Why merging CIDA into Foreign Affairs strengthens Canada's aid program - Macleans.ca

Why merging CIDA into Foreign Affairs strengthens Canada’s aid program

Scott Gilmore explains why it makes good sense to put the team in the same locker room


The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which provides humanitarian relief and fights poverty overseas, is being merged with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. While most Canadians would see this as a boring bureaucratic footnote, a precious few believe it to be the death of “Canada the Good.” Both views are wrong.

CIDA spends approximately $4 billion a year in some of the world’s poorest countries. This money has saved or changed the lives of millions, providing access to AIDS treatments, building schools, and strengthening emerging democracies. In many parts of the world, like rural Afghanistan, CIDA is Canada’s calling card. A significant change to this agency is not meaningless; it will affect a great number of people and the way we are viewed as a nation.

But this particular change is a good one, and marks a strengthening of our aid program, not its destruction.  For years, people inside and outside the Canadian government have complained about the lack of co-ordination between the CIDA and other agencies. I remember listening to a CIDA staffer explain to me once: “It may be a government of Canada priority, but it is not a CIDA priority.” In some of our embassies, the development and diplomat staff would work in respectful ignorance of each other. In others, it was openly hostile.

This changed significantly in recent years, heralded by the successful “Whole of Government” or “3D” approach in Afghanistan, where defence, development and diplomatic staff lived and worked together. The results were sometimes mixed, but there was a consensus that everyone came out ahead. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in its peer review of CIDA, applauded this approach and recommended that it be applied more broadly. If the teammates need to co-ordinate better, putting them in the same locker room is a logical step.

Diplomats won’t be the only other ones in that locker room. The new expanded department also includes International Trade. Right now, foreign direct investment into Africa is now larger than aid transfers. This increased trade, much of it coming from Canadian mining companies, is what is winning the war on poverty. The merger will allow CIDA to work with Trade Commissioners to ensure this investment does as much good as possible for those living at the base of the economic pyramid.

Critics are calling for CIDA to be left alone, or even to be moved out as an arms-length agency. They mistake the aid industry for a sacrosanct priesthood. While the bureaucrats in CIDA do good work, it’s not holy altruism. Their developmental goals can still be reached while also supporting Canadian foreign policy and trade objectives. It is not a zero-sum game.

This reality is being recognized by the British and other European aid agencies who have adopted similar approaches. Ironically, this idea has been kicking around Ottawa for more than 15 years and has been proposed to previous governments. In a typically Canadian way, we waited until someone else adopted our good ideas, before we found the courage to do the same.

Scott Gilmore is the Founder of the social enterprise Building Markets and is a frequent critic of the aid industry.



Why merging CIDA into Foreign Affairs strengthens Canada’s aid program

  1. This is the way China does it in Africa. If you want to do aid and business in Africa, because of China, a country now has to come with a comprehensive development plan, which includes the project, local inftrastructure, local training, and aid.

    Otherwise, China will always prevail.

    • So this is taking a cue from China?

  2. This article reflects a complete lack of understanding of basic development theory/concepts

    • I totally agree. It was not given a thorough research.

      electronic medical records

  3. A very narrow and bias view of the reality of this merger. It allows what will be the most profitable option to be the best option rather than using a needs assessment and meeting the needs. It also allows exploitation by big business of developing counties under the cover of foreign aid. Yes…what a great idea for Canada and our reputation as a country!

  4. Besides agreeing with many of the critiques below, I would like to see some solid evidence to support this statement: “This increased trade, much of it coming from Canadian mining companies, is what is winning the war on poverty.” Even the World Bank recognizes that natural resource revenue actually does very little, if anything, for poverty reduction (see World Bank. Africa’s Pulse, vol. 6, 2012, pp. 19-20, available at http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTAFRICA/Resources/Africas-Pulse-brochure_Vol6.pdf.

  5. Yeah, and I can’t get a friggin job in this country. Fucking liberals! Fix this country first!

  6. To all these people who are commenting on the lack of understanding of basic development theory… I am an International Development student I understand these concepts perfectly well – you however are not appreciating the REALITIES of the aid ‘industry’ and the global system that we live in. With the current and future CIDA policies and priorities, this merger makes perfect sense for both our own country, and the countries in the global south that CIDA programming supports. This will help to streamline efforts, and will allow the agency to co-ordinate, pool resources and knowledge, and implement more effective projects. As much as I wish we lived in an altruistic world where geopolitics and the economy didn’t matter, unfortunately we do, so you have to make logical moves to reflect that.

    • Well student, you will go out into the world and see that true development has to be a reaction to a development need and not solely based on a profit and political motive.

      Cold war era development was similar to this, where despots were given development “aid”, not because of a need, but to buy their support against the Russians. Motive: political, Results? ..unsustainable aid projects and sunk aid money to personal bank accounts of third world autocratic governments.

      China is doing the same, profit motive but with no sustainable development agenda for the recipients.

      If that capitalistic philosophy is Canada approach, nothing wrong with that, just stop calling it “Development aid”, but rather call it a “profit sharing bonus”.

  7. Didn’t Gilmore used to work for CIDA? Or was it Foriegn Affairs? Perhaps this should have been disclosed, or perhaps someone else should have written it.

    To the ordinary Canadian, foriegn aid is not an investment, nor a business, nor (gag) an industry. You spend my tax dollars to help poor people in developing countries and it makes me feel good that you do.

    Tied aid and using diplomatic pressure to advance business interests of entities that reside in Canada even if they don’t pay much taxes nor create jobs here, have transformed us from Canada the good into Canada the puke. All this does is make it easier for them to do it.

    This change makes sense in this context only because it streamlines the bastardization of the original purposes of both departments and allows Foreign Affairs to be more direct and overt about using aid to blackmail poorer countries into adopting policies that favour Canadian industries without regard to or at the expense of the people who live there.

  8. Defence, development and diplomatic staff worked together in Afghanistan under separate mandates. Whilst working in a complementary manner is to be commended it misses the point that there are competing priorities. Canadian business opportunities do not naturally align with the needs of poor communities in developing countries. This is a fairly important point that is completely overlooked in this ridiculous article! The UK International Development Act highlights an alternative approach, enabling DfID to become a leader in the sector, whilst far from perfect they are looking forward while CIDA has been dragged backwards by a shortsighted, opportunistic Harper agenda that will do long term damage to the global perception of Canada as a progressive forward thinking country.

  9. I guess not all countries can copy the DFID model.

  10. “Canadian mining companies is what is winning the war on poverty”

    To alleviate poverty, trade may indeed be as important as aid. However, there is no evidence that Canadian mining companies have made a meaningful contribution to poverty reduction. In fact, there is substantial evidence to the contrary.

    The UN reports that over 40% of complaints against the mining sector worldwide relate to Canadian companies (CBC National, December 2012). These include well-documented cases of human rights abuse, forced displacement, sexual violence, assassination, coercion, corruption and judiciary interference…this hardly qualifies as “winning the war on poverty”.

    As WishfulThinking noted: Even the World Bank recognizes that natural resource revenue actually
    does very little, if anything, for poverty reduction (see World Bank.
    Africa’s Pulse, vol. 6, 2012, pp. 19-20, available at http://siteresources.worldbank….

  11. “This money has saved or changed the lives of millions”. The majority of whom are Canadians who work for CIDA in one way or another, not to mention those that are sent abroad and live lives of luxury that they wouldn’t be able to afford back in Canada.

    CIDA funded projects are famous for sinking wells that benefit a village or two and the final cost of the well after consultant salaries, per diems, insurance, flights etc. etc. are added comes to such a superfulous amount that it would have been far cheaper, economical and cost effective if they had just mailed the cheque to the village and told them to sink the well themselves, which they would have done. That’s CIDA for you. I know because I’ve worked for them!