Sharing the Nation's Heart Globally? Foreign Aid and the Canadian Public, 1950-1980
If asked to paint a picture of Canadian foreign policy after 1945, most would prominently include images of peacekeeping and refugee resettlement. Those painting a broader picture might also include images of trade deals and human rights campaigns. Some might also include images of foreign aid, though it is likely that those depictions would be relegated to the background. This reflects the fact that Canadians have never aligned foreign aid with national identity and shared values in the same way as other foreign policy pursuits. Canadians’ lack of engagement with foreign aid is somewhat surprising given that it outpaces most other post-war foreign policy priorities in terms of longevity, direct expenditures and individual involvement by Canadians. However, the fact that foreign aid has not become a symbol of Canadian generosity and humanitarianism in the same way as peacekeeping and refugee resettlement is by no means coincidental. Between 1950 and 1980, the federal government undertook significant efforts, both on its own and in partnership with churches, youth organizations, universities and NGOs, to build public support for foreign aid and portray it as favourably aligned with Canadian values. However, as time passed persistent political, policy, and economic challenges began to fracture public opinion on the foreign aid file. As divisions emerged, many of the civil society groups which were once strongly aligned with government’s approach to foreign aid began to assert themselves as alternative voices of authority on aid. Unlike civil society groups concerned with peacekeeping or refugee resettlement, aid organizations faced relatively low financial and legal barriers. This enabled them to more quickly gain legitimacy in the eyes of the public, and more effectively challenge the federal government’s ideas about what truly Canadian foreign aid should look like. The emergence of a diversity of authoritative narratives about foreign aid had the effect of fracturing public support and limiting foreign aid’s potential to be accepted as a national project on the same scale as peacekeeping and refugee resettlement.