With a reduced number of focus countries and regional offices, the aid community must have seen it coming: the closure of the Canadian International Development Agency. A number of aid organizations have voiced concerns on the new direction of travel, while others remain optimistic.
The decision is stated in a document detailing the government’s budget plan for 2013. However, finance minister Jim Flaherty failed to mention the change in his budget speech on Thursday (March 21), leaving many to speculate on the finer details of CIDA’s merger with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
CIDA chief Julian Fantino will continue to handle the country’s international development portfolio under a new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. And, perhaps in a move to secure his position following the demise of his agency, the government noted it will “for the first time, enshrine in law the important roles and responsibilities of the minister for development and humanitarian assistance.”
The move follows a build-up of the Harper administration’s increasing interest to align aid efforts with its trade objectives, an issue that has garnered much criticism from aid groups that see this as shifting against the “purpose of aid.”
“Foreign affairs is not in the business of reducing poverty. We risk losing the expertise, focus, effectiveness — and results — that CIDA staff brought to this goal,” Oxfam U.K. director of international programs Anthony Scoggins said in response to the merger.
But the government seems determined to “maximize” economic opportunities, arguing: “The mechanisms through which we are advancing our development objectives are increasingly more multi-faceted […] As the linkages between our foreign policy, development, and trade objectives continue to grow, the opportunity to leverage each of these grows at equal pace.”
Some argue the move was long overdue, while others see the decision as presenting an opportunity for Canada to match the “global development and poverty reduction agenda with our own economic interests,” though not without “serious leadership.”
Canada insists “essential” programs will continue: maternal and child health, education, public sector governance, justice reform and agriculture. The government will continue to provide humanitarian aid and advance poverty alleviation efforts.
“Core development assistance will remain intact,” according to the budget plan.
In a short statement aimed to reassure aid advocates, Fantino said: “The new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development will maintain the mandate of poverty alleviation and humanitarian support. This decision will have no impact on Canada’s international assistance budget.”
Still, the transition offers few specifics and concerns abound among aid organizations.
“We are extremely concerned that this new direction for CIDA means that development assistance will be used to advance Canada’s prosperity and security, rather than focusing solely on the needs and aspirations of the poor,” World Vision Canada CEODave Toycen said in a statement. “There are so many voices in the world today speaking out for the needs of business and the powerful and we’re concerned that those few voices that prioritize the poor risk being lost.”
Toycen was pleased, however, that the focus on maternal and child health programs remains.
CARE Canada President and CEOKevin McCort was more reserved: “Recent changes to CIDA will not affect CARE Canada’s commitment to fighting poverty in more than 30 developing countries worldwide […] CARE Canada has maintained an excellent working relationship with CIDA and we expect this to continue with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.”
McCort underlines, however, the importance for the government to “follow the principles outlined in the ODA [official development assistance] Accountability Act and the International Humanitarian Code of Conduct, which emphasize that aid priorities must be focused strictly on need alone above all other considerations.”
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