In Peru, PM’s officials say Harper will answer questions on Senate controversy – by Heather Scoffield (Canadian Press/CTV News – May 22, 2013)

LIMA, Peru — The Senate expenses scandal is turning Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to South America into an awkward communications exercise.

Harper’s officials have indicated that the prime minister will finally take questions early this afternoon on the Prime Minister’s Office involvement in reimbursing Senator Mike Duffy $90,000 for improper housing expense claims.

But Harper will be next to Peruvian President Ollanta Humala Tasso in a joint presentation that was supposed to be about boosting the mining sector to aid development in Peru.

So Harper took the rare step of announcing a $53-million aid package and the text of the joint statement well before holding any meetings with Peruvians in the hopes of garnering some attention for his policy plan.

The $53 million will be spread over six years and go towards mining-related initiatives and education — a new and controversial approach for Canada’s aid and foreign policy that places natural resource extraction and promotion of Canadian business at the centre.

“Canada is committed to working with countries in the Americas to support development through sustainable economic growth and improved education,” Harper said in a news release.

“The initiatives announced today will help Peru to maximize the benefits of its natural resources and ensure that Peruvian children receive the education they need to succeed.”

In their joint statement, the two leaders announced an agreement to expand air transport between Canada and Peru that will mean more flights to more places in each country.

They sang the praises of natural resources, free trade and education.

And the Peruvian president condemned the illicit trafficking of Peruvian cultural property.

The natural resource focus on Canada’s aid policy has raised plenty of eyebrows in the development agency community.

There is a global push to have mining and energy companies be more transparent in the royalties and payments they make to governments in developing and emerging countries, and Canada’s new policy plays into this dynamic.

But at the same time, aid activists worry that Canadian profits will come before poverty alleviation when it comes to Canada’s foreign policy and aid.

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