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Transatlantic Voices

Canada's foreign aid fiasco

Canada has recently come under fire over its foreign aid policy. Now the prestigious Canadian International Development Agency has been swallowed up and rebranded - a worrying move, writes Jeremy Kinsman.

Iconic international brands can die hard. Remember Pan Am, Oldsmobiles, EMI, or Tempelhof Airport?

Remember the Canadian International Development Agency?

It too is gone, folded last week into Canada's Foreign Affairs and Trade Department which will add "and Development" to its title.

Why should it matter? Governments routinely reorganize themselves as a substitute for policies. The case for "synergies" and "coherence" in foreign policy programs wasn't invented by Canada's Conservative Government; aid programs are under foreign ministries from Oslo to Washington for just that reason.

The answer depends on the attitude the questioner brings to the facts. For the "Harper Government" (their own preferred appellation), it's easy to say goodbye to an agency that was created by their nemesis Pierre Elliot Trudeau in 1968, especially one which assumed for decades its good intentions for the world's poor were entitled to exemption from political goals and controls.

Top-down control

The Harper Government is the most top-down, controlling, government in Canada's history.  An outlier of conservatism after 50 years of Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments, there is nothing "progressive" about it. Against a divided center-left, the Conservative Party won a majority in parliament in 2011 with 40 percent of the votes. In office, they have compressed the role of government mainly to serve Canadian economic development interests. So, they reason that Canada's official development assistance should work for those same interests.

The Harper Government has never developed much of a world view beyond those interests and an infatuation for military intervention in Afghanistan until its narrative of good guys beating bad guys ran into more complicated challenges. These Canada-firsters shunned the decades-old internationalist and multilateralist Canadian foreign policy brand. Skeptical of most other countries' intentions, laudably hostile to undemocratic regimes, the Harper government distrusts altruism in foreign policy, though a Canadian G8 maternal health care initiative was ambitious enough.

Pro-UN peacekeepers and early movers in favor of soft power, Canada's preceding Prime Ministers had answered Trudeau's question, "Who is my Neighbor?" with key relationships in every region of the world. Robust aid programs followed, which, though short of Nordic and Dutch commitments, were enough to buttress Canadian credentials to lead in North-South discussions, as well as on a human security agenda which pushed for an anti-personnel land mines convention, the International Criminal Court, and a mandate for humanitarian intervention under the Responsibility to Protect. These are not mentionable achievements in Canada's Public Service today.

Jeremy Kinsman was Canadian Ambassador or High Commissioner in Moscow, Rome, London, and Brussels EU until 2006 when he took direction of a democracy support project for the Community of Democracies (diplomatshandbook.org). He holds current appointments at the University of California, Berkeley, and Ryerson University; Copyright: privat (Jeremy Kinsman, San Francisco, 2011)***via Robert Mudge

Jeremy Kinsman

Canada's old progressive influence on the world stage is missed abroad and by many Canadians. Support for the Harper Government's has declined to about 30 percent. But it is banking on its pro-business, pro-growth agenda to reward it with enough support to prevail when elections come in 2015 which will feature Trudeau's eldest son Justin, popular but untested, as head of the Liberal centrists.

Going, going, gone

By then, CIDA's separate existence will be missed about as much as Merrill Lynch's, except by some dependent NGO clients. The sad fact is that the founding band of merry globalist do-gooders had long since left the building. The agency had become as trussed as Gulliver by accountability regimes which extended the pipeline for project completions into years in a bureaucracy bloated by layers of controls as well as intimidated by political interference by comically inept ministers.

While Canada's resource-based economy with its sound financial structure was less buffeted by the global financial crisis than most others, a growing deficit and apprehension about US trends, especially on imports of Canada's bitumen oil in absence of a Canadian re-commitment on climate change, make budgetary austerity essential.

But the aid budget survived this month's budget without further cuts. The Government will hold for now to 0.33 percent of GDP for Official Development Assistance which places Canada way down on the World Bank's list of donor countries, but given that every country in the G8 has fallen far short of their 2009 Gleneagles commitments, Canadians don't have to hang heads in shame over that.

Do right by Canada

Moreover, international revisionism on development performance and goals is being noticed. The Dambisa Moyo (economist, whose book "Dead Aid" caused a stir over its contention that foreign aid hurts recipient countries - the ed.) charge that the trillion dollars transferred by rich countries to Africa in the last 50 years has made recipients "not better off but worse - much worse" has taxpayer-voters scratching their heads, unless they research it further to find that the notion all aid is bad is absurd.

The case that all countries are responsible for addressing mass poverty in their own interests is as cogent as ever. Immunization programs, education support, food security, emergency humanitarian assistance, etc., remain vitally needed. What is also needed is a Canadian government which argues the public and international case.

But the public case will be better made from the standpoint of an integrated foreign policy where development assistance is not a contrarian policy outlier in its own silo but is at the core of a synergized outward national thrust. Moreover, since more people have been lifted out of mass poverty by the last decade's economic upsurge in Asia, Africa, and Latin America than by aid programs, the notion that green, ethical, and socially responsible Canadian extractive resource companies (recent bribery scandals notwithstanding) can help host countries grow development capacity has plausibility.

Canadians want their country to do what's right. The government, which wants re-election, can hopefully be made to do it.

Jeremy Kinsman was Canadian Ambassador or High Commissioner in Moscow, Rome, London, and Brussels until 2006 when he took direction of a democracy support project for the Community of Democracies (diplomatshandbook.org). He holds current appointments at the University of California, Berkeley, and Ryerson University.

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