In the spring budget for 2013, the Harper Government abolished the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). CIDA was created in 1968 to administer Canada’s foreign aid (also known as Official Development Assistance or ODA) and since then developed into an internationally recognized brand representing Canada on the world stage. It also became synonymous with bureaucracy and red tape, and a mind-bogglingly complex application process, to the extent that aid agencies needed full time staff just to navigate the complex forms and endure the months or years long process to get project funding approved. It can readily be argued that reform was needed at CIDA, but that’s not what they got (unless you count folding into another department).
What was once CIDA still has its own minister, though! Christian Paradis has been appointed to replace Julian Fantino. Paradis is known for his championing of Canada’s export of asbestos. Asbestos has been banned for most uses in Canada, but Minister Paradis did his best to ensure that other markets, presumably those with much more stringent safety regulations (such as India), should not be deprived the benefits of this wonder material.
CIDA had a mandate to focus on alleviation of poverty. As far as I’ve been able to tell, that mandate has not changed, however when the dissolution of CIDA was announced, the government claimed that merging development with international trade and foreign affairs would allow for efficiencies and consistency in Canada’s international affairs. DFAIT’s mandate does not include poverty alleviation, so when we see Canada’s ODA ‘aligned’ with DFAIT policies, does that mean the DFAIT will be adopting CIDA’s former mandate as its own, or will Canada’s ODA move away from poverty alleviation and become a mechanism for promoting Canada’s trade or foreign policy objectives?
In 1970, the OECD (of which Canada is a member) set a target of 0.7% of national income as the target for member governments to spend on Official Development Assistance (ODA), based on a proposal from the Pearson Commission, headed by former Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson. No Canadian government has ever met this target, but the Trudeau government came closest in the 1970s when funding exceeded 0.5% of GDP. Funding was since reduced, in particular during the Chretien-Martin governments of the 1990s and the target of 0.7% of GDP was never met. Funding started to increase again in the new millennium, reaching 0.35% under the Harper government but that has already fallen back to 0.25% of GDP and will likely fall further. Interestingly, all mainstream Canadian political parties except the Conservatives claim that they want to meet the 0.7% target. It’s worth noting that the Liberals had a few decades in power and didn’t meet it, so these goals should be taken with a grain of salt.
Consistency in funding is no longer existent, either. There have been a couple of re-organisations of Canadian ODA targets for funding. There was a time when Canada spread ODA funding all over the world, but so thinly as to have no real effect anywhere. The Martin government announced that funding would be targeted at several specific countries, and other countries would have ODA reduced or eliminated. This made sense, as concentrated funding for a few countries would be more effective than widely dispersed but underfunded programs. It would be unfortunate for the programs that would be cut, but a great benefit to the countries and programs that would receive focused attention. It didn’t work out that way, however. The list of target countries gets changed according to the objectives of the party in power. Funding can be arbitrarily cut. Afghanistan was receiving almost no aid from Canada in 2001, but ODA funding started to climb quickly, reaching a peak of almost $350,000 in 2008, but as soon as the Canadian Army pulled out of Kandahar, funding plummeted. Funding dropped 46% between 2011 and 2012, from over $300,000,000 to less than $165,000,000 and is likely to fall further. Haiti’s ODA funding dropped from $350,000 to $204,000 in the same period. It is very difficult to maintain long-term projects if funding cannot be relied on for extended periods of time.
For now, the Government of Canada is not particularly forthcoming about Canada’s objectives for Official Development Assistance. Will the ODA mandate change now that international development has merged with foreign affairs and international trade? Will processes be simplified to obtain grants? How will different mandates for development assistance, international trade and foreign affairs be rationalized? Is the 0.7 goal to be abandoned? Minister Paradis, welcome to your new job and I look forward to seeing these and other questions answered!