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The federal government is signalling a profound shift in its approach to foreign aid that could see Canada’s international development agency align itself more closely with the private sector and work more explicitly to promote Canada’s interests abroad.
International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino outlined his vision for the agency’s future in an address to the Economic Club of Canada Friday morning, his first major speech since taking the job several months ago. The Canadian International Development Agency funds humanitarian aid and long-term development projects intended to help people living in poverty.
Mr. Fantino’s remarks focused on the role private companies – particularly in the mining sector – can play in helping CIDA achieve its development objectives, part of a controversial change in emphasis for an agency that has historically been careful to differentiate between its work with corporations and non-governmental organizations.
The minister explained that he views the private sector as the most important driver of long-term economic growth, and that the agency will pursue more partnerships with Canadian companies.
He also emphasized CIDA’s role in preparing developing countries for foreign investment, and suggested the agency’s work can help build market opportunities and dissuade governments from nationalizing extractive industries.
Mr. Fantino’s speech came shortly after the release of a House of Commons committee report on the private sector and international development, which called for CIDA to update its policy on the role Canadian corporations should have in achieving international development goals. The minister will table a formal response to the report in Parliament, but his speech on Friday offered a first look at the direction CIDA is likely to take.
Stephen Brown, who teaches international development at the University of Ottawa, said CIDA has not dramatically shifted its spending toward private-sector partnerships. “But in terms of signals and signs of things to come, [the shift] is quite profound,” he said.
Last year, the aid agency matched three mining companies with NGOs to work on jobs training, education and clean water projects in specific African and Latin American mining communities. CIDA says the strategy will help leverage corporate investments to bolster development goals, while critics suggest it leads the agency away from its core strategy.
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