Canadian International Assistance Envelope (IAE) funds will decrease by 7.4% over the next three years despite promises, just two years ago, of freezing the aid budget at $5 billion for five years. More important, and at the heart of the current debate on Canadian politics, is the fundamental change in the way CIDA operates and which international development organisations get funding. According to the Association québecoise des organisations de coopération internationale (AQOCI), this change is not democratic and "allows the federal government to formally decline funding to organisations that do not support or [that] criticize Canadian national or international policies."
The CIDA Budget Cuts
By 2015, the deadline and assessment year of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Canada will have reduced Canadian official development assistance (ODA) by close to $1.2 billion. The government has insisted that this move was done in an effort to “improve the effectiveness of Canada’s aid by strengthening its focus, improving efficiency and increasing accountability." This move by the government has been denounced by the vast majority of NGOs, that work overseas as well as their respective associations.
According to the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC), "Canadian aid performance will decline between 2012 and 2014, if the government maintains the freeze on the IAE." The CCIC affirms, "these cuts will also undermine the minimal institutional capacity that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) requires to ensure that Canada continues to deliver quality programs overseas."
Jean Louis Roy, historian and author of ’Ma rencontre avec un continent: Écrits sur l’Afrique’, states that this diminution in the budget risks damaging relationships built over the last 60 years between Canadian organisations, the federal government, and partners in the Global South.
Through the new CIDA funding system adopted in July 2010, projects are selected on the basis of their needs, capacity to benefit from aid, and their conformity to Canadian politics priorities abroad.
Previously, aid groups requested funding for their own projects; With the new funding mechanism introduced, they must bid on projects that correspond to the government’s priorities in 20 countries, "ramping up competition between the groups" according to ACDI. This process is more similar to private companies bidding for a contract, than international cooperation working in partnership with the government and populations in the Global South.
A report] produced by the CCCI and Inter-Council Network of Provincial and Regional Councils for International Cooperationassesses the impact of the change in the new system, and shows that it removes the possibility for international development organisations to work independently. It forbids them from taking initiatives, decreasing or ending in some cases long-term partnerships based on confidence and built on years of grassroots level activities.
The new system has resulted in the government’s direct control of the operations of organizations, which previously worked independently of political ideologies and religious beliefs. Through funding pressures, the federal agency now has the power to shape and constrain the activities of these organisations.
The AQOCI claims that as a result of the new funding process, funding for religious organisations and mining companies is being promoted. $4.5 million was awarded to Lundin for Africa, a foundation managed by a group of mining and oil companies in Alberta, who make millions of profit. Also, by imposing a minimum funding limit of CAN$100 000, bigger organisations are favoured in the competitive process.
Mining development: A win-win situation for Canada and its trading partners?
The recent changes in CIDA’s operations hhave been coupled with a focus on building Canada’s leadership in the mining sector, "to support and build natural resource management capacity in developing countries." The government will now focus 80% of its bilateral resources on 20 targeted countries of which several, including Bolivia, Mozambique and Tanzania, are home to significant Canadian mining and energy interests.
While funds for organisations like Development and Peace were decreased by 65%, CIDA awarded $6.7 million to three groups that have partnered with mining firms IAMGOLD, Barrick and Rio Tinto Alcan, to provide job training to youths in South America and Africa, where they have mines.
International Cooperation Minister Beverly Oda claims that stimulations the economy represents the best way to help a country.
Minister Fast added “Our trading partners, in particular developing countries, also benefit, from increased economic opportunities and from our knowledge, skills and experience, which can help them better manage their resources, leading to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction.”
This is despite documented cases by organizations such as Amnesty International and Mining Watch of the human rights abuses that Canadian mining companies have been found guilty of, such as community conflict, environmental damages and unethical behavior.
The budget cuts along with the more fundamental, deeper change in the funding structure demonstrates that the Canadian foreign aid system is increasingly shifting towards a way to mobilise natural resources and profits, failing to fulfill its primary duty: To promote and assist in meaningful and sustainable development.