How Canada's new development minister fits into the new aid structure

Christian Paradis, Canada's new minister for international development. He will replace Julian Fantino to head the country's development portfolio. Photo by: Montreal metropole culturelle / CC BY-ND

Christian Paradis has been picked as the new face of Canadian aid, replacing Julian Fantino as minister for international development.

At the time of a major bureaucratic overhaul, the Harper administration has appointed another bureaucrat who is said to have relatively little aid experience to head Canada’s development portfolio.

For some Canada-based aid partners, Paradis’ appointment may lead to complications as to how the revamped development department and its new leaders will be able to push forward its agenda on the same level as other agencies headed by more senior officials.

“Julian Fantino said the merger would be ‘seamless’ but now he has vanished and so has CIDA’s longtime president,” Ian Smillie, a member of McLeod Group and a vocal critic of the CIDA-DFAIT merger, told Devex. Paul Leclerc, a veteran development consultant with three decades of experience working with CIDA, went even further and said Paradis’s appointment will be a “disaster” for Canadian aid.

As Fantino moves to the Veterans Affairs, foreign affairs minister John Baird and international trade minister Ed Fast will both stay in their current positions.

Paradis’ entry into the newly merged Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development followed last month’s cabinet reshuffle that saw the appointment of Paul Rochon — a veteran bureaucrat who seems to divide the Canadian aid community — as head of the Canadian International Development Agency. Under Canadian law, the president of CIDA should be deputy minister at DFATD.

Devex reported then that some in the aid community believed Rochon’s stature as senior official underscores the government’s commitment to development, while others noted his relative lack of experience could affect efforts to avoid diluting development to political whims.

Who’s the boss?

Paradis’ accession, according to Smillie, “gives the foreign minister overall control of the budget, and the CIDA president (Rochon) has been replaced by an ‘associate’ deputy minister,” a more junior position.

Smillie noted the aim of the merger is policy coherence, but the appointments of new development officials may mean “trouble just [by] getting some coherence from an aid unit that has been decapitated, and that proved itself unable even to spend its budget last year.”

Leclerc told Devex that decades of good development work all around the world by CIDA “have been completely ruined by the Harper government.”

Other aid partners, meanwhile, adopt a wait-and-see position.

“It remains to be seen how quickly he will take on the unfamiliar aspects of his new portfolio and what he may offer in terms of policy guidance,” Keith Ogilvie, external committee head of the Canadian Association of International Development Professionals, told Devex.

Paradis is set to vacate his post as industry minister to head the Canadian development portfolio at DFATD.

“Replacing the minister and the departmental head at the same time means that the responsibility for memory will fall to more junior people,” Smillie explained. This is usually the case when there is a change at the top, he noted.

As it is, staff turnover, particularly at senior levels, has proved to be a major headache for CIDA, the former independent aid agency. Staff members felt dissatisfied with the agency’s processes and feared CIDA did not have enough people with the right skills.

“Minister Paradis’ background does not appear to have given him any depth of experience in the development field,” Ogilvie said. “This is something the experts in the new department will have to strongly support him on to ensure Canada’s international commitments continue to be met.”

Aid or trade?

Paradis’ background is a cause for concern among local aid partners worried about anchoring aid for Canadian commercial interests.

“Minister Paradis’ most recent ministerial responsibilities have been in Natural Resources Canada and Industry Canada,” Ogilvie said. “This suggests that the government, consistent with its previous statements of priority for Canadian ODA, wishes to emphasize these areas within its development programming.”

Smillie, meanwhile, added: “Paradis — whose electoral constituency is a mining area — looks like a logical choice as Canadian development assistance becomes less about poverty reduction and more about selling Canada.”

He also raised concerns whether Paradis may devote crucial time and energy to his dual role as minister for Canada’s French-speaking territories.

Challenges ahead

Once on board, Paradis faces several challenges that have a potential impact on the changing nature of Canadian aid in general and on the ongoing merger process in particular.

First and foremost, the new minister has to clearly articulate Canada’s development priorities, which have become blurry for aid partners at the time the bill to merge CIDA and DFAIT was being debated in parliament.

Ogilvie called on Paradis to initiate a dialogue with partners to make government priorities are consistent with their own plans.

Amid threats of budget cuts, Paradis has to ensure the aid budget is in line with the country’s Official Development Assistance Accountability Act and protected from being diverted to other departmental needs, he added.

“He will have to work to protect the integrity of the professional skill set possessed by staff of the former CIDA as the integration process continues,” Ogilvie said. “This will be vital to ensuring that the appropriate professional skills continue to be applied to design, planning and delivery of appropriate development programming by DFATD.”

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About the author

  • Alliage profile

    John Alliage Morales

    As a former Devex staff writer, John Alliage Morales covered the Americas, focusing on the world's top donor hub, Washington, and its aid community. Prior to joining Devex, John worked for a variety of news outlets including GMA, the Philippine TV network, where he conducted interviews, analyzed data, and produced in-depth stories on development and other topics.

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