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A fifth of the aid declared to the OECD by Canada in 2023 went to its refugees

Photo: Adil Boukind Archives Le Devoir Canada spent just over $8 billion in official development assistance last year, some of which went to help Ukrainians who fled the Russian invasion.

Dylan Robertson – The Canadian Press in Ottawa

Published yesterday at 5:10 p.m. Updated yesterday at 10:01 p.m.

  • Canada

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.

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.

< p>“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.” , noted 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 in the number of dollars spent on Official Development Assistance, a ranking composed mainly of rich countries.

“Not undressing Peter to dress Paul”

The analysis shows Canada spent just over $8 billion in official development assistance last year, $1.5 billion of which went to supporting refugees, Ukrainians who fled the Russian invasion and asylum seekers during their first year in Canada.

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

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

The United States spends 9.7% of its aid budget within their own borders, while the UK spends 28% domestically.

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Contrary to other countries, Elise Legault therefore affirms that refugee-related expenses do not eat into Canada's basic foreign aid budget.

< p>“So far, they haven't undressed Pierre to dress Paul,” she imagined.

“Other countries like the UK 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 has gone in part to resettlement programs, such as Ottawa's pledge to bring 40,000 Afghans in Canada, as well as health care and temporary accommodation for people seeking asylum in Canada.

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

< h2 class="h2-intertitre">Untangling international aid

For years, many have been calling for foreign aid and that of refugees to be declared separately, despite the long-standing practice of combining them, explains Elise Legault.

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

“Whether we're helping a refugee in a refugee camp or helping them in Canada, it's still money that's being spent on non-Canadians,” she said. That's why it's calculated that way. »

Professor Clark-Kazak recalls that these expenditures reflect a particularly unstable world, where a historic number of people have been forced to flee their homes due to armed conflicts and natural disasters linked to climate change.

The two humanitarian aid experts, however, agree on one point: Ottawa should be more frank with Canadians, particularly about how it spends its international aid and where the money ends up. At this time, experts maintain that these amounts are reported in several formats and the terminology is not consistent.

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

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

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

Reduction of international aid

The humanitarian sector has 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 each year.

The government argued that 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 gross amounts spent last year, it falls well below tenth place when these amounts are compared to the relative size of the Canadian economy .

Yet 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 Canada's response to the numerous crises that have erupted in recent years, she conceded.

However, governments are better prepared to respond to emergencies, she adds, and seem less inclined to invest in proactive development projects intended to make countries more resilient.< /p>

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

Professor Christina Clark-Kazak says it's important not to consider foreign aid as a “zero-sum game”, in which dollars flow abroad instead of helping Canadians.

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

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116