Foreign aid spending has to be balanced

Weyburn This Week editorial

The issue of how much foreign aid Canada gives has come up in this election, after Conservative leader Andrew Scheer pledged to cut the money sent overseas by 25 per cent.

Specifically, Scheer was aiming his comments at aid monies sent to richer countries, such as those considered middle to upper income countries, along with countries with oppressive regimes, such as Iran, North Korea and Russia.

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To these particular categories of countries, he says Canada is sending $2.2 billion of aid.

The middle to upper income countries he names include Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, China, Iran and Mexico.

The amounts given in 2018 to these countries, according to figures from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), are as follows: Argentina, $2.2 million; Barbados, $300,000; Brazil, $4.3 million; China, $7.1 million; Iran, $2.5 million; and Mexico, $6.9 million. The funds paid to Russia amounted to $200,000 in 2018.

Giving aid to oppressive regimes should be curtailed, certainly, and as far as money to those in upper income brackets, that claim can only be made if the recipient of these funds was known.

Canada gave a total of $6.1 billion in foreign aid in 2018, or 1.8 per cent of the federal budget, and the vast majority of it went to poor countries, with 38.7 per cent to African countries, 31 per cent to Asian countries, 11.6 per cent to the Americas, and 2.6 per cent to European countries. One third, or 33.8 per cent, went to the least developed countries.

The country which received the most money was Afghanistan, at $254 million, followed by Ethiopia ($198 million), Tanzania ($141 million), Mali ($137 million) and Nigeria ($134 million).

So when a proposal is made to cut a quarter of the budget for foreign aid, which funds will get cut? Will the amounts going to the poorest countries be cut, or just for the upper to middle income countries? And what if those funds went to help people who were in need of assistance, such as from a war or natural disaster? Do you cut a quarter of those funds?

There are real needs here in Canada that desperately need attention, such as First Nations reserves where they have little to no access to clean water, a basic human need that should be available in a country that has more clean fresh water than almost any country on earth. There are homeless people, and children living in poverty, many through the circumstances of a poor home situation — these all need attention.

Helping the poor in other countries is something a rich country like Canada should be doing, but that has to be balanced with caring for our own people and ensuring they have their needs met.