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Canada and Overseas Development

A history of helping

Canada was one of the first nations to set aside public funds for the promotion of economic and social development in poor countries. Transfers of money began following the Second World War. As more former colonies gained independence, richer countries began to offer “foreign aid” for humanitarian reasons but also to encourage a more stable world. The United Nations introduced the label Official Development Assistance (ODA) to identify this process of transferring wealth and encouraged industrialized countries to devote 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income (GNI) each year to ODA.

The rationale behind ODA was that both donors and recipients would benefit from grants, low-interest loans, gifts in kind and other types of assistance. Recipient nations would get help to pull their populations out of poverty. Donor nations would feel more secure in a world that would arguably be less prone to social unrest. Canada’s first contributions came during the early years of the Cold War between Western capitalist countries and the Communist Eastern bloc, dominated by the Soviet Union.

These early donations, made primarily to curry favour with newly independent countries lest they fall under the wing of the Soviets, began following the launch of the Colombo Plan by the Commonwealth of Nations in 1951 and offered capital, technology and skills and development resources to recipient nations in the Asia-Pacific. The Colombo Plan’s list of donors soon expanded beyond the Commonwealth, and recipient countries were also targeted in Africa and the Caribbean.

Lester B. Pearson, prime minister of Canada between 1963 and 1968, was one of the early proponents of development assistance and a leader in setting the goal at 0.7 percent of GNI. Pierre Elliott Trudeau replaced Pearson as prime minister and followed in his footsteps on assistance to developing countries. In 1968, Trudeau’s first year in office, the government established the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to handle the vast majority of the country’s ODA. Aid had previously been funnelled through a number of different departments, under the leadership of the Department of External Affairs. While other federal departments and agencies continued to be involved, the establishment of CIDA gave ODA a “home” within the federal government, with its own mandate, goals, principles and administrative bureaucracy.


This piece outlines Canada’s role in International Aid since 1950, and showcases statistics using a line and bar graph. Users can also click to view charts and hear explanations on Canada’s Official Development Assistance, the changes from year to year, and the cumulative changes over each decade.


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Quiz :

What was one of CIDA's three programming priorities in 2010?

Food security
Financial reform
Environmental sustainability