planet is deeply interconnected. Many global issues, such as climate change, infectious diseases, and economic instability, are or will have an impact on Canada and the prosperity, health, and safety of Canadians.

In order to solve the big issues of today, countries around the world need to work together. By contributing to international development and humanitarian efforts, Canada not only fulfills its moral duty to assist those in need but also helps build a more stable and prosperous world.

myth #3: we already give enough

Woman showing a book to a group of young people.

Since 1970, the United Nations fair share target set under Canadian leadership has been for developed high-income countries to give 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) to development assistance (global aid spending). Countries who reached or surpassed the target of 0.7% of GNI in 2022 include Luxembourg, Sweden, and Germany, at 1%, 0.9%, and 0.83% of their GNI spent on aid respectively. Whereas Canada is only contributing 0.37%, meaning only 37 cents for every $100 Canadians earn, which is far from our fair share. We also know that in its last budget, the Government of Canada cut aid spending by 15%.

Aid amounts to only 2% of total federal expenditures. In 2022, 40% of this aid was used in support of Ukraine, leaving a dwindling share to assist other vulnerable countries – not even enough to cover inflation.

Our stagnant aid investments come at a time when global needs are greater than ever. We are on track to achieve only 15% of the 140 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets for which there’s data, with regression or no progress on roughly 30% of the targets. ​And, alarmingly, COVID-19 pushed 70 million people into extreme poverty in 2020 and, without action, 575 million will be living in extreme poverty by 2030.

Now is the time to double down on our investments to those who need it most, including Sub-Saharan Africa, who saw aid flows fall by more than 7% in 2022 despite being the region where the vast majority of the world’s people living in poverty reside.

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For more on Canadian aid, visit our website.

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