2013 federal budget leaves Canada without an independent agency for international development
Canada is now a country without an independent agency for international development.
That news came on page 241 of the Harper government’s 433-page budget for 2013 in a chapter titled “Supporting Families and Communities.”
“The Government will amalgamate the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and CIDA [Canadian International Development Agency],” the pertinent section reads. “This enhanced alignment of our foreign, development, trade and commercial policies and programs will allow the Government to have greater policy coherence on priority issues and will result in greater overall impact of our efforts.”
The change received no mention in Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty’s speech presenting the budget.
Dawn Black, NDP MLA for New Westminster, told the Straight she heard the news “with a heavy heart.”
“You can’t help but get the distinct impression that this is a government that really does not believe in international aid,” she said. “They’re talking about international development work, saying they will do it through trade. Well, there are places in the world that are in desperate need of aid…in terms of maternal health, in terms of the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and you’re not going to solve those issues through trade investments.”
Black has involved herserf in international development since 2007, when she started working with the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, a grassroots effort that supports African orphans and their guardians.
She said that she was “surprised” by the decision to fold CIDA into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but noted that the Harper government has long made clear its enthusiasm for using aid as a tool of foreign policy.
The Straight first reported in May 2009 that the Harper administration was giving increasing weight to trade considerations when deciding where to direct CIDA funds for development.
In December 2012, the current head of CIDA, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino, told the Globe and Mail that he felt foreign aid should be used to promote the country’s economic interests.
“We [CIDA] are a part of Canadian foreign policy,” Fantino said. “We have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that Canadian interests are promoted.”
CIDA was stripped of its independence one day after the United Kingdom signed into law an obligation to spend 0.7 percent of its gross national income on international aid.
The target of 0.7 percent was set at the United Nations in in 1970. Canada was one of the countries to adopt that goal; it has never come close to meeting it. In 2012, Canada spent just 0.29 percent of GNI on development abroad.
Despite successive budget cuts, the Harper government has always maintained that CIDA continues to provide international aid to those who need it the most.
According to the 2013 budget, “The Government will continue to provide essential aid to those most in need in developing countries in key areas like maternal, newborn and child health, education, public sector governance and justice reform, and agriculture.”
Black argued that it is those exact areas that will inevitably feel the impact of Canada’s 2013 budget.
“I think that’s what will suffer and I feel very sad about it,” she said. “I think it is another indication by this government of a change in Canada’s place in the world. And I think it is a sad change.”
CIDA was established under Liberal leadership in 1968.