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Todd Gordon is the author of Imperialist Canada (Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2010). He teaches at Laurier University in Brantford, Ont., and can be reached at [email protected]
On Friday Nov. 23, the minister for international cooperation in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government (and former Toronto police chief), Julian Fantino, announced that Canada’s international aid program would be tied much more closely to the private sector. When he says “private sector,” he really means the natural resources industry, particularly mining. A primary goal of the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) work, Fantino proudly proclaimed, is “to make countries and people, trade and investment ready.”
The announcement, sadly, was not a surprise; it really was a reflection of the trends toward aggressively advancing the interests of Canadian multinationals in the Global South that have been taking shape within CIDA over the last couple of decades, and which have been a part of other government ministries for much longer. But it does offer a blunt reminder of what drives Canadian aid and foreign policy, if one was really needed at this point.
The initial step toward Fantino’s declaration was CIDA’s announcement a year ago that it was initiating aid partnerships with mining companies, offering financial support — roughly $27 million over five years — to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives of five companies with operations in Africa and Latin America. But CSR, while flogged incessantly by the industry and the Canadian government as evidence they both care about the human and environmental rights of the often poor communities on whose land they are building large, cyanide-leaching open-pit mines, has been widely condemned by critics of the industry, including people in the mining-impacted communities themselves, as little more than a public relations exercise.
The money spent is but a pittance compared to what the companies would pay if a proper tax and royalty regime existed in these countries, or compared to the costs resulting from the damages to communities’ ecosystems from industrial mining. What CSR programs sometimes manage to do, though, is buy off sections of the impacted communities, allowing companies to claim they have local support. This is what CIDA is now financing.
But CSR has nevertheless not stopped the international resistance to Canadian mining. A 2010 study commissioned by industry organization, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, which was subsequently leaked, found that Canadian companies have by far the worst human rights and environmental record of all their counterparts around the world despite their claims, repeated ad nausea, to practice CSR.
So, not surprisingly, most community members in the Global South see it for what it is — a pathetic carrot that could not possibly make up for the wreckage being caused. Thus wherever Canadian companies go, from Ecuador to Honduras to Tanzania to the Philippines, they face resistance.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1295539–canadian-development-aid-takes-on-corporate-colouring