Julian Fantino, a former police chief of Toronto, has been Minister of International Cooperation since July 2012. In that short time, he has presided over major changes in Canadian development policy: the merger of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Development (DFAIT) announced in the recent federal budget; and changes to Canadian foreign expenditures, including the unilateral withdrawal of Canada this year from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and an announced freeze of new spending on aid projects in Haiti, a major recipient of Canadian aid. He spoke with Maclean’s while in Washington, where he attended international meetings, including with Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and other donors to Haiti.
Q: In your meeting with the Haitian Prime Minister, what did you say?
A: We all got the same feedback from the Prime Minister that he wants to work closely with us to help the Haitian people out of their predicament. At the same time for us, as well as other countries, there is a concern about making sure that we are accountable for the tax dollars that are expended. There was consensus on all sides that we want to work cooperatively together. They obviously have huge challenges. The earthquake didn’t help.
Q: But you had said you didn’t want Canada to be a “blank cheque” for Haiti. Did you hear anything at the meeting that would lead you to want to start new aid projects in Haiti?
A: What we also said is that the humanitarian assistance—we never cancelled any programs that were ongoing. But certainly, there was a need to refocus going forward.
Q: What can we expect going forward on policy and aid toward Haiti?
A: You can expect two things: our response on humanitarian assistance will continue uninterrupted. In fact, we announced four-and-change million dollars of aid going to Haiti. And going forward, new initiatives will be better coordinated, and a closer relationship with the Haitian government to ensure that we are all working in sync to help the people of Haiti. And making sure we expend Canadian tax dollars in the most efficient way possible.
Q: So that suspension [you announced] had an impact then? It led to some kind of result?
A: I don’t want to go there. The “suspension” wasn’t really a suspension because we didn’t suspend anything. We just didn’t dedicate any new funding. That will now come. But it will come by way of a new focus on our Haiti strategy.
Q: But you did send a message. There was a message received . . .
A: What I said, I said. I can’t say how it was received. But I made a determination on behalf of Canada that we were going to do things differently going forward.
Q: This merger of CIDA and DFAIT, what does it mean for development policy? What actually changes?
A: What changes primarily is the embodiment of the ministry in law and the role of the minister.
Q: So are you in charge? Is [Foreign Affairs Minister] John Baird in charge?
A: That’s a good question, because we are equals under the tent. We now have three streams of foreign policy: Minister Baird is responsible for diplomacy, Minister [of International Trade, Edward] Fast, for trade, and yours truly for development. So we are expected to—and we hope we will—work well together. There is not—how can I put it to you—an “in-charge,” per se, minister. We are all working together to achieve the best possible outcomes on behalf of Canadians.
Q: A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson, wrote that the merger was a good thing because CIDA had become “a policy centre with a network of clients who, in turn, developed a sense of entitlement.” He added that “the direction was not always congruent with our foreign policy. In the development world, there is a tendency towards moralism and a disdain for the urgencies of realpolitik.” Is there any truth to that? Was there a problem?
A: There was no problem. I think that there is a very fundamental need for us to coordinate our efforts with respect to what Canada does. We heard it here time and time again from the international community. You’ve got DFAIT working on projects in the same country and same location as what CIDA does, so there is a need to coordinate our efforts.
Q: So what will this mean on the ground?
A: We will create a united front on how we spend Canadian tax dollars in areas of development. It will mean more efficiencies and effectiveness. It will also mean that development will now be entrenched in Canadian law.
Q: When Canada pulled out of the UN Convention on Desertification in March, Baird called it a “talk fest.” You said that “it showed few results, if any, for the environment.” Are there other areas that Canada is reviewing our participation in that maybe we don’t need to be spending money on?
A: Let me first say that we partner with the UN on so many initiatives. This particular one was one where an evaluation was done and it did not result in very positive outcomes for how it is that we expended, I believe, 300,000-and-change Canadian taxpayer dollars. The results, the productivity, was negligible and could not be justified. And so, therefore, we feel that money can be better spent helping those in need in a much more meaningful way.
Q: Can we expect Canada to be pulling out of any other projects?
A: I haven’t embarked on any of that. But if they come to my attention, we’ll deal with them.
Q: You also announced plans for CIDA to partner with private industry in development. How is that working on the ground?
A: We are looking for partners who can help us achieve our mission, which is to alleviate poverty and lift countries out of poverty. If that can be done with wholesome partnerships where we don’t compromise our focus and our mandate, then I feel it’s just another resource we can utilize to effect our mandate: to lift people out of poverty.
Q: But there have also been incidents of corporations that have been involved in conflicts with local communities, human rights abuses, environmental damage. How is that being accounted for? What safeguards do you take?
A: All the due diligence in the world sometimes will not result in the most positive outcomes. But we have been extremely diligent, making sure that whoever it is that we partner with or engage does in fact fulfill all the expectations. Partnering with private industry, if that can achieve our goals and objectives to alleviate people out of poverty, while making sure all the ethical checks and balances are in place, I don’t see a problem with that.
Q: You were a police chief before this line of work. How does that experience affect your view of development?
A: I was involved in international issues dealing with public safety, dealing with situations in poor, developing countries, exchanges of training, other opportunities for law-enforcement people in those countries. I believe I have a pretty good handle on what the situations are like in some of these difficult, poor countries, having been there and having interacted with some of their officials.
Q: What perspective does that give you?
A: When I go to these places, I make it an absolute requirement that I meet with not only the political people, but I meet with civil society, businesspeople, human rights people, I meet with police chiefs or police commissioners, I meet with NGOs, people who are receiving services and aid. I meet with media people. I think I do my homework very well.
This interview was published in the May 6, 2013 iPad edition of Maclean’s.