The Canadian Government’s Economic Action Plan 2013, announced on March 21 by Jim Flaherty, signaled the amalgamation of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
Below is a Q & A with Foodgrains Bank executive director, Jim Cornelius that looks at what this change might mean for Canada’s humanitarian assistance and international development sector and Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
How will rolling CIDA into DFAIT affect development policy & the goal of poverty reduction?
At this point it is difficult to say how amalgamating CIDA with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade will affect the goal of poverty reduction. The effect of the amalgamation relies on the way in which it is carried out.
Minister Fantino’s statement frames this change as elevating CIDA’s goal of poverty reduction and putting it on equal footing with trade and diplomacy. If this is the case, and development issues are given the same weight as trade and other foreign affairs issues, it could be a good thing.
On the other hand, there is a real concern that development objectives could be diminished and trumped by competing objectives within the same department. The results of the merger will depend on the level of commitment of the Canadian Government to reducing poverty around the world, and to the steps taken to enhance this commitment.
What affect will there be from enshrining the role of aid into law?
Enshrining the goal of poverty reduction and the role of the Minister of International Cooperation into law could be helpful; it could protect the development and humanitarian objectives of the aid program. We hope that there will be consultation with Canadian NGOs concerning the draft legislation, and that the legislation will be consistent with the existing Aid Accountability Act.
How will it affect the Government of Canada’s funding of Foodgrains Bank food assistance projects?
We don’t expect any immediate changes to our CIDA funding. We are currently in the third year of a five-year funding agreement with CIDA. The message we have received from CIDA is that there will be no change to current programs, and that our funding agreement will be not be affected.
There will continue to be an aid budget and program, and we expect Canada will continue to support the provision of food assistance around the world. This winter, Canada announced its food assistance commitments under the recently-ratified Food Assistance Convention treaty; we do not anticipate any changes to this commitment.
Are you concerned that the focus of Canadian foreign policy will be more on trade related concerns and less on poverty reduction?
This will depend on how things are structured. It will be vital that the aid program under the new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development retains a strong and focused mandate on the goal of reducing global poverty.
We hope that the development objective of reducing poverty will be put on equal footing with trade objectives. Canada’s development and trade objectives are not inherently at odds, but they are not the same.
If the development objective of reducing poverty gets subsumed under trade objectives, then vital programs aimed at reducing poverty for the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world will be lost – something that would be a great tragedy and moral failure. Some of the best poverty reduction programs do not have a direct connection to Canada’s economic and commercial interests.
Are you concerned that the disappearance of CIDA will mean less cooperation by the Canadian Government with NGOs doing humanitarian work?
Again, this will depend on how the new aid program is structured. As with any change, there is uncertainty. The merger does not necessarily mean there will be less government cooperation with NGOs. There is no reason why such an arrangement could not retain and even strengthen cooperation with NGOs as long as there is a commitment to delivering and aid program; and that Canada’s aid program has a clear focus on reducing poverty and takes into account the needs and voices of the poor and most vulnerable around the world. We expect to see continued cooperation with NGOs.
Does this model work elsewhere?
There are examples from other countries where the development program is part of the foreign affairs department. For example, many Scandinavian countries follow this model as does Australia and the U.S. Some of these arrangements work better than others.
What do you think is driving the move to merge CIDA with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade?
The stated intent of this change is to have more coherence between Canada’s foreign, development, trade, and commercial policies and programs so they have greater overall impact. This is not a new idea. Combining CIDA and DFAIT has been proposed in the past as a way of improving policy and program coherence.
In principle, these various objectives and interests could be mutually supportive. However, the merger proposal was not accepted in the past because of concerns that development objectives would eventually be subsumed under other foreign policy and commercial objectives, and the pursuit of distinctive and important development and humanitarian objectives would be diminished and distorted by other interests.
Whether or not this merger is a good thing in terms of Canada’s contribution to global poverty reduction depends on the level of commitment to reducing poverty as a central objective, and the way the department will be structured. Our hope is that Canada will structure this merger in a way that protects the focus of development programs on poverty reduction, and has a clear mandate that ensures its activities are helping to reduce poverty among the most vulnerable.
—Canadian Foodgrains Bank release