Breaking Down Walls: Canada's Call to Action in a World on the Brink

From mass starvation to escalating gang violence, the chaos unfolding in Sudan, Yemen or Haiti is both a sobering reminder of the consequences of indifference – and a call to action to address root causes of the erosion of democracy.

Canada’s muted response to the crisis in Haiti for instance - a crisis that hits home in many communities across Canada with a significant Haitian diaspora - is reactive and short-sighted. With tensions mounting across the globe, indifference is not a foreign policy that Canada can afford to deploy.

We must make concerted efforts, knowing that the turmoil we see now globally will not be contained. The grave ramifications of civil unrest will be seen by other nefarious actors looking to solidify their own grip on power and will almost certainly extend far beyond a nation’s borders.

The solutions - namely in investment in long-term capacity building, democracy building and rights protections - are not cheap. It can take time for positive results to take hold, which is why Canada must invest now.

Faced with a difficult electoral path and constricting economic outlook, Prime Minister Trudeau and his finance minister, Chrystia Freeland are challenged by a series of recent humanitarian and security challenges and facing an outspoken opposition party framing the debate as one between sending Canadians' hard-earned tax dollars abroad in the form of aid, or allowing Canadians to keep more of their paycheck.

The challenge for Trudeau and Freeland is communicating the nuance of complex global security and development funding that must recognize the imperative of proactive engagement and targeted assistance in fostering stability and prosperity at home and abroad.

Simply put, there is no security without foreign aid.

Yet we have seen the government become reactionary rather than visionary in the last few years.

It’s as if the clock has been turned back by a decade or more to a time when a scarcity mindset defined Canada’s policies. Then, as now, we built walls against feared calamity, only to find those walls could not possibly hold against the unimaginably massive threats of climate change, conflict, and the resulting flow of people escaping their own calamity. Our vision became small and our philosophy, “weather the storm.”

This only works if the storm subsides.

With temperatures rising, economies crashing, democratic foundations crumbling, and war crimes occurring daily, it’s clear that retreating while the world burns is not an option that will make Canada prosper or keep Canadians safe.

Foreign aid is often seen as a “nice to have” in Canadian budget discussions that revolve around communicating to Canadians who are increasingly shouting “but what have you done for me lately.” Some governments have erroneously framed these investments as charity only to be given at a time of plenty.

At the start of his tenure, our Prime Minister understood that Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) was an investment in the world that Canadians want to see with equitable distribution of resources reducing conflict; climate adaptation giving people hope they can thrive where they are; and investment in women and flourishing human rights leading to a future of shared prosperity and justice. Since 2017, dwindling funding for the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP) has left Canadian international cooperation agencies in a state of uncertainty, undermining progress towards gender equality and human rights. This not only jeopardizes the vital work these organizations are doing but also undermines Canada's commitment to global security.

We face the profound challenges of the lingering effects of the pandemic to the climate crisis, rising hostilities, and geopolitical shifts. Authoritarian regimes and populist figures are exploiting these conditions to undermine human rights, particularly those of women and girls. Their message: “It is us against them.”

The upcoming federal budget on April 16th presents a pivotal moment for Canada to reclaim its leadership position by taking a stand and making additional investments in foreign aid. Our government must decide if they see the world as one of limited resources to fight over, or as one of abundant potential to grow and share.

It is not only Canada’s reputation as a leader and ally to those seeking strong democracies and justice that is at risk; the security of Canadians is on the line. Withdrawing now risks clearing a path for reactionary forces that rely on fear to divide, rather than hope to unite.

In that world, we all lose.

Only fearless leadership that trumpets a vision of shared economic success with foreign aid as a key pillar will see us through this storm. The walls divide us, and only offer temporary shelter.

Prime Minister Trudeau, make an unprecedented investment in foreign aid and use this year’s budget to knock those walls down.

Louis Belanger is Campaign Director at Bigger than our Borders