07/06/2016 04:39 EDT | Updated 07/06/2016 04:59 EDT

It's Time To Give Shape To Canada's Place In The World

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By Fraser Reilly-King

"Canada's back" and "Because it's 2015" are two phrases that have triggered a process that could reshape Canada's image in the world.

Last month, Global Affairs Canada launched a review and consultation on their proposed approach to international assistance -- a process that could give meaningful shape to these phrases. The review represents potentially the most substantive and comprehensive examination of Canadian development policy in at least 20 years. Its outcome will be a five-year action plan for Canadian international assistance.

The review couldn't come at a better time. Since the last review, the landscape for global development cooperation has changed substantially.

In the past year alone, and under the auspices of the United Nations, world leaders adopted new global frameworks on disaster risk reduction, financing for development, sustainable development, climate change and humanitarian assistance. All have direct implications for how we tackle issues both at home and overseas.

Global Affairs Canada is proposing that our new international assistance strategy be guided by a feminist approach, although it has not defined what this means. In practice, it should mean promoting women's rights and gender equality; tackling gender inequalities, gender-based violence and the structures that perpetuate them; and working with women and girls not as vulnerable victims, but as active agents of change and transformation in their own lives.

The Government is also proposing that human rights be at the heart of our development efforts. In this vein, human rights are an important means -- bringing a focus in our work to tackling issues of equity and equality, non-discrimination, universal accessibility, availability, affordability and quality, and participation and inclusion. They are also an important end -- ensuring that people's rights are realized.

This approach makes a lot of sense. Both of these guiding principles are already instilled in legislation. The Official Development Assistance Accountability Act uses three criteria to determine how we allocate funding for global development cooperation -- it must contribute to poverty reduction; take into account the perspectives of the poor; and be consistent with international human rights standards.

This approach is also consistent with the Minister of International Development's mandate to reduce poverty and inequality and focus on the poorest and most marginalized.

Beyond these broad principles, the review suggests six potential strategic orientations for Canada over the next five years (outlined in a discussion paper): (1) health and rights of women and children; (2) clean economic growth and climate change; (3) governance, pluralism, diversity and human rights; (4) peace and security; (5) responding to humanitarian crises and the needs of displaced populations; and (6) a programmatic focus on delivering results through effectiveness, transparency, innovation and partnerships. These orientations bring with them some continuity from the previous government, as well as lots of areas of change.

There is a lot to like about Canada's potential future directions, but the consultation process must help give shape to the government's provisional thinking.

For example, while the potential of taking a human rights-based and feminist approach to Canadian global development cooperation represents an exciting prospect, beyond the first strategic orientation, the gendered analysis of other priorities still feels marginal; and only passing reference is made to core human rights principles. Climate change -- a core government priority -- feels all but buried. The interconnectedness of the different themes needs further elaboration, as do the implications of the review for other government departments (both within and beyond Global Affairs). Policy coherence is, after all, Global Affairs' raison d'être.

Furthermore, the review gives little attention to aid effectiveness principles -- harmonization of our efforts with other donors, aligning our efforts with the priorities of the countries where we operate and supporting local ownership. This is surprising given its centrality to this review.

Finally, the government is largely silent on the funding framework to implement outcomes of the mandated review, undermining the review's potential to make the types of investments that would really bring Canadian international assistance into the 21st century.

These are some of the challenges looking forward; however, if addressed, they also present tremendous opportunities.

Through the international assistance review, Canada and Canadians can translate a transformative vision for the world into concrete action. The government has both the responsibility and opportunity to do so, and to position Canada as a global leader fit for purpose for the major challenges ahead.

This blog was first published on June 29 in the Hill Times.

Fraser Reilly-King is the Senior Policy Analyst with the Canadian Council for International Co-operation. CCIC is Canada's national coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs) working globally to achieve sustainable human development.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC or its members.

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