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International aid agencies ask for more money in letter to Freeland ahead of budget

Group wants aid figure gradually ramped up to $10 billion by 2025
Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to the media in Hamilton, Ont., during the second day of meetings at the Liberal Cabinet retreat, on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Leading international aid agencies in Canada are asking Freeland to increase the country’s foreign assistance contributions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nick Iwanyshyn

Dozens of Canada’s international aid agencies are asking Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to increase the country’s foreign assistance contributions.

The request comes in a letter signed by 75 non-governmental organizations, including the Canadian chapters of groups such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Unicef and World Vision.

They’re asking Freeland to increase international aid funding from the $8.15 billion pledged in the last budget and to gradually ramp that figure up to $10 billion by 2025.

“Our investments have acted as a bulwark against rising authoritarianism by supporting democracy, women’s and children’s rights, and development in countries where rights are under attack,” reads a draft version of the letter provided to The Canadian Press. “… If Canada fails to maintain its commitment to year-on-year increases in international assistance in the federal budget this spring, all of this is under threat.”

The 2023 budget is expected to be tabled sometime this spring, though a date has not yet been formally announced.

The Liberals have promised more money for international spending each year since taking office in 2015, but global crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have changed the way that funding has been allocated.

“As we come out of the COVID pandemic, we see a world that faces multiple, compounding crises, whether it’s conflict, climate, inflation, the rollback on democracy and human rights in several parts of the world,” said Kate Higgins, chief executive officer of Cooperation Canada, which represents 96 Canadian non-profit organizations and was among the letter’s signatories.

“In that context, we see Canadian international assistance as a very strategic and smart investment in the world that we want to see.”

Higgins said investing in international assistance is the “smart thing to do and it’s the right thing to do.”

As of late 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was still urging government ministers to increase Canada’s international development assistance every year.

But Freeland has also previously stressed the need the reduce and review government spending amid global economic turmoil tied to pandemic, war, rising inflation and increased interest rates.

Higgins said Canada is currently supporting democracy in developing countries where rights are threatened, as well as protecting access to health and education for women and gender diverse people abroad.

“It also gives Canada diplomatic and foreign policy leverage by matching our words to solid investments in actions,” she said.

The letter is the latest lobbying push by aid groups worried the Liberals will use spending benchmarks set before the pandemic rather than building on the new, higher baseline established since its onset.

Elise Legault, Canada’s director for the ONE campaign, a global initiative to end poverty, said it has never been more important for the federal government to increase funding for international assistance.

“Canada showed up for Ukraine and the world noticed, but we also have to keep our word to other countries where crises they didn’t cause are piling up, like the pandemic, rising food prices and climate change,” she said in a statement. “We have to act now to help prevent further suffering and instability.”

Earlier this month, International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan told groups at a reception marking International Development Week that aid groups needed to drum up public support by doing a better job publicizing their progress.

“We need to be louder when things are going well, and saying, ‘This is conflict prevention. This is success.’ And we should be celebrating that even more,” he said. “Policies are one thing. Money is one thing. But action can only happen through you.”

—David Fraser, The Canadian Press

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