International development — and foreign aid at large — has never been a decisive issue in Canadian elections. But as the country prepares to either re-elect Prime Minister Stephen Harper for a fourth mandate, or provide a chance for one of the opposition parties, Canada’s policy positions on long-standing values of equality, social justice, multiculturalism and peacekeeping, both at home and abroad, have permeated the public discourse.
During a debate on foreign policy on Sept. 28, opposition leaders chastised Harper for what they said is an insufficient response to the Syrian refugee crisis, a dismal record on environmental protection, and reduced foreign aid spending. The Conservative government seems well aware of Canada’s decreased participation in global affairs — a leaked briefing document prepared by officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development claims Canada’s influence in the world “has declined or is under threat.”
Another leaked memo, released shortly after, says reduced funding for international development has eroded the country’s reputation as a leader on issues such as governance, economic development and gender equality, and reduced Canada’s role in shaping the Sustainable Development Goals.
Canada’s activity on the world stage may have shifted in recent years, but its global engagement started waning in the mid-1990s, as noted by a recent study on the country’s official development assistance and defense spending. “Canada’s global engagement today as a percent of [gross domestic product] is half of what it was in 1990. Our global engagement is one third less than that of other midsized open economies and 40 percent less than the G-7 average,” the report says.
Flavie Halais is a freelance journalist based in Montreal who covers cities and international social issues. In 2013-2014, Flavie was an Aga Khan Foundation Canada International Fellow, reporting for Nation Media Group in Nairobi, Kenya. She’s also reported from Rwanda, Brazil and Colombia.
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