April 1, 2013
MICHAEL SWAN
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

TORONTO – Development and Peace has expressed concern over the federal government's decision to merge the Canadian International Development Agency into a new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.

"Development and Peace awaits the implementation of this decision with some concern," said a news release from the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace that followed the federal government budget announcement.

However, CCODP's national council president Pat Kennedy said government reorganization doesn't really concern his organization's members. "Governments reorganize on a continuing basis."

"It's not going to change how we as an organization work with them," Kennedy said. "It's not so much the administrative piece as the political direction from the government. Development and foreign trade could work very well together.

"Our concern is if the foreign trade piece overtakes the development piece."

When CIDA began redirecting funds to partner with Canadian mining companies in Latin America and Africa two years ago, CCODP questioned how Ottawa is using foreign aid dollars to prop up Canadian commercial interest.

Poverty reduction, perspectives of the poor and human rights are the priorities written into the Overseas Development Assistance Accountability Act which governs CIDA.

In December CCODP asked for a meeting with International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino to discuss the trade versus aid conflict. They were told Fantino was too busy but they could meet with CIDA staff.

That meeting with CIDA staff was to take place March 28, but Kennedy wants a higher level discussion.

"I asked for a meeting with the minister and I'm holding out for a meeting with the minister. Our members deserve that," Kennedy said.

Fantino has said the reorganization "will have no impact on Canada's international assistance budget."

The government demands that the aid budget "deliver tangible, sustainable results and advance Canada's long-term prosperity and security," said Fantino.

REVERSE THE CUTS

No change in the foreign aid budget is not exactly good news from the point of view of the Reverse the Cuts campaign, a coalition of independent, volunteer-based aid agencies. The 2012 federal budget cut CIDA's budget by $319 million over three years.

By 2015 Canada will be at the bottom of the list of donor countries, contributing 0.25 per cent of its gross national income to aid. That contrasts with Canada's United Nations commitment to raise its contribution to 0.7 per cent.

Despite recession, the United Kingdom has reached the 0.7 per cent goal in foreign aid spending this year.

The Canadian Council for International Co-operation – the trade association for Canadian development organizations - is worried about how Canadian interests are being confused with the interests of poor people in the Global South.

"Given the recent tendency at CIDA to associate overseas development assistance to Canadian commercial interests, there is reason for concern," they said.

CIDA emerged from the old Department of External Affairs in 1968, at the same time that it began partnering with CCODP.

By being folded back into Foreign Affairs, it joins countries such as the United States and Norway that administer foreign aid budgets through the same government department that is responsible for diplomacy.

WHAT ABOUT THE POOR?

Rather than worry about what department gets the budget, CCODP's 13,000 members are concerned with how and in whose interest the budget is spent, said Kennedy.

"That's the main concern of our members. It's not about Development and Peace as an organization. It's about how it's going to impact on the poor of the world. Is it going to help them or is it going to hurt them?"