Senator Colin Kenny has written an important op-ed in this morning's Toronto Star. The central thrust of the piece is that the Harper government's approach to foreign aid is sheer folly. Kenny writes:
That Harper would pull CIDA out of some of the poorest countries in the world — like Malawi and Niger — and shift its focus to countries Canada wants to increase trade was reprehensible for a government committed to stand on firm moral principles in its international dealings.
That Canada would announce earlier this year that it was pulling out of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification — signed on to by 194 countries — fell into the same moral quagmire. Harper’s rationale was that the convention was too bureaucratic, but the strong suspicion is that this government doesn’t want anything to do with any scientific battles against climate change.
That the government would cut the last year’s foreign aid budget by 7.5 per cent — bringing it down to 0.31 per cent of GDP — was a sad step in the wrong direction.
And what were the consequences of that 7.5% cut?
At the end of the 2012-2013 fiscal year, CIDA had lapsed approximately $800 million in spending. Traditionally, departments who lapse funds approved by Parliament are considered blunderers. But this was no blunder. It was clearly done by design, at the top.
The agency effectively took the money away from the world’s unfortunate and handed it back to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who is busily working toward the government’s promise to reduce the federal budget deficit to zero by election time. After that open budget cut of 7.5 per cent, the government sneaked behind the curtains and chopped the agency’s disbursements by another 20 per cent.
Kenny contrasts the Harper approach to foreign aid to that of British prime minister David Cameron:
Despite the fact that Britain’s economy is in a far more precarious state than Canada’s, Cameron has increased Britain’s foreign aid budget to 0.56 per cent of his country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and committed himself to hitting the UN’s international target of 0.7 per cent a year from now.
And Cameron is unapoligetic about the increase in foreign aid:
When speaking about his initiative to fight world hunger, Cameron pointed out that more than 60 per cent of the world’s malnourished children live in fragile and conflicted states. “We understand that if we invest in countries before they get broken, we might not end up spending so much on dealing with problems — whether that’s immigration or threats to our national security.”
As in everything else they do, the Harper government is penny wise and pound foolish.