For the last 24 years, the Government of Canada has made the first week of February International Development Week. This year’s theme, “We are Making a Difference,” encourages individual Canadians to share their personal experiences of how they feel they are contributing to change by working on development projects. The week fails to focus, however, on what the Government of Canada’s role is in international development. Exactly how well is Canada as a nation currently positioned to “make a difference” in the developing world?
Given the amalgamation of the Canadian International Development Agency with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to create the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD), there has been much debate over the potential policy coherence between aid, trade, and diplomacy. According to the Government of Canada, DFATD was created “to facilitate a more coherent approach to Canadian international policy, support the achievement of Canada’s international goals, as well as provide improved outcomes for Canadians through more efficient, effective, and targeted programming.”
Critics of the merger have argued that it marginalizes the voices of the poor in favour of business and trade, while proponents maintain that it will allow the federal government to address the root causes of poverty through an integrated policy approach. With important international development issues present both in the media and on the minds of Canadians, the Government of Canada should consider the creation of an official development policy framework to guide its engagement in developing countries, as recommended by The North-South Institute.
Canadian development efforts in Haiti offers an example of the potential benefit of establishing such a policy framework. Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and is ranked 161 out of 186 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s 2013 Human Development Index. The country’s recent history is one of political turmoil and violence. In early 2004, the UN Security Council determined that the instability constituted a threat to international peace and security and established the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, which remains active. In January of 2010, Haiti was hit by a major earthquake, which resulted in 220,000 deaths and thousands of injuries, and left 1.5 million people without homes. The earthquake damaged Haiti’s economy and infrastructure, impeded nation-building efforts, and reinvigorated the country’s political instability.
Haiti is the largest beneficiary of Canadian development assistance in the Americas, with Canada having delivered more than $1 billion in development and humanitarian assistance between 2006 and 2012. Canada’s priorities in Haiti are prosperity, security, and democratic governance. Since 2001, Canada has funded 250 international development projects in Haiti, 90 of which are currently operational. The many achievements that Canadian aid contributed to in 2011-2012 alone include helping 35,000 children–half of whom are girls–attend school; assisting 200,000 citizens register in the civil registry, which enables them to access basic service, apply for credit, obtain property titles, and vote; and providing essential primary health care services to roughly 80,000 people living in the Lower Delmas area of Port-au-Prince. Current project goals are focussed on reconstruction efforts such as infrastructure building, basic services, and environmental clean-up; providing one hot meal per day to primary school students; and improving land use for rural families through watershed management, quality seeds, and farming techniques.
Given the economic climate of fiscal austerity in Canada, the 2012 Budget planned to find savings in the International Assistance Envelope by reducing official development assistance. The reductions aimed to save $180.7 million in 2012-13, $242.1 million in 2013-14, and $377.6 million in 2014-15. As part of large-scale federal underspending in 2012-13, CIDA lapsed in spending by nearly $300 million, and the International Development Research Centre lapsed by more than $85 million.
In September 2013, the Globe and Mail reported on CIDA briefing notes written in the fall of 2012, which stated: “The Haiti program is planning against an indicative budget of $90-million annually, which reflects the level of funding prior to the 2010 earthquake, and is commensurate with development needs in Haiti and Canada’s traditional role there.” The implication in the notes was that, under pressure to contain spending, CIDA should be planning aid expenditure for Haiti as if the 2010 earthquake had not occurred.
In 2007, Canada committed to making foreign aid more efficient, focused, and accountable. The effectiveness of Canada’s international assistance has been measured “by the progress made in reducing poverty and improving the lives of those living in poverty.” The international development community was caught off guard when, in a 2013 statement, the Minister of International Cooperation announced that Canada’s long-term engagement strategy with Haiti was being reviewed because the government had a responsibility to maximize the value of Canadian taxpayer dollars. While project evaluations indicated that the expected results had largely been met, the Minister explained that the overall progress of development had been slow due to Haiti’s weak governing institutions and corruption. To improve results, he argued, the Government of Haiti needed to show greater leadership, accountability, and transparency. As a result of these issues, the Minister announced in an interview with La Presse that there would be a freeze on new projects in Haiti.
Taking such a radical step could prove harmful to Canada’s diplomatic and working relationships. This tension was exacerbated as Haiti’s ambassador to Canada, Canada’s ambassador to Haiti, and Canadian aid agencies working in Haiti all learned of the freeze on new projects through the media rather than being informed by the Canadian government. Announcing this sweeping development policy change in such a manner demonstrates the need for an overarching, official development policy framework that clarifies development’s role in foreign policy and improves policy coherence for development, particularly in Haiti. Without such a framework, Canada’s working relationships with domestic and international development stakeholders will continue to be tested. Moreover, without a framework, it is uncertain how Canada’s aid policies will engage with non-aid policies including trade, investment, and migration. If we maintain the status quo, there is potential that these other interests will begin to undermine Canada’s development efforts.
Given the creation of DFATD and ongoing world-wide economic pressures, the time is right for the Government of Canada to consider an official development policy framework to guide its engagement in developing countries. There is no doubt that such a policy document would receive a warm welcome from the international development community.
James Nelson is a 2014 Master of Public Policy candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance. He also holds an Honours BSocSc in International Development and Globalization from the University of Ottawa. He has worked in the federal government at both Health Canada and the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada, as well as the Institute for Democratic Governance which is a policy research and advocacy organization in Ghana. His interests include global education policy and issues of sustainable development.