Madam Speaker, I move that the third report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, presented on Friday, February 26, be concurred in.
I will be sharing my time, Madam Speaker.
I appreciate the opportunity to address this important report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, which relates to international development and to the situation globally in light of vulnerabilities created in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Canadian response to those events. This is a four-part study and the committee has decided to present interim reports on each part of the study.
Earlier this week, the second report was tabled, which is very interesting. It contains a joint supplementary report among all the opposition parties, the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc, highlighting, in particular, the plight of Canadian children who are detained in northern Syria. That is the second report as far as this COVID study.
The report I am requesting concurrence in is the third report of the committee.
The first report in this study deals with a different set of issues. It deals broadly with vulnerabilities created by the COVID-19 pandemic and Canada's response to it.
In the Conservative Party, we recognize and appreciate the important role that international development plays. First and foremost, our engagement with respect to international development is an expression of our belief in universal human dignity and of our commitment to the advancement of justice. It is a core principle for us, recognizing the importance of engagement in the area of international development and stemming from that basic motivation to seek the advancement of justice, especially for the world's poorest and most vulnerable.
We also recognize that strategic advantages come from international engagement, and a recognition of the strategic dimension should not supersede the commitment to justice that is involved. We recognize that in a world where hostile revisionist powers are increasingly using the language of aid to exert greater influence and to advance their autocratic objectives, our engagement in open-handed friendship with the peoples of the world in a way that expresses our commitment to justice, freedom, autonomy and human rights is the right thing to do. It also has strategic advantages for us.
Our party has also been very clear in articulating a commitment to not reduce aid levels and in articulating a commitment that emphasizes partnership in international development. For too long there has not been enough attention to the people who are struggling to develop and improve their circumstances, really as the heroes of the stories. The heroes of the stories are not those from developed countries giving resources. The heroes of these stories are the people themselves who have autonomy, who have choice, who seek the expansion of their own rights and abilities. We can support them in the effort to remove those barriers.
When I look at the particulars of the report in front of us, we heard from many excellent witnesses, and many important issues were raised as a part of that study. I want to focus on three issues that come out of this report. The first one I want to address are aid levels.
Recommendation 8 in the report calls for the government to effectively be more transparent and to articulate its intentions with respect to aid levels as a percentage of gross national income. Generally speaking, the international standard for measuring commitment to international development is how much countries can contribute as a percentage of gross national income. This metric is important because some people like to talk about their commitment to aid in terms of nominal dollar value. However, I think all members of the House understand, or should understand, that as a result of inflation, the value of a dollar gradually decreases over time and also that a country's capacity to contribute shifts as a result of gross national income.
This is why the general standard with respect to international development is to assess the commitment of countries, of governments, as a percentage of gross national income, not in raw dollar numbers. Even if somebody is over time contributing slightly more in terms of raw dollar numbers, in substance they may be contributing less.
When the government talks about international development, it says that it is increasing aid level amounts. While that may be true in nominal dollar terms, that is not true as a percentage of gross national income. Aid levels over the years, since the Prime Minister took office, have been cut in terms of a percentage of gross national income. The consistent levels under the last Conservative government, but also the government of Brian Mulroney, were higher than they were under Liberal governments, measured in the way these things are measured, as a percentage of gross national income. The Liberals like to talk about their commitment to international development, but, in fact, in real and meaningful terms, they have not really been where they need to be.
The other thing to note, though, about this measurement is that when there is a dramatic drop in gross national income, that can lead to the increase in apparent contribution in aid levels measured as a percentage of gross national income. Although we have been critical of the government for this cut in aid levels as a percentage of GNI, we do not want it to achieve this level by simply presiding over significant reductions in our gross national income. As a result of its failures on the economy, frankly, there is a risk of doing this, that instead of increasing our contribution to the world, we would be increasing the apparent contribution simply by seeing our gross national income go down, and that is not a particularly good thing either.
This report calls for the government to be transparent about what its plans and intentions are with respect to aid levels as a percentage of GNI. Unfortunately, we have not seen that transparency, and we did not see a commitment to that transparency in the government's response to this.
The second issue I want to talk about is direction and control. Direction and control is a structure by which charities are required to be in full direct and control of monies that they receive to maintain the qualification of those resources as part of their charitable status. Canadian requirements around direction and control are relatively unique in the world. Other countries emphasize that charities have to be accountable for the resources they spend. Being accountable for those resources does not mean they have to be in total control of how those dollars are spent.
Let me make this concrete. If a Canadian charity is working on a project in a village somewhere overseas, the gold standard in terms of development would be to give as much autonomy and control over that project to local people and have the international organization, the Canadian charity, come along as a partner and supporter, recognizing the need to build and support autonomy for the local community with respect to its delivery of this program.
The direction and control requirements that the CRA imposes are not only extremely expensive with respect to the requirements around compliance, they effectively take dollars away from international development by requiring charities to spend more money on tax lawyers. They also run counter to the values of local autonomy and partnership that are supposed to be part of what effective international development looks like.
The Conservatives have been consistent in calling for reforms to the direction and control system. I have asked the minister about this. I have also specifically raised the question of Bill S-222 from Senator Omidvar, a bill that seeks to reform the system.
I call on the government, again, to articulate its position, and there is a strong unanimous recommendation in this report for the government to, as quickly as possible, reform the direction and control system.
I wanted to talk a bit about COVAX, but maybe I can get to that in questions and comments.