Canada limits main foreign aid recipients
Published Monday, February 23, 2009 8:53PM EST
OTTAWA - The Canadian government has announced it will steer foreign aid toward a smaller number of places around the world -- 20 countries or regions where it hopes to have a bigger impact.
The federal government said Monday that the vast majority of Canada's bilateral aid money will go to 18 countries, in addition to the Caribbean and the West Bank/Gaza regions.
The Liberal government of Paul Martin promised in 2005 to target aid to 25 countries, but International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda says she has seen no evidence that the change ever occurred.
Africa appeared to be the biggest loser in Monday's announcement, with a number of its countries stricken from the list of Canada's favoured bilateral aid recipients.
While Africa is by far the world's poorest continent, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already said he wants to target more Canadian aid to countries in its own geographic backyard.
There had been 14 African countries on the list produced by the Liberals, and only seven made it onto the new one.
The Conservatives say Canadian aid money has been sprinkled around too thinly, to too many places, and been ineffective.
"There were no countries of concentration," Oda told reporters.
"The programming done in so many different countries was too diverse, unfocused. There were not enough resources that were focused and directed to specific sectors and we weren't making any impact."
Oda said countries don't need to be on the list to get funding.
Bilateral aid programs account for just over half of Canada's overall assistance money -- 53 per cent, or roughly $1.5 billion. Under the plan announced Monday, 20 places will receive 80 per cent of that $1.5 billion.
The other half of Canadian aid goes to international organizations, like the United Nations World Food Programme, and to countries dealing with urgent crises like natural disasters. Those contributions will continue.
Oda said Africa receives most of Canada's donations to the World Food Programme, and that Canadian aid to that continent has increased drastically in recent years.
A dozen countries on the previous list produced by the Liberals are gone from the new one -- eight of them in Africa, including Rwanda, Cameroon and Kenya, as well as Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Nicaragua and Guyana.
"We're not abandoning any countries. What we're saying is we've selected 20 countries in which we will focus our programming," Oda said.
To illustrate the point that countries left off the list can still receive funding, the government announced a $1.5 million increase Monday in its contribution to Sri Lanka.
The money will go to the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which are helping civilians displaced by ongoing ethnic violence there.
The following places have been added to Canada's list of favoured recipients: Afghanistan, Colombia, Haiti, Peru, Sudan, and the West Bank/Gaza and Caribbean regions.
The government of Sudan is accused of being complicit in genocide and will not get to touch any of the Canadian money. The funds will be handled by Canadian or international aid workers.
"No money will go directly to the government of Sudan," said Oda spokesman Jean-Luc Benoit.
The opposition expressed surprise at the way the government announced such a significant policy change.
The announcement came in an informal news scrum with Oda, before anyone there had seen any details like the list of countries affected. Those details were distributed later.
The idea of narrowing aid has some support on the opposition benches, however.
"The idea of focus is always a good idea," said Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae.
"But we have to see more about what her plans are."