In yesterday's budget the government announced that Canada's International Development Agency (CIDA) will be merged within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). A new Department -- possibly with the amusing acronym DFATD -- will be created, although we have no idea how soon and at what cost.
Let's be clear: placing CIDA within DFAIT is not, in principle, a bad idea. In fact, this kind of arrangement has worked fairly well in other countries, including Norway, the Netherlands, and Ireland -- all respected international donors with strong records.
However, for this to produce effective results, the international assistance programme must have a strong development mandate, a strong Minister with cabinet support, and a strong aid budget. In the context of the Conservatives' dismal record on aid, there are reasons to be worried on all of these fronts. As a result, Canadians can hardly have confidence that this structural change will strengthen the place of development in foreign policy, as it should. It's more likely to be a disappearing act.
BLOG CONTINUES AFTER THE SLIDESHOW
Revenues for 2013-14 forecast at $263.9 billion, spending at $282.6 billion, deficit at $18.7 billion. Deficit projected to drop to $6.6 billion in 2014-15 and become an $800-million surplus in 2015-16. With files from Althia Raj and The Canadian Press.
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Military spending will be re-jigged that it is modeled on the ship building strategy and aimed at creating more jobs in Canada and key domestic capabilities with an eye towards exports.
The budget has cancelled the Canadian International Development Agency, the primary agency responsible for foreign aid. Its duties will be merged into the Department of Foreign Affairs.
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Two departments -- Canada Revenue Agency and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans -- will see big cuts. Departments will see a 5 per cent cut in their travel budgets. The government also says in the budget it intends to work with the public sector unions to “further align overall compensation with other public and private sector employers.”
The federal budget says new projects related to Canada's perimeter security deal with the United States will go ahead as planned, despite budget woes south of the border. The federal budget has given the green light to almost a dozen information-sharing and infrastructure projects related to the Beyond the Border initiative between the two countries. The vaunted deal was announced with fanfare by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama in December 2011 at the White House. The plan aims to speed the flow of goods and people across the 49th parallel while protecting the continent from a terrorist attack.
The government wants to reduce import tariffs on a number of goods including baby clothing, skis, snowboards and gold clubs. But it plans to offset the $76-million revenue loss from that by hiking excise taxes on chewing tobacco and other manufactured tobaccos, to bring them in line with cigarette taxes.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's spring budget commits Ottawa to five more years of funding through the Investment in Affordable Housing program. The level of commitment is the same as in the past: $253 million a year over five years, which needs to be matched by the provinces and territories and can be spent on new construction, renovation, home ownership assistance, rent supplements, shelters and homes for battered spouses. But there's a new twist to the funding. Home construction in the program will support the use of apprentices so that newcomers to the construction trades can build up crucial experience. The budget also commits $100 million over two years to build 250 more units of affordable housing in Nunavut, where homes are so crowded that illness spreads easily and poverty abounds.
The issue of mandate is key. First, by law, CIDA and DFAIT have different mandates. According to the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act (ODAAA), passed by Parliament in 2008, Canada's development assistance must contribute to poverty reduction, take into account the perspectives of the poor, and be consistent with international human rights standards. This is distinct from the mandate of DFAIT, which is to promote Canada's interests abroad. The merger of these departments must be done without watering down CIDA's mandate.
But there is little respect for the mandate shown to date. In recent months we have witnessed a shift in focus with Minister Julian Fantino pushing partnerships with the private sector -- mainly the extractive industry -- and suggesting that CIDA's goal should be to open new markets for Canada. Cultivating trade opportunities is important, but the promotion of trade priorities is not the business of CIDA, and it should not be its mandate.
There is also the question of appropriate funding, which is essential for aid effectiveness. The merger is even more problematic if it will be accompanied by further reductions in Canadian development assistance. This week, the United Kingdom announced in its budget that it will reach its 0.7 per cent of GNI target in ODA -- while Canada is falling below 0.3 per cent of GNI, approaching record lows. New Democrats have long advocated for Canada to set a schedule to achieve our 0.7 per cent of GNI UN target for aid. Alongside Canada's NGOs and the Reverse the Cuts campaign, we have called for a reversal of the damaging cuts made to Canada's International Assistance Envelope in last year's budget -- $377 million over three years.
Leadership also matters. Since his appointment as the Minister for CIDA, Julian Fantino has shown a lack of leadership and understanding of his role. To take but one example, he has admitted to not knowing the principles of the OECD Paris Declaration of donors, which is central to CIDA's work . CIDA -- or its new incarnation within DFAIT -- needs a strong Minister who understands the purpose of development assistance.
We also need a leader who will be able to deliver. Under the Conservatives, we have seen delays in funding approvals and a non-transparent and infrequent process for calls for proposals. We worry that, in the new department, these trends could get worse.
To deliver, the Minister must consult with others. In this respect, it is sad but predictable that this merge came as a complete surprise to CIDA and DFAIT staff, given that last year's closure of Rights & Democracy was revealed to staff only via a press release. More worrisome is the complete lack of consultation with Canada's international development partners, including the NGOs who implement much of CIDA's funding. Many questions remain on the time frame for the transition and the impact on upcoming partnerships, and rumours are flying that the government will abandon its countries-of-focus approach. To perform well, Canada's aid sector needs predictability and real answers. The Harper government's lack of transparency is, frankly, inexcusable.
The Conservatives also noted in yesterday's budget that they will "enshrine in law" the Minister's responsibilities. This could be good news, if it builds upon the ODA Accountability Act. But here again, given the Conservatives' refusal to enforce the Act and their turn away from our international commitments, we can hardly trust them when it comes to legislating action on global poverty. In the end, this merger will only be as good as the government leading it. Considering that the Conservatives have spent the last seven years making a mess of our international reputation, we hold out little hope for this latest move.
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