Eugene Lang and Eric Morse

Opinion: CIDA could only exist in an ideal world

March 24, 2013

This piece was originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on March 23, 2013.

Thursday’s federal budget marked the end of an era in Canada’s approach to foreign aid with the merging of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) into the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). To some this might seem like just another bureaucratic shuffle, meaningless in the broad scheme of things. To others, in the NGO community in particular, who rely on CIDA funding to do their jobs, this move represents the end of the world as they know it.

For the public servants who have to execute this merger it will be a bureaucratic nightmare that makes major corporate takeovers pale by comparison. The new ministry will likely take years to jell into an effective organization.

The last big bureaucratic merger Ottawa went through was the post-911 attempt to create a Canadian version of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, when the Martin government established Public Safety Canada by merging the Department of the Solicitor General and its associated agencies, with the Border Services Agency and the Office of Critical Infrastructure and Emergency Preparedness. That new super ministry took years to come together effectively. Some claim it still has teething problems a decade later.

The last time a shotgun marriage of this scale was attempted in the foreign relations machinery was in the early 1980s when Trade, Immigration and External Affairs were merged by the Trudeau government to create what was popularly known as the Three Headed Monster.

It is a truism that smashing together big bureaucracies does not make for snap efficiencies — the new organizations can take years to deliver on the promise of their architects. This is particularly the case when you are dealing with departments or agencies with strong cultures, rigid ways of doing business, and vocal clientele groups, all attributes that apply to CIDA.

From the time it was founded as an independent agency in 1968, CIDA was always a horse of a different colour. It was mandated to work multilaterally outside the traditional strictures of foreign policy. The president who saw CIDA through its formative years in the 1970s, Paul Gérin-Lajoie, nurtured a very different — practically monastic — culture from that of the traditional Ottawa foreign affairs apparatus. Whether as a Crown agency or reporting through a minister as it did in later years, CIDA always staked the claim that it defined Canadian development interests. The fact that CIDA was parked across the river from Fort Pearson reinforced its independence from the mother ship.

The CIDA culture and mandate may have been high-minded in the best “soft-power” tradition, but this was always a roadblock to getting the agency focused on the same objectives that the prime minister and the foreign affairs and defence ministers might have been pursuing. In the post-Cold War period in particular, when Canada has been involved in numerous international peace and security operations, foreign affairs and defence ministers often saw CIDA as a critical instrument of broader foreign policy that needed to conform better to their priorities. CIDA frequently resisted this.

During the early years of Canada’s involvement in Kandahar, for example, the tension between CIDA and DFA/DND priorities became increasingly clear. Afghanistan was not initially a top priority for CIDA, even though it was the government’s central foreign and defence policy preoccupation. The CIDA minister often clashed with the foreign and defence ministers, as a result. The Afghanistan fault line might have marked the beginning of the end of an independent CIDA.

There is an inescapable reality now that runs contrary to CIDA’s culture and history. Namely, when your soldiers and diplomats are heavily and routinely involved on the ground in failed and failing states, they more often than not need money delivered quickly and efficiently to aid and reconstruction projects in those countries — so-called high-impact projects — to maximize Canada’s effectiveness. That is what that tired old “3-Ds” (the integration of defence, diplomacy and development) notion is all about. Unfortunately, neither DFA nor DND have discretionary budgets or authorities for this purpose. CIDA is the only existing pot of money for such things, even if it really isn’t set up for that purpose.

In an ideal world, CIDA would be left to its own devices to fight global poverty, and Foreign Affairs and National Defence would have a separate fund they could tap to advance Canada’s broader foreign interests, particularly in places where the Canadian Forces are deployed. That ideal world has never existed, and it certainly doesn’t exist in the age of austerity. And that is probably one of the central reasons for the government’s decision to merge CIDA with Foreign Affairs and thereby bring a 45 year experiment in Canadian foreign aid policy and administration to an end.

Eugene Lang is a co-founder of Canada 2020.

Eric Morse, a former Canadian diplomat, is vice-chair of security studies at the Royal Canadian Military Institute.

Related Content

Opinion: Why the US and Europe must stand together

President Obama’s trip to Europe is an opportunity to build on the vision he outlined in his West Point speech last week, and to set out a plan to renew the transatlantic relationship. This backbone of an alliance of liberal democracies across the globe, and the foundation of the post-war order, faces fresh challenges today. Over the past few years, though, this alliance has suffered from neglect which is troubling, as the inexorable triumph of liberal democracy is not inevitable – it requires constant work and vigilance.

Global Progress: Making Progressive Politics Work

“Making Progressive Politics Work: A Handbook of Ideas” is a collection of essays from the organizations and thinkers that are a part of Global Progress, an international exchange of ideas that will fuel the creation and implementation of progressive policies around the world. The handbook, organized and published by the U.K.-based Policy Network. Divided into two sections – Future Wealth Creation, and Jobs, Wages and Skills of the Future – the publication is required reading for Canadian progressives.

Analysis: Who is Matteo Renzi?

At just 39 years of age, Matteo Renzi became Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister in late February. The dramatic events that led to this meteoric rise are nothing new for Renzi. Over the course of his relatively short political career, the former lawyer and regional counselor earned the nickname “il Rottomatore”—meaning “the bulldozer” or “the demolition man”—thanks to his reputation for taking on the establishment and pushing through political reforms.

Opinion: It’s not unemployment, it’s underemployment

As short as 20 years ago, our combined attainment of education, work experience, and connections would place many young Canadians on a secure career track that would allow us to pay back our loans, save for a house, and contribute to the overall productivity of this great country. Today, that’s more or less not the case, and an increasing number of young Canadians are caught in a veritable limbo state of underemployment.

Summer Reading: 10 infographics you should see

We love infographics at Canada 2020 – and there’s no better time to browse and read them then over the long summer office hours.
Here’s 10 online features from The Guardian, The Economic Policy Institute, The White House and more than you should catch up on. Topics include tracking and comparing national carbon outputs, measuring exactly how inequality is rising in North America and answering what makes Canadians sick.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Site by Carbure
css.php