March 22, 2016 - 5:21 AM
OTTAWA - Aid agencies are feeling less than sunny on the eve of the federal budget because they're not expecting any significant increase in development spending.
The Conservative government froze aid spending in 2010, but the reversal of the trend may have to wait for at least another year, say leading agencies.
But while they hope there will be more money in subsequent budgets, the organizations say the government must at least lay out a long-term plan on how Canada intends to reach the United Nations target for development spending of 0.7 per cent of gross national income.
The agencies say the Liberals will eventually have to match their positive rhetoric about bringing Canada back to the world with some cash to reverse the decline in foreign aid that has Canada near the bottom of the pack of leading western countries.
Last month, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in Ottawa that he want to see Canada reach the 0.7 per cent target.
Last year, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said Canada's aid spending dropped to 0.24 per cent of GNI in 2014, one of the country's lowest rates in more than a decade.
The Liberals, like the Conservatives before them, have not formally committed to the 0.7 per cent target.
The spokesman for International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau declined comment.
Gillian Barth, the president of CARE Canada, said aid groups have been told by the government "not to expect anything too, too grand this year" because of competing domestic priorities.
"The big changes are going to come in 2017," she said.
"They sent very clear signs that they are supportive of the aid agenda in lots of different areas so we welcome those positive signs."
Other organizations said they were hoping for more, sooner.
Cicely McWilliam, senior policy adviser with Save The Children Canada, said the Liberals are saying the right things about increasing foreign aid, so they can be given the benefit of the doubt, for now.
"They have a bit of lead time because they're new, because they've got a lot of commitments at home and they have some wiggle room," she said.
"But at some point they're going to have to put money where that rhetoric is."
Julie Delahanty, the executive director of Oxfam Canada, her organization is not expecting a big increase because conversations with the government have focused on what can be accomplished within existing resources.
Oxfam and CARE said they want to see the government outline a 10-year spending plan on how Canada can reach the 0.7 per cent target.
"We're now one of the lowest OECD countries, so I think there's a clear need to increase our ODA (overseas development assistance)," she said.
Delahanty said the government also needs to target a larger percentage of its aid budget, as much as 20 per cent, to women's rights and gender equality programs.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016