A New Year’s Resolution for our Nation: 0.7 percent by 2020

“We accept the moral case for keeping our promises to the world’s poorest even when we face challenges at home. When people are dying, we don’t believe in finding excuses. We believe in trying to do something about it.”
– David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

This New Year let us resolve to boldly declare that Canada can achieve the target of 0.7 percent of national income dedicated to official development assistance by 2020—50 years after former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson first set the bar.

This is a big, but achievable task—the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands have already done it. After all, we’re talking about protecting and improving human lives, not about the abstract fluctuations of the federal government’s ledgers. That’s why we must finally put an end to the unconscionable practice of cutting development assistance at the first hint of economic trouble.

While few would openly defend balancing the budget on the backs of the world’s poorest people, governments in the past have slashed Canada’s official development assistance (ODA) to get out of the red. And now that Canada is once again facing deeper deficits than previously anticipated, you can be sure that there will be renewed calls to put our already-reduced development assistance on the chopping block.

At present, the Canadian contribution to international development assistance stands at just 0.24 percent of national income. In recent decades we have consistently stood among the least generous industrialized nations—let alone the G7.

In 2014, the last year for which figures are available, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that, in terms of total dollar amount, the only G7 country with a smaller ODA budget than Canada was Italy—which had an unemployment rate of over 12% at the time.

On the other hand, the United Kingdom achieved the 0.7 percent target in the same year that their government posted a deficit of nearly $200 billion (CAD). It just goes to show that the only thing preventing Canada from doing the same is a lack of political will.

Those who argue for a more modest target defend this position by suggesting that we should be pragmatic because there will never be enough money forthcoming in the current political climate. But the world’s poorest people don’t need more cynicism or defeatism—they need advocates who will hammer away until the pendulum swings and the resources are finally pledged.

That’s why now, more than ever, we must be daring and relentless. We must refuse to be satisfied with anything less than a fully costed timeline to achieve 0.7 percent by 2020 included in this year’s federal budget. Let the call go out to our friends, family, neighbours, coworkers, and elected officials that Canada is truly back—and we’ll be better than ever.

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