What is missing from the budget debate

It seems like a long time has passed since the federal budget was tabled at the end of March. Indeed, already the morning after, pundits called it modest and many breathed a sigh of relief as the cuts weren’t near as drastic as widely expected. Okay, so let’s move on. Next issue?

However, coalitions that Mennonite Central Committee belongs to have a quite different perspective. They understand the budget cuts as having both substantial and politically symbolic meaning.

Here’s the punch line: This budget and its cuts will further reduce the presence of the federal government in the lives of Canadians and in the work of many international development organisations working with our world’s poorest in reducing hunger.

And missing in action is a dialogue about what kind of Canada we want and what role we want our country to play in the world.

Concluding that the budget cuts were much less drastic than expected is to miss the point. Our coalition partners point to the erosion of federal government involvement in creating a caring society here at home.

Let’s start with Canada’s indigenous peoples. Tragically, Canada’s First Nations are accustomed to not receiving adequate and appropriate involvement and assistance from the government. KAIROS Canada, of whom MCC is a member, said that the budget announcement of additional funds for First Nations education “is only half what is needed to bring reserve schools up to Canadian standards.”

KAIROS also noted that the government has ignored the housing crisis in First Nations communities across the country, a crisis most recently seen in Attawapiskat. This disregarding continues in the 2012 budget which has nothing set aside for First Nations housing. In addition, while KAIROS affirms the budget’s attention to huge water problems on First Nations reserves, it is “only about 5% of what is needed.”

And then there are the huge cuts to International Development Assistance through which Canada seeks to reduce suffering in the developing world.

“What impact will the budget have on global hunger?” asked Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB; MCC is a founding member). Their answer: “Less money for the world’s neediest citizens.”

Over the next five years, CFGB says, Canada’s Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) will be cut by $790 million, from $5.6 billion to $4.8 billion, making Canada among the least generous of traditional aid donor countries as a percentage of Gross National Income (GNI). It will fall by almost $600 million in this fiscal year alone.

But it’s actually much worse when the cumulative impact is considered! The Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC, another coalition MCC is a member of) documents that by 2016, Canada will have reduced Canadian official development assistance (ODA) by close to $1.2 billion. This is on top of the 2010 cut of $4.4 billion to future aid that the Conservative government implemented in Budget 2010.

A total cut of about $5.6 billion!

Never mind that the two organisations’ numbers aren’t exactly the same. The point is, as CFGB concludes, these cuts mean Canada will be giving much less for “reducing global hunger through support for agriculture, food aid and nutrition in developing countries” and represent a Canadian government reversal as such support has been “a priority focus of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) since the global food crisis in 2008.”

In short, this budget means that fewer people will be successful in their struggle to become food secure, that fewer women and babies will be healthier, and that Canada’s indigenous peoples will continue to have woefully inadequate water and housing.

Is this the Canada you want? Is this the role we want our country to play in addressing suffering and hunger in the world, both at home and abroad?

Tim Schmucker, MCC Canada Public Engagement Coordinator

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