07/03/2012 05:35 EDT | Updated 09/02/2012 05:12 EDT

How Bev Oda Destroyed Canada's Foreign Aid Reputation


In a prepared statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid tribute to his departing Minister of International Cooperation, Bev Oda.

"Under Bev's guidance, Canada has led a significant initiative to save the lives of mothers, children and newborns in the developing world. Bev has also promoted accountability and effectiveness for Canada's aid programs and has championed high-profile efforts to respond to humanitarian tragedies in Haiti, Pakistan and the Horn of Africa," Harper said.

In return she stated: "For over eight years, it has been an honor and privilege to have served the constituents in Clarington, Scugog and Uxbridge. As the minister for International Co-operation, I have had the opportunity to witness the hardships of the world's most vulnerable peoples and have witnessed the great compassion of Canadians for those in need."

To Canadian taxpayers, the 67-year old and first Japanese Canadian MP will always be known as the Minister who charged the government $16 for an orange juice at an international health conference for the poor. Worse, she refused to stay at a hotel that was provided to her by her host and booked a posh hotel and a limousine at the expense of Canada.

When the information was made public, Oda admitted "The expenses are unacceptable, should never have been charged to taxpayers...I have repaid the costs associated with [the] changing of hotels and I unreservedly apologize." To a Ministry that is hurting with lack of funds, that act was very disturbing.

Under her watch, many counties have had their Canadian (foreign) aid cut or reduced at best. From Bolivia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Ethiopia, 12 countries have lost all Canadian aid funding starting this year. The hope is that the Canadian government would save $377 million but what it might ultimately lose is its generous reputation to the world.

In the coming years, countries like Benin, Cambodia, Rwanda and Zambia are expected to experience the same fate. In these countries, Canada has been involved in peace building, helped provide lifesaving vaccines, advocated women rights and helped train a slew of public servants.

In 1970, rich countries signed on a pledge to give 0.7 per cent each year of their GNI (Gross National Income) via foreign aid to poorer countries. This was on a recommendation made by a commission led by Canadian Nobel Peace winning diplomat and one time Prime Minister, Lester B Pearson. The report called on 17 Western countries to meet the objective by 1975.

When that seemed impossible, the date was changed to 2015. So far, only few Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands have kept the promise. Sweden is the first western country to meet the target with an aid ratio of 1.02 per cent of GNI followed by the Netherlands in 1975.

When Canada reduced foreign aid by $377.6 million over the years after freezing it for the last for years, Canada, according to Oxfam, "On the generosity index, this budget moves Canada closer to the bottom of the world's 22 donor countries."

In April, our Canadian government decided to cut $377 million over three years from foreign aid after freezing it for the last four years. This pushed our commitment to foreign aid to a new low -- at only 0.24 per cent.

Oda defended the cuts by arguing how "accountability counts more to Canadians than overall dollars and cents...I think it's wrong to measure a country's effectiveness on making a difference in the world by the inputs and the dollar amount."

This was a bit generous coming from an International Cooperation Minister who knew no, personal nor public, accountability in her own pursuit of a narrow agenda. What she may have been successful destroying is a great Canadian brand in the process.