CIDA’s new head: Former police chief replaces Bev Oda

Associate Minister of National Defense Julian Fantino has been appointed to replace Beverly Oda to head the Canadian International Development Agency. Photo by: www.julianfantino.ca

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has found Beverly Oda’s replacement, just a day after the outgoing development minister made her resignation public.

Julian Fantino will be leading the Canadian International Development Agency after Oda leaves her post July 31. Harper made the announcement in a press release following a closed-door ceremony afternoon of Wednesday (July 4), The Star reports.

The current national defense associate minister and CIDA’s incoming chief dedicated 40 years of his life in law enforcement. He had served as chief and commissioner in several police forces across Canada, and had been an officer in national and international police chief associations.

Given his background, it remains to be seen how Fantino will handle Canada’s aid program. His time in federal government has also not been very long, having entered politics only in November 2010. The roles he has taken were quite far from development: minister of State for seniors and associate minister of national defense. The last got him embroiled in controversy over the government’s purchase of costly F-35 fighter jets.

A glimpse into Fantino’s work, however, may shed some light on development issues he may pursue as CIDA chief. He has expressed strong opposition to child exploitation and has been involved in community organizations that engage in various programs, including those for disadvantaged children, according to a brief biography posted on the prime minister’s website.

Fantino has also met with women’s groups on several occasions to hear their concerns and priorities. And he has urged his constituents in Vaughan to extend help to the people affected by the drought in East Africa last year.

Fantino had experience in extending Canadian aid when he served as commissioner of emergency preparedness in Ontario. He was responsible for Ontario’s aid to the United States following hurricane Katrina and to Pakistan after the earthquake in 2008, as mentioned in a statement from his office according to The Canadian Press.

“Our government has made great efforts to improve the effectiveness and accountability of Canada’s aid programs,” Fantino said in the statement. “I will continue to make that a priority in my time as minister of international development.”

But many argue Fantino may just be another minister taking orders from Harper’s cabinet, as was the criticism with Oda. While some have recognized the reforms she has introduced to Canada’s aid program, several have accused her of merely following directions from Harper and his cabinet — at least on vital issues such as tying Canadian aid to mining operations.

“If he can actually take some [advice from CIDA staff], he could be a competent minister,” Carleton University professor Edward Jackson told Postmedia News.

The Globe and Mail’s Campbell Clark, meanwhile, urges Fantino to “steer clear of revolutions” and try three “simple things” instead:

  • Focus on CIDA’s main task of implementing long-term development programs and fence off the agency from the tasks of other agencies and ministries.

  • Retain CIDA’s list of focus countries and areas.

  • Shy away from the current culture of silence by doing things “in the open.”

“The problem, of course, is you’re doomed to fail if you don’t get more backing from the Prime Minister,” Campell adds. “CIDA needs a sure hand, and a minister with some weight to push back against the PMO or Foreign Affairs.”

Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.