Kinsman: Is the folding of CIDA into DFAIT the end or a fresh start for Canadian international development?

By: /
March 28, 2013

It will depend on whether the Harper Government sees development assistance as something they reluctantly accept they have to do, near the back of the donor pack, but which they will gear more to Canadian economic returns (60% of ODA is already spent in Canada), or whether they want to retrieve Canada's standing as an international protagonist on the still-relevant issue of poverty reduction. They probably have to be made to want to by a still caring public which may mean being more on "receive" than they are used to.

Celebrity sensationalist Dambisa Moyo's farcical claim that all aid is harmful is a crutch for Canada-firsters, the "charity begins at home" throwbacks. As to the argument that Indian and Chinese growth in the last decade has lifted more people out of poverty than all the aid programs in the last 50 years, alleluia! But there are still those in the bottom two billion in absolute and unthinkable poverty and it is everybody's problem.

One thing though: governments do not deliver aid well. CIDA was hobbled and ossified. Will DFAITD be able to find the combination of nimbleness and longer-term strategic consistency effective aid needs, if CIDA couldn't? They have to delegate delivery.

Canadian business can be a conduit for know-how and capacity-building if scrutiny ensures the companies concerned are competently and ethically governed themselves. (DFAIT turned away from the warning signs of SNC-Lavalin's damaging and disgraceful corruption.)

The most important conduit will need to be civil society. But DFAITD delivery partners need to reach beyond the Canadian chapters of the huge global non-profits which themselves have a culture of corporate self-service. Partners should be our universities, municipalities, professional and social sector associations, institutes, and indeed companies – encouraging Canadian internationalist engagement across society.

For a fresh start, why not resurrect the model invented in 1990 to enable unusually fast disbursement to countries of Central and Eastern Europe struggling with urgency to create open democratic and economic self-governance? DFAIT created and ran that exemplary program until it was mistakenly folded into the CIDA bureaucracy. Project proposals came from Canadian civil society which then partnered a counterpart recipient partner. It can be win-win provided everybody knows it's up to recipients to grow and adapt capacity, not about putting Canadian labels on their realities.