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OTTAWA — Canada’s foreign aid agency should play an active role in promoting the country’s economic interests abroad rather than limiting its scope to poverty reduction alone, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino says.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Monday, Mr. Fantino defended his plans for the Canadian International Development Agency to increase its engagement with the private sector, part of a deep philosophical shift for an agency that has long preferred to work with multilateral institutions and charities rather than corporations. And he said that CIDA, as one of Canada’s foreign policy instruments, should not shy away from championing Canada’s interests abroad.
“We are a part of Canadian foreign policy,” he said of the development agency. “We have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that Canadian interests are promoted.”
Mr. Fantino, who was Ontario’s police commissioner before beginning a career in politics, said he is puzzled by the backlash his recent comments at the Economic Club of Canada received from some aid groups, who say they worry that adding foreign policy considerations to the mix could detract from CIDA’s core mandate of reducing poverty.
“I find it very strange that people would not expect Canadian investments to also promote Canadian values, Canadian business, the Canadian economy, benefits for Canada,” Mr. Fantino said. “This is Canadian money. … And Canadians are entitled to derive a benefit. And at the very same time … we’re helping elevate these countries out of poverty.”
Mr. Fantino added that CIDA should be open to funding projects that involve Canadian corporations as long as the work will help alleviate poverty in the developing world.
CIDA already finances several projects in Africa and Latin America that involve Canadian mining companies – a move some aid experts say does more to promote those companies’ reputations than to alleviate poverty – and Mr. Fantino has signalled that the projects could be templates for future development work.
“We’re not talking about pillaging and exporting,” he said. “We’re talking about a co-operative, collaborative effort not only with the governments but also the communities involved to make sure that they are part of the process.”
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