Poetry. Or comedy. Or both.


Earlier this week, the government announced an adjustment to its distribution of foreign aid. 

The explanation from Canadian Press was exceedingly straightforward: “The Canadian government has announced it will steer foreign aid toward a smaller number of places around the world—20 countries or regions where it hopes to have a bigger impact.”

Now, here is the nearly transcendent transcript of Bev Oda, the minister for international cooperation, explaining her department’s new policy to reporters after QP on Monday. Should you be looking to capitalize on Frost/Nixon and the public’s newfound interest in the collision of journalism, truth and power, the screenplay rights are still available.

Question: So what have you got to say?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, we’ve taken another step in making sure that our international assistance is going to make — be more effective and make a real difference in the lives of those that we’re trying to help.  We are focussing our bilateral program to 20 countries, the majority of our bilateral support.  We’re going to make sure that our programs in those countries are effective and they’re coordinated as well as being very coherent with other donor countries working in the same country.

Question: So what does that mean for countries who are not among the 20?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, we have outside of our bilateral programming we have other vehicles by which we support countries, our multilateral programming, our partnership branch.  We always have the humanitarian, the HAPS program for those that are in crisis so we are continuing to do the work in other countries but we know that we have been criticized, CIDA has been criticized over decades about trying to do too much in too many countries in too many ways.  And this is why we want to make sure that our international aid is going to have impact, it’s going to have true value for our dollars that we invest in those countries and, most importantly, it’s going to make a real difference.

Question: So who’s in and who’s left out?

Hon. Beverley Oda: There’s a press release that will list the countries of concentration.

Question: But are we abandoning any countries by going this route?

Hon. Beverley Oda: No, we’re not abandoning countries.  We are always going to be assessing the needs of countries and make sure that what we do and how we respond to the move is most appropriate and most effective.

Question: What countries are left on?

Hon. Beverley Oda: There are — we will continue working in over 60 countries that we have identified as those countries that need help but, as I say, we are going to be concentrating the work that we do in 20 countries so that there’s more coherence, there’s adequate resources so that we can make an impact and that we can make a real difference.  We’re not abandoning countries.  If there are needs we will assess the best way to meet those needs.

Question: Within the 20 is there a refocussing on the Americas, on Haiti, on Latin America, a focus away from Africa?

Hon. Beverley Oda: There’s no focus away from Africa.  We are meeting our commitment to doubling our aid to Africa.  There will be again a new approach to the Americas.  We’re introducing a Caribbean regional approach programs and focussing again by assessing the needs in some of our South American and Central American countries.

Question: What area then are you taking the focus off?

Hon. Beverley Oda: I’m sorry?

Question: Which area are you taking the focus off?  Is there one distinct continent, area, whatever that you’re not going to (inaudible)?

Hon. Beverley Oda: We’re not taking focus off of any region in the world or specific countries.  What we’re saying is when we did a review of the work that’s being done by CIDA there were so many different countries with numerous programs and we recognized that trying to do a little bit in every area in so many countries to help so many people we were not making effective use of our dollars and our investments.  So what we’re saying is by looking at and consulting with other governments, looking at how they’re working, other governments have reduced their countries of focus as well, by also looking at what other countries are working and the donors in those countries with NGOs are available, which countries can use the aid effectively and also looking at our government policies and priorities.  And so those are the criteria that we used to choose these countries.

Question: Have you told those countries that have been dropped from the countries of concentration that they are no longer countries of concentration or has that not been communicated to them yet?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, like I said, I want to correct you is that we found when we took office there were no countries of concentration.  The programming done in so many different countries was too diverse, unfocussed.  There were not enough resources that were focussed and directed to specific sectors and we weren’t making any impact.  What I’m saying here is no countries will be dropped if they have needs and we will respond appropriately.

Question: (Inaudible) figure out how to approach this?

Hon. Beverley Oda: We had consultations with NGOs and civil society organizations.  I’ve also had consultations with — we’ve had meetings with other governments.  We’ve also been looking at the programs that we’ve been doing in other countries and my visits, etc.  And I can see that in some cases we are — and many times when you see what happens in some countries there are a number of countries working in those areas.  If you look at it, for example, one of the things that overwhelms developing countries is the number of NGOs and countries that rush to help a particular country and that country doesn’t necessarily have all the capacity to deal with that.  So by greater coordination amongst donor countries and ensuring that our work is coordinated and coherent, we’re going to also be helping those governments.

Question: Have you said how many countries now we’re going to help, from how many numbers to what number?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Like we said, we’re not abandoning any countries.  What we’re saying is we’ve selected 20 countries in which we will focus our programming, we’ll increase the resources needed so that we’ve got critical mass that we can make a real difference.

Question: That’s all?  It’s only 20 countries and nothing elsewhere?  It’s just those 20?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Oh, no, no, no.  There’s 20 countries that we will be focussing our work by being more coherent, by increasing resources, by identifying where we can make the greatest impact.  We are not abandoning any other country where there is a need.  We will continue the work and we have other channels to help those countries.

Question: But what’s the impact concretely I mean for those other countries out of the 20 what’s the real impact?  Do you see the financing decrease and by what percentage?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Currently we will maintain our commitments to all the countries and all the programs that are in place now.  Over the next few years what we’re doing is aligning the effectiveness agenda with our work in the 20 countries.  As the countries evolve, we will always be assessing the needs and we will also always be assessing where we can be effective so that —

Question: But the countries that have been dropped.  We don’t have the release so we don’t know all the information.  What have you dropped?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Have not dropped any countries.  We will continue doing work in the countries but we’ll do the work in an effective manner, meeting the greatest needs in those countries.

Question: What are you announcing today?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, we’re saying that 20 countries are countries in which we will increase the resources.  We will have greater focus on the programming we’re doing in those countries and work will be more coordinated and more cohesive.

Question: (Inaudible) intends to put forth the 20 countries.

Hon. Beverley Oda: It’s the bilateral program which represents 54 percent of all of our programming dollars and 80 percent of 54 percent will now be focussed in those 20 countries which means that there’s still 20 percent of bilateral programming to go to other countries.  There’s the entire pocket of our multilateral programming and our partnership work.

Question: Which of our allies did you follow?  Which of our allies did you follow, did you consult in coming to this conclusion and is our approach being influenced at all by any other allies?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, I would say that we observed and looked at what other countries were doing.  If you look at Great Britain, they’ve reduced to 25 countries.  Norway’s reduced to 24 countries.  This is a trend —

Question: The United States?

Hon. Beverley Oda: — it’s a trend that many international aid agencies are doing and so that we are looking again with them as how we can be more efficient.

Question: (Inaudible)

Hon. Beverley Oda: The budget stays the same.  There was no change to our budget in the budget statement, in our Economic Action Plan and what we’re going to be able to is gain more results, be more effective with the money that we have.

Question: Just wanted one question for context.  The Liberals had announced at one point focussing on 25 countries.  And I’m just trying to figure out was 25 too big a number, why there would have been today’s announcement, what the problem with the previous plan was?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, I found what we looked at the work being done in the countries when we became government that I couldn’t see any indication of concentration or focus.  There was still the criticism.  As you know, the Senate report and the OEDC report, the DAC (ph) reports have all said that Canada has not got enough focus in its international assistance.  It tries to do too much in too many places and I looked at some of the impacts that we can have and when you’re investing such a little in some programs it’s really not going to make a difference to the people you want to help.

Question: (Inaudible) going to get more results by focussing on fewer countries but no one’s going to get dropped.

Hon. Beverley Oda: That’s right.  That’s right.

Question: You know what?  That doesn’t sound like that makes a lot of sense.

Hon. Beverley Oda: The work that we’re going to be doing in each of the countries will change, all right?  So —

Question: Did you explain that earlier?  It’s going to change —

Hon. Beverley Oda: Because in the 20 countries —

Question: Yes.

Hon. Beverley Oda: — we’re going to increase the resources.  We’re going to be more focussed in our programs.  We’re going to identify the sectors where we can actually be effective considering the capacity of the country, the NGOs available working in that country, the other countries that might also be working in that country.  So this is more coordination amongst all the donors that are working in a specific country so that we’re not duplicating or repeating something else.  And I think you’re going to see that that is going to be a trend that increases as we go forward.

Question: Why wasn’t this done before like if it’s so obvious?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, we’re doing it.  We made the observation.  As you know, we’ve announced the untying of aid.  I’ve announced more field presence out in the field rather than in headquarters here in Ottawa and this is the next step and we’ll continue to take steps as we work on them.  Thank you.

Filed under:

Poetry. Or comedy. Or both.

    The Government will be listing 20 select countries in bold font on cover pages of future international aid reports.

    • Johnny, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. This appears to be one of those “symbolic, but not actual” changes that Canadian governments are so famous for.

  2. I like CP’s summary better. They did a better job explaining the decision than did the minister. Is CP willing to consider a cabinet position?

    Minister Oda, it’s not that hard: “Governing involves making choices, sometimes difficult choices. It was fair criticism that we were doing too little good in too many places in the recent past, and that we should focus our efforts in a smaller number of the most dire situations, in order to hopefully improve the chances of at least achieving some meaningful results somewhere. That means that some deserving projects have missed the cut. Here is the press release with the results of our planning decisions; the list has been posted on our ministry website since this morning. We hope that the projects that will no longer grow under the Canadian flag might be assumed by some of our first-world partners. We hope that Canadians will appreciate that sharpening our focus will do far better good for the effort we are putting into development projects worldwide. Any questions?”

  3. Actually I’ve always fantasised that we might pick one country out of a hat and make that our “brother” country for aid and development. We could bring their young people over here for university, help their whole sanitation system instead of 5% of it, guarantee their security, etc. What Africa needs is a few more success stories. I actually don’t know what Togo, say, is doing these days, but with 10 years of exclusively focused aid we could really help make it a beacon to the rest of West Africa (if it isn’t already). It would be hard on the poor people we would not be helping in other countries, but it seems to me our goal should be to help turn Africa around over the next generation, benefiting in the long term far more people than we would benefit in the short term with multiple small-scale efforts.

  4. Fans of Jim Hacker, like me, have a new respect for Bev Oda. If it weren’t for poetry like this, we would never have had a trinitarian theology, and then where would we be?

    • lol

  5. Only one question needed: “Who’s on first”?

  6. I’m still curious what process was made to get to the 20… was I imagining things or did she infer that countries with positive trade agreements with Canada were given more consideration (and is that a good or bad thing?)? If all the likeminded nations with money are supporting most of the same projects/countries, How do the other needy countries get on that list — is it tied to certain political criteria, for instance? What would a country need to do to be bumped off that list – vote communist, for instance, or nationalize its purple gas fields? Was Jason Kenney allowed to provide input as to his CONdromedia Strain plan to indoctrinate new immigrants into happy-happy Tory gratefulness?

    • A little tough on the Clown Party of Canada, no, burlivespipe?

      • Burlivespipe dribbles a bit of foam out of the corner of his mouth whenever he thinks about the Conservatives.

  7. The booming front page headline is already written: Conservatives to drop foreign aid for [fill in the blank]. I can understand why Oda does not want to help the reporter fill in the blanks.

    • Yes. The potential for negative press coverage completely justifies obfuscation.

      • Come on Sean…going on record as saying you are excluding a particular region or demographic (you could see the reporter trying to lead her to saying that funding for Africa had been cut) from foreign aid in the future would be a pretty cataclysmic rookie mistake that the Conservatives would spend weeks doing damage control on. Oda refused to walk into the trap that the reporter was laying for her. I find her response completely unsurprising given the line of questioning.

        • It’s a fair question. “Who’s in, and who’s out?” If I read between the lines of her yogic attempts to have her cake and consume it at the same time, the correct answer would have been: ” there’s no particular list as of yet, but rather a general philosophical shift in our foreign aid strategy that would see our future efforts consolidated in a manner that complements what other nations are doing, rather than the current piecemeal and scattered aid projects that are often ineffective and difficult to assess and manage. This is something many other nations are doing – and there’s good reason to believe that the end result will be a more effective, globally coordinated approach to aid.”

          Would that have been so hard?

          • Kind of like this answer Sean?

            We’re not taking focus off of any region in the world or specific countries. What we’re saying is when we did a review of the work that’s being done by CIDA there were so many different countries with numerous programs and we recognized that trying to do a little bit in every area in so many countries to help so many people we were not making effective use of our dollars and our investments. So what we’re saying is by looking at and consulting with other governments, looking at how they’re working, other governments have reduced their countries of focus as well, by also looking at what other countries are working and the donors in those countries with NGOs are available, which countries can use the aid effectively and also looking at our government policies and priorities. And so those are the criteria that we used to choose these countries.

          • Nope. Another example the Conservatives tendency to frequently fail at communications (even of their good ideas, as this plan arguably is.) Her anwer is convoluted, and doesn’t outright state that there’s going to be some sense of coordination between nations, which makes the whole plan more palitable and more sensible.

            Oda’s response makes it sound like we’re aping what others are doing, with no considered reason for doing so.

            Also, she should have had the ovaries to simply state that, “yes, we are talking about involvment in fewer nations. But we will only diminish our involvement in regions/countries where other donor nations and agencies are increasing their involvement. So, while Canadian participation will be re-focussed, it will be done in a manner that does not leave vulnerable peoples in the lurch.”

          • Sean, she’s in the middle of a scrum, not reading a prepared statement, and trying to fend off a reporter who wants his/her pound of flesh. I think your expectations are frankly unrealistic. Even Obama gets flustered on the rare occasions that the American media stop fawning and begging for autographs enough to ask him a serious question.

        • I agree, john g, that Oda and others are trying not ‘to walk into the trap’ but I wish she wouldn’t be so circumspect. Starting a debate on whether aid works in the way people would like it to would be a good thing as far as I am concerned. Oda could point to Dambisa Moyo and her book Dead Aid and talk about why some people question whether aid is helping or hurting the people who receive it.

          • jwl, starting a debate is fine. But when you are being questioned by a reporter whose ONLY goal is a gotcha moment for the nightly newscast or the morning paper, which would potentially destroy the years of work the CPC has put in to reach out to immigrants, it is not the time or place. At that moment, in that situation, her only goal is to keep the bad headlines at bay. And the same would be true for any other minister in any other government, Liberal or Consevative, federal or provincial.

            Like it or not, media management to avoid negative headlines is part of the job description of Cabinet Minister, and that’s true in every government in the free world.

          • Fair enough. I agree that last night in a scrum is not the best time to start a debate, I wasn’t really thinking about the situation Oda was in when she made her comments. I just find it so frustrating that Cons always come across as though they are obfuscating because they are afraid or their ideas/plans should be hidden.

          • “they are obfuscating because they are afraid or their ideas/plans should be hidden” — for the same reason clowns wear masks, jwl.

          • “for the same reason clowns wear masks”

            I don’t understand what you mean. Oda wants to entertain children attending a birthday party or circus?

          • jwl,

            “There is nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight.”

            — Lon Chaney, Sr.

            It is tragic to watch clowns trying to run a country. What is even more tragic is the people who don’t realize they are clowns.

  8. Despite the Conservatives’ successes electorally, they still have a really hard time attracting quality candidates who can perform in government. Bev Oda is a prime example of this.

    • by “success” you mean a “strengthened” minority? that they got by inspiring ppl to lose faith in or be turned away from their electoral right by breaking their own rule fixed elections? success from manipulation and a 58.8% voter turnout? hmm. so how does a party that got only about 35% of that 58.8% turnout justify receiving 47% of the seats in Parliament? where is the integrity in that?

  9. This is exactly the sort of policy thinking that causes people to fall through the cracks.

    • true

  10. I think – although I’m not sure from Oda’s ridiculous series of answers – that the Conservatives are concentrating aid spending in 20 countries and reducing it everywhere else.

    I think this is a great idea! It’s entirely defensible, it makes complete sense, and I hope other countries do it to. In fact, Jack’s brother/sister country is an excellent idea.

    But for God’s sake, the woman sounds like John Kerry explaining why he voted/didn’t vote for the war in Iraq! Yes there will be a headline – that’s part of life – if the Conservatives believe this is the right thing to do, they should act like adults and sell this to the Canadian public.

    • Need Bev Yoda, we do — Bev Oda confusing is.

  11. sounded like a typical scrum and a journalist who is phoning in his gotcha attempt. Soyry folks don’t agree no news here. Although I give major cudos for Bev for her work on this file as for way too many years we have just thrown piles of money to only god knows who and for only god knows what. It’s about time we started and I quote as I like the word a ” coherent ” approach and focus especially on helping our neighbours first as they are closest and you can encourage more trade as well which helps everyone – this sounds to me like a win win for all concerned and Oda gets a poltical cookie from me for her patience as I caught the scrum on CPAC and if I were her I would have deep sixed this guy and done a Chretien on him.

  12. Bev Oda like a lot of the “stars” in this govt are good soldiers following their leader on the bridge to nowhere.

    i suspect that those countries who were getting what many consider “nothing” might have considered the Canadian contribution to be of far greater value than many of us here realize.

    i sense the need to reduce Canada’s presence in the world; i don’t get it but i understand it for small-minded self-absorbed who think they are the world and feel threatened by the small “needs” of others.

  13. Communications 101is full and fair disclosure. When you make a decision you explain it and the reasons. You take the heat, and you present your choice in the best possible light. if you don’t, reporters and anyone else listening will be suspicious.

    This government has prophesied that “the media” is out to get it, and is busy fuflilling its own prophesy. Unbelievable amateurism.

  14. canadian government = comedy and tragedy all in one. they should dance and sing, too.

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