WHO NEEDS AID?
Irish rockers Bono and Bob Geldof were critical of Canada's generosity earlier this month, oblivious to the fact that the Canadian government sends millions of dollars in development aid to their own country -- the fourth-richest in the world.
Bono and Mr. Geldof criticized Canada's failure to live up to its commitments to double development aid, with the U2 singer calling Canada a "laggard."
Yet, under the International Fund for Ireland, the Department of Foreign Affairs has contributed $7.7-million for job creation and reconciliation projects in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland--both of which have a higher per-capita GDP than Canada.
Adam Taylor, national research director at the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, said the policy is "misguided and deeply flawed."
"When Canadians think of aid, they no doubt think their money is being used to help provide basic human needs for poor countries," Mr. Taylor said.
"Aid to Ireland -- a booming economy where taxes are much lower than in Canada -- is a preposterous use of so-called aid," he said.
In a Conference Board of Canada study released last week, Ireland was given an "A" for its economic performance, based on a growth rate that has resulted in it recording the world's fourth-highest GDP per capita after years of being renowned for high unemployment and emigration. In the same study, Canada got a "B."
Bono may think Canada a laggard, but a look down the list of where our foreign aid is destined suggests it is at the forefront of countries that donate to those who don't deserve, or need, our help.
For instance, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader, made great political capital from shipping cheap heating oil to poor Americans from Massachusetts to Alaska. Yet his socialist Arcadia is not so awash in petro-dollars that it could afford to decline the $3-million it got from Canada in humanitarian assistance in 2004-05.
China is another recipient from this program envelope, receiving $57-million in the same year, despite its systematic and widespread human rights abuses.
"Handing money to China--a country with 10% annual economic growth, nuclear weapons and a space program -- is as ridiculous [as aid to Ireland]," Mr. Taylor said.
In the category of countries that shouldn't be receiving Canadian taxpayers' money because they're doing quite nicely, how about Brazil, the Czech Republic, Estonia or Poland? The latter received $61-million in humanitarian assistance in 2004-05, although the government had the good sense to point out that its accession to the European Union should invalidate future funding.
These dribbles of money don't amount to much on their own, but taken together they amount to more than $2-billion in overseas aid every year.
Canadians expect this money to be spent wisely, but there is plenty of evidence that there is room for improvement. This is the same conclusion that led Liberal MP John McKay to introduce a private member's bill to improve the focus and accountability on overseas aid. "If you asked Joe Blow in the street, 'What do you think happens to your $3-billion of aid money,' he'd probably say it's used for digging wells in Kenya. Well, not quite ... "
Bill 293 sets out criteria for resource allocation to international development agencies, stressing poverty reduction and transparency. It passed through the House of Commons, despite the government's opposition, and is now in a race against the clock in the Senate, where Conservative (and even some Liberal) senators are trying to block its passage before the session ends.
The government is continuing to fight the bill because it doesn't want its discretion fettered by Parliament. But, given the list of aid recipients, maybe a little fettering is in order. Even Bono and Sir Bob, a notorious fan of "f " words, might agree with that.
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