Questions raised about foreign aid link with resource development – by Elizabeth Payne (Montreal Gazette – January 27, 2012)

The Conservative government is fundamentally realigning the way Canada delivers foreign aid, using private-sector partners in the mining and agricultural sectors. In some instances the government’s aid agency is even helping write legislation regulating the mining industry in developing countries.

But if the policy direction at the Canadian International Aid Agency seems to blur the line between Canada’s economic interests and international development goals, it is not something that worries International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda. When asked, during an interview with the Citizen, how she separates Canada’s trade and foreign policy interests from Canadian development goals, she replied: “I really don’t separate them.”

“I think if we can increase the capacity of any country to become a global trading partner, if they’ve got products Canadians need, we can import them, and if Canada has products they would like, Canada can export them.”

And Oda says she wants to see more partnerships between aid agencies and companies to help deliver Canadian aid around the world.

“Our government is very much looking to increase its relationships with the private sector,” she said, adding that she would like to see such relationships between NGOs and corporations in manufacturing, agriculture and tourism, in addition to the extractive industry.

Oda said Canada’s expertise in the mining and extraction industries — Canada is a global leader in mining — provides “added value” when it comes to international development. “It’s another way of improving the effectiveness of CIDA’s work,” she said.

It is a direction that has divided the foreign aid community and has critics asking whether Canada’s international aid strategy has been overtaken by the country’s economic interests.

Liberal MP John McKay, who has pushed for more accountability for Canadian mining companies working overseas, calls the policy direction regrettable. “I don’t think that poor peoples’ money should be, first and foremost, used to benefit our economic interests.”

Many of the countries CIDA works in have burgeoning resource development industries and, in many cases, Canadian companies are already there and would like to expand. Oda said helping these countries develop their resources and establish stable economic foundations is the best way to reduce poverty over the long term. CIDA will even help developing countries draft mining legislation to better attract foreign investment, she said. Such investment, she said, builds the economy and reduces poverty.

She pointed to a recently announced CIDA-funded project in which Canadian NGO Plan International Canada is working with the mining company Iamgold Corp. to train young people “in occupations directly related to the mining sector or other sectors surrounding this industry.”

“These are all skills that can be left behind, that these people can take to other areas,” Oda said. When mining companies from other countries, such as China, go into developing nations, she noted, they bring their own workforce.

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