Canadian Freeze of Aid to Haiti, the Precursor to CIDA’s Demise

By: Matthew Davidson – HaitiAnalysis 
     Representing a new Canadian vision for international development, the Canadian government recently announced that it is merging the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). Shocked, critics decried that “Canada’s international effort[i] to help people living in poverty” is unlikely to substantially address or mitigate global poverty or inequality if CIDA’s priority is to “advance Canada’s long-term prosperity and security”. However, the Canadian government had already indicated that changes were coming. By freezing aid to Haiti, the Conservatives signalled what could be expected for Canadian development practice elsewhere. 

Changes to the Canadian development agency were announced on March 21, 2013, when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unveiled a new federal budget. An omnibus bill much like previous budgets that stripped environmental protections and laid the groundwork for a massive expansion of prisons, the so-called Economic Action Plan 2013[ii] included numerous non-financial clauses amidst the prescribed domestic austerity measures. Buried deep in the 433-page document in a chapter entitled “Supporting Families and Communities”, the budget revealed that “the Government will amalgamate the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and CIDA” in order to maximize economic opportunities for Canada. In a clarifying statement[iii] issued after the release of the budget, the Canadian Minister of International Cooperation, Julian Fantino, indicated that the decision would have no impact on Canada’s international assistance budget, but CIDA as an entity would cease to exist. A new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development would be created in its stead, co-directed[iv] by Fantino, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, and International Trade Minister Ed Fast. 
Reaction to the demise of Canada’s 45-year old development organization came quick. Numerous development organizations expressed concern that the changes might undermine Canada’s commitment to the world’s most vulnerable people. “We risk losing the expertise, focus, effectiveness — and results — that CIDA staff brought to this goal”, argued Anthony Scoggins, Oxfam’s director of international programs, who lamented[v] that aid would “be driven by Canada’s self-interest in foreign policy, and the government’s economic and trade agenda rather than poverty alleviation.” The Canadian Council for International Co-operation likewise expressed concern that CIDA’s focus on poverty reduction and human rights would be “watered down” [vi] by the change. The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper, extended the critique in an editorial[vii] lambasting the merger, questioning “whether the Conservatives intend to plunder the aid budget to help drum up business abroad rather than bankroll trade promotion in its own right as they ransack government operations for savings to help eliminate the deficit.” 
While the NGO sector feigned outrage at the announcement, not everyone was surprised. Julia Sanchez, President and CEO of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, told the news website iPolitics that the absorption of CIDA into DFAIT had been rumoured[viii] for years. Noting that the move offered “clarity” to the Canadian strategy abroad, the head of Care Canada, Kevin McCort, spoke[ix] similarly, saying that “It wasn’t so much a shock as, ‘oh, they have done it’. The conversation has been going on for years.” Recently there had also been indicators that major changes could be expected. In November 2012, Fantino had articulated a new vision for CIDA. Speaking to the elite Economic Club of Canada, the Minister, who had previously been Ontario’s Top Cop, introduced plans to have CIDA support Canadian international business interests rather than work with multilateral institutions and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) as had previously been the norm. Following[x] the speech he told the Globe and Mail that; 
“I find it very strange that people would not expect Canadian investments to also promote Canadian values, Canadian business, the Canadian economy, benefits for Canada. This is Canadian money. … And Canadians are entitled to derive a benefit.” 
Just over one month later Fantino revealed, in a tirade[xi] against Haitian efforts to rebuild, that he was moving forward with this vision. 
Since the devastating earthquake in 2010 Haiti has been a showpiece of Canadian aid. Haiti is the largest recipient of Canadian development assistance in the hemisphere, and only the United States has allocated more money for the small Caribbean nation. In total, the Canadian government has committed more than $1 billion[xii] to Haiti since 2006. Yet earlier this year Fantino shocked Haitians and Canadians alike with an announcement[xiii] that Canada was cutting off the still-rebuilding country, placing all aid “on ice” until further review. Citing a lack of progress in the country, Fantino claimed in January that the aid was not getting results “that Canadians have a right to expect.” CIDA released a terse statement in response claiming that existing projects had not been frozen, but Haiti’s ambassador to Canada, Frantz Liautaud, noted that Fantino had not approved any new aid projects for Haiti since he took over the portfolio. 
Fantino’s Haiti announcement signalled that the Canadian government was moving forward with their overhaul of the aid system, but the model that the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development was premised on had been applied in Haiti much earlier. Under the preceding Liberal government Canada had committed to using the so-called “3-D” approach to foreign affairs in Haiti, which was an attempt to integrate defence, diplomacy and development into one coherent policy approach (what the Conservatives now label as the “whole-of-government” approach). This approach helped enlist the development industry in the Canadian / American / French campaign against Haiti’s president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. When the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reviewed Canadian aid policies last year, the report urged Ottawa to continue following that model. It was recommended[xiv] that “Using [Haiti and Afghanistan] as an example, Canada should devise a whole-of-government approach to all of its development programmes.” This is exactly what the Conservatives did. 
There was speculation[xv] at the time of Fantino’s announcement that the review of aid would be used to make room for Canadian capital investment. Buoyed by the Minister’s November comments[xvi], many predicted that opportunities would be created for Canadian mining companies. Fantino had told the Economic Club; 
“Canada’s mining and extractive sector is a prime example of how a government agency like ours can partner with the private sector to advance global development objectives. This is a huge opportunity for both Canada and developing countries. Especially when you consider that almost one-third of the Toronto Stock Exchange Index is comprised of the natural resource sector. Canadian companies in the extractive sector account for almost half the mining activities in the world, and represent approximately 12 percent of Canada’s direct investment abroad. These companies boost economic growth and provide high-value jobs to thousands of workers in Canada and around the world. CIDA is working to help the Canadian mining, oil and gas sector to partner in development with local governments and NGOs for mutual benefit. 
Numerous Canadian mining companies were already taking advantage of the security and stability provided by the 10,000 UN peacekeepers stationed across Haiti – a force that has its origins in the 2004 Canadian-back coup against Haiti’s democratically-elected president. This made Haiti well-suited to be the first place to implement Fantino’s vision. It also helped that the failure of aid in Haiti could be invoked to support a new approach (even though less than half of 1% of all post-quake aid was directed to the Haitian government, weakening the state’s capacity to rebuild). 
Canadian government officials of all political stripes have long considered CIDA to be too independent and unresponsive to government priorities. Writing in the Globe and Mail, the career diplomat Colin Robertson noted that “In the development world there is a tendency towards moralism and a disdain for the urgencies of realpolitik.”[xvii] Indicating a cross-partisan desire to make CIDA subservient to foreign policy objectives, Lloyd Axworthy, a prominent Liberal politician and former Minister of Foreign affairs, applauded[xviii] the decision to wither CIDA. “The move Thursday to end the independence of the Canadian International Development Agency and move its operations into the foreign ministry is one I strongly endorse”, he wrote. “I compliment the government on taking this step.” When he froze aid to Haiti, Fantino had made clear that his intent for aid in Haiti was that it created benefits for Canadians, exactly what Canadian government officials had long hoped for. The new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development now does the same for all Canadian development projects. 
Matthew Davidson is a graduate student at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, where he is studying the history of development in Haiti.