Global Poverty

The Facts

We like to think we’re a generous and compassionate people, but Canada currently ranks 14th out of 22 donor countries who signed on to the UN’s 0.7% Solution in 2005. In doing so, we agreed to contribute 0.7% of our Gross National Income to international aid. Why is this 0.7% goal so important? Donor nations and the UN agree that 0.7% is the level of aid needed to make serious progress toward alleviating extreme poverty in the world.

Despite our standing commitment, Canada’s target has yet to be met. In fact, we have not committed to a plan that would see our international aid increase in any way. We are currently giving only 0.3% of our national income to development aid—less than half of the 0.7% we keep promising.

Quality as well as quantity

Increasing aid will not enough. When it comes to aid, quality is just as important as quantity. Donor nations must begin to transform the way we approach aid, which often disempowers recipients and compromises goals like environmental protection and long-term economic development.

In May 2008, after a massive rallying of support by Make Poverty History and hundreds of other NGOs, the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act (or Better Aid Bill), was passed into law by the Canadian Parliament. This bill laid out three conditions that must be satisfied for international assistance to be counted as Official Development Assistance.

The aid must:

  • Contribute to poverty reduction
  • Take into account the perspectives of the poor
  • Be consistent with international human rights standards

For both taxpayers and aid recipients alike, we must ensure that aid spending is more accountable and transparent. Too much of Canada’s aid is currently not related to fighting poverty. In this vein, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC) launched a major report in June 2010, A Time To Act: Implementing the ODA Accountability Act, looking at the state of Canadian ODA post Better Aid Bill.

This reports sets out a substantial agenda for applying international human rights standards to the policies, priorities and practices of Canadian aid. Make Poverty History wholeheartedly supports and champions these forward-thinking implementation goals, which include recommendations toward true transparency and accountability, as well as consultation with aid recipients, the Canadian public and experts from the not-for-profit community.


We can reach the UN aid target of 0.7% within ten years by committing to a timetable to increase aid by 15% annually. In order to make this aid most effective for those facing extreme poverty around the world, we need to push for full implementation of the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act. We also need to support international efforts to set better standards for aid effectiveness.

Trade Justice

In addition to improving the quality and quantity of aid, cancelling the debts of indebted low income countries and promoting trade and investment rules that allow developing countries to choose the policies that best suit their needs is also important if we are to end the cycle of dependence on aid. Make Poverty History succeeded in getting some but not all of the debt owed to international financial institutions cancelled in 2005 but negotiations towards a new set of trade and investment rules that will take account of the special needs of developing countries are stalled.

More To Chew On…

Why should the Canadian government honour the 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) targets for foreign aid?

The 0.7% target for official development assistance was first proposed in 1969 in the report of the Pearson Commission, chaired by former Canadian Prime Minister and Nobel Prize winner, Lester B. Pearson. At the time they called on developed countries to set a timetable, by 1975, to reach this target. The Canadian government committed itself to achieving the 0.7% target over 30 years ago but never set goal dates.

In 2006-07, Canada’s official development aid was about 0.33% of our GNI, or half of what we should be giving. After increasing slowly since 2003 as a result of a government commitment to increase aid by 8% annually, our aid as a percentage of our GNI fell to 0.32% in 2007-08. The economy will likely grow over time. Unless the government begins to act, basing the amount of aid that we give on such a low percentage of GNI will begin to move it in the wrong direction.

What countries have achieved the 0.7% aid target?

Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, and the Netherlands meet or exceed the UN aid target of 0.7% of Gross National Income. A number of other countries including France, the United Kingdom, Finland, Spain and Belgium have committed themselves to a timetable to achieving the 0.7% goal.

How does Canada compare to other donor countries?

The donor countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development give an average of 0.47% of Gross National Income in aid. Canada at 0.32% is well below this average. Canada is 14th out of 23 donor countries in the amount of aid it gives as a percentage of its national income. The Netherlands, a country with half the population and a much smaller economy, gives almost twice the dollar amount of aid than Canada.

What’s the Better Aid Bill all about?

The Canadian Parliament passed the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act (what we called “the Better Aid Bill”) in May of 2008 with support of all parties. It makes the purpose of Canada’s foreign aid clear: Canadian aid should be focused on ending poverty.

The Act requires Canadian foreign aid to:

  • Contribute to poverty reduction
  • Take into account the perspectives of the poor
  • Be consistent with Canada’s international human rights obligations.

The Act also makes Canadian aid spending more accountable and transparent by requiring more complete and timely reporting to Parliament. It aims to make our aid remains focused on reducing global poverty.

Do any other countries have similar legislation and has it worked?

In the United Kingdom, the 2002 International Development Act makes poverty reduction the primary focus of development assistance. In Sweden, legislation is even broader, stipulating that a poverty and human rights perspective should permeate all government policy. These models have prevented aid spending from being diverted to “flavour of the week” foreign policy whims – ensuring, for example, that British aid was not massively diverted to Iraq after the war.