On March 21, the Conservative government announced an effective merger of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade as part of the proposed 2013 Federal Budget. Let us remember this day as the day the Conservative government set "aid" free!
Leaving aside the fact the CIDA was already under the umbrella of the DFAIT, namely through the Minister of International Cooperation, this recent announcement marks a considerable shift. No longer will Canadian "aid" be tainted with government-professed altruistic pretences. At last, self-interested politics will unabashedly reign free and no longer need to hide behind contrived notions of international solidarity.
On top of that, let's not leave out the avoided headaches from trying to figure out why, even with billion dollar "aid" budgets, is there no country in the world that we can look to as a poster child that evidences a positive correlation between the amount of "aid" received and considerable improvement of socio-economic indices.
For once (and hopefully for all), Canadian "aid" will fully shed itself of its cumbersome rhetorical shell and reveal its naked core: the promotion of national interest. Full stop.
Although the nucleus of "aid" has somewhat been discernible from inception, the task of clarifying this ambiguity has been willingly taken on by the Harper Tories. It started gradually circa 2007, with talks of the agency increasingly funnelling its initiatives through a structure that gave an unprecedented role to Canadian corporations, mainly mining companies, in international cooperation. Furthermore, this trend continued through a cutting of funding to NGOs that didn't reap in clear economic gains for the country, and that, to their detriment favoured long-term, structural change.
I can already hear echoes from the disgruntled international volunteers: "But like, aid helps you know, duh? Are we just supposed to let people die of famine?"
Without getting into the complexity of humanitarian relief and the not-so-intuitive problems that accompany it, let me just state that I am not talking about that type of "aid," for now.
I'm talking about the economic development "aid," the growth "aid," the money "aid." The "aid" that translates into lucrative contracts for Canadian multinationals in countries of the South; the "aid" that is not meant to phase out; the "aid" that becomes intertwined with the economic culture of the countries of the Global South; the "aid" that brings in plenty-fold the amounts "given" and that reverses the purported North-South flow of resources.
"Aid" is a misnomer and this fact has allowed it to escape critical evaluation in far too many instances.
I commend the government for having taken a step in the right direction by deciding to put an end to the deceitfulness of conventional notions of "aid." I hope that Harper's Tories will not stop at this commendable move but go a step further by dropping the word "aid" altogether, and simply call it what it is: investment.
More countries need to follow the leadership of Canada on this matter and declare once and for all that government-dependent "aid," my friends, is not at all about charity, but serves first and foremost the aim of bolstering the interests of the donor country.
I welcome this change in direction towards blunt honesty.
Nydia Dauphin is a sustainable food policy and consumer awareness advocate.