01/17/2013 05:07 EST | Updated 03/19/2013 05:12 EDT

Will Canada Improve its International Reputation in 2013?


Wars, conflicts, threats, famines, inequalities, extreme weather, natural and human disasters: worldwide, 2012 has been a year of challenges and disruptions. Some have been overcome and have turned out to be opportunities for the international community to learn and progress. But most remain unresolved and still desperately call for action and cooperation. A call for partnerships between nations under uneven circumstances but that have no reason to aspire to a different level of development, of prosperity and of welfare.

2013 will be a determinant year for Canada on the international scene. Best illustrated by the new directives given to the Canadian International Development Agency's (CIDA), the policy shifts initiated by our government in terms of international aid in the last year cast doubt on the role we will, as a people, play in overcoming the many hurdles developing countries face. In November, minister Julian Fantino suggested that CIDA's deeds in emerging economies be devoted to training workers in the resource extraction industry, a strategy primarily targeting Canada's own economic interest abroad. Should the government further advocate that foreign aid should suit our own economic purposes, the new year could become one where bid farewell to a Canada preceded by a reputation of peacekeeping and cooperation leader.

Investing to help people develop proficiency in the labour market is of course better than engaging in one-year funding commitments that are not part of any long-run initiative. However, saying our international involvement through CIDA will help individuals acquire expertise in the resource extracting industry is not enough. We could -- we should -- do better.

We should ask ourselves, how sustainable is the growth these (mostly non-transferable) resource-extracting related skills will nurture? After the closure of a mine -- and considering that if the company left the country, the odds are that most of the (non-renewable) resources in question will have been extracted -- how could a worker use his specific expertise to propel further economic activity in his community, to ensure financial security for his family? How will he be able to use his experience as a springboard for entrepreneurship, an indisputable vector of future prosperity?

One could always argue that so long as it is only one part of a broader aid strategy, this new attempt to match the needs of Canada's industry with our international aid commitments is not as harmful as some would fear. The problem is CIDA will have to bear $319-million in cuts over the next three years. Any one of its new aims will therefore result in the reallocation of existing resources, rather than in additional funding. Taking funds away from programs dedicated to health, education or mentoring for local entrepreneurs to help primary sector businesses hire local workforce in developing countries would be a hazardous path to take.

Considering CIDA's actions as the foundation of partnerships fostering sustainable socio-economic development indubitably calls for a long-term vision centred on the acquisition of different skill sets by new generations. This means designing aid strategies that focus on creating diverse job opportunities and enhancing accessibility to all levels of education. Now, jobs and education opportunities should be accessible for dozens of generations, not for a dozen of years. Jobs and education should ensure the diversification of an economy, not its dependence on one specific industry. Jobs and education should become tools of local empowerment, not of an imposed scheme of development.

This is not an idealistic aim, it is a practical one.

Canadians have the opportunity to build their own future and to create their opportunities using their creativity, their determination, their vision, their principles and their ambitions. We have the means to do so.

Our aid strategies should aim for other people to get the same freedom. They should allow people to become the architects of a path to prosperity that suits their own aspirations. This is how they will ensure that the inequalities we mean to eradicate, if they have survived the year we just bid farewell, will not survive the next generations.