Canada Balancing Budget on Backs of World’s Poorest

This piece originally appeared as a guest post on the McLeod Group’s blog:

The latest foreign aid numbers were released on April 8. Globally, aid remains at near record high levels (US$135 billion). This is good news for the global fight against poverty. The numbers tell a rather depressing story, however, if you are Canadian. In the past two years, Canada’s aid to the world’s poorer countries has declined by over US$1 billion, a more than 20% decrease since 2012. This sharp decline is among the largest of all the wealthy donor countries and comes in a year when Canada’s government had already committed in its 2014 budget to hold its aid commitments steady.

Broken budget promises are not new, but in further cutting Canadian foreign aid, the Harper government is literally looking to balance the budget on the backs of the world’s poorest. Lapsed spending in previous years, combined with two years cuts of more than 10%, means that Canada’s real dollar aid spending is at its lowest levels since 2005. These declines are explained by the OECD as being: “due to the timing of certain contributions to international organizations and planned cuts in aid as budget saving measures.”

It is these “budget saving measures” that are enabling the Harper government to shirk Canada’s international responsibilities to fight poverty in order to balance the newly released 2015 budget and fund Conservative party election promises, such as the controversial income-splitting tax policy. With an estimated cost of $2.2 billion, the income-splitting program is expected to benefit only 15% of Canadian households and disproportionately aid middle- and high-income earners. In this respect, nearly half the cost of Harper’s income-splitting policy can be seen to be funded by cuts to Canada’s foreign aid.

Some will respond to this assessment by saying that it does not matter how much aid we spend as long as we spend it well. Indeed, Bill Gates’ whirlwind visit to Ottawa in February saw Canada lauded for its leadership of recent global efforts to promote maternal and child health through its aid program. Canada and the Prime Minister personally have garnered recent acclaim for these efforts, but at the same time Canada should be called out for its flagging overall commitment to international development.

Canada has never seriously pursued the UN’s aid target of 0.7% of gross national income. The fact that 2014 tally indicates Canada spent only 0.24% of GNI on aid is testament to this failing. Further, Canada continues to fall short of the secondary target of providing 0.15% of GNI to the world’s poorest countries (Least-Developed Countries). Many would argue that committing to arbitrary global targets such as these, especially in lean economic times, makes little sense. Yet, the United Kingdom has done exactly that. In an era of British austerity, the Cameron government committed to sharp increases in UK aid spending and indeed recently passed legislation making it mandatory for future governments to spend to at least 0.7% of GNI on aid. This is what political will to support global development looks like. In Canada, we instead see paper thin political will intended to score easy points by championing one global development challenge at the same time as drastically cutting our already miserly aid commitments.

The new Federal budget, released on April 21, paid little attention to aid levels. Instead, much is being made by the Harper government of its shrewd economic management to arrive at a balanced budget and to deliver on election promises like income splitting.

Canadians should have no illusions about how we will have arrived at that point: The budget has been balanced, at least in part, on the backs of the world’s poorest. Balanced budgets and boutique tax-cuts like income splitting might help win votes for the Conservative party and put money in the pockets of some of Canada’s wealthier households, but at a steep price when it comes to Canada’s foreign aid commitments and reputation. We should all ask if this is a price we are willing to keep paying: Is a balanced budget at the expense of Canada doing its part in addressing key global challenges in our longer-term self-interest? Surely not. Canadians deserve generous and visionary commitment to global development that safeguards these interests. Instead, we get penny-pinching and shortsighted political opportunism at the expense of continued global poverty and inequality.

New Focus Countries not about Effective Aid

In February 2009, Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation, announced 20 countries in which the former CIDA aimed to concentrate 80% of Canada’s bilateral aid. This list of focus countries was intended to reflect Canadian interests, country need, and the potential for Canadian aid to make a difference.  In most cases, these were countries where Canada had been an active player in the aid game for decades and many had long been top recipients of Canadian aid.  In a few, the intensity of the relationship had been more recent and acute (Afghanistan).

Overall, the aim was to focus Canada’s aid to make it more effective. Rather than disperse its meagre aid dollars over too many recipients, Canada aimed to concentrate its efforts in fewer countries to increase its impact on poverty.

At the end of June, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD) announced it was changing this list for the first time since 2009.  Adding seven new countries to the list (Benin, Burkina Faso, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jordan, Mongolia, and the Philippines) and removing two (Bolivia and Pakistan) to arrive at a new total of 25 countries.  What’s more, Canada will now concentrate 90% of its bilateral aid budget in these countries.

Why these countries?  Most observers agree: commercial interests appear to have played a significant role in their selection. Indeed, last year’s Global Market Action Plan had laid out the commercial opportunities the Canadian government perceived in many emerging markets.  It is not surprising, therefore, to see several of those emerging markets (Burma, Burkina Faso, and Mongolia) added to the list of focus countries to bolster Canadian commercial interests. Other reasons also played a role.  Jordan and Philippines were reportedly added to the list to further enable Canadian humanitarian responses in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis and Typhoon Haiyan.  The Democratic Republic of Congo, though resource rich, has low levels of human development in the wake of its prolonged and ongoing conflict since the 1990s. Benin and Burkina Faso might indicate renewed attention to Francophone Africa.

Clearly, a variety of reasons motivated the inclusion of countries as additions to the list, though DFATD characterized the selection of focus countries as “based on their real needs, their capacity to benefit from aid, and their alignment with Canadian foreign policy priorities.”  Lost in this is the original motivation for focusing Canada’s aid – to make it more effective.

Effective aid, in this context, is not simply aid done another way, or delivered by or to benefit the private sector.  Global norms established in the past decade suggest that to be effective, aid should be substantial, predictable, and long-term. By revising the list of focus countries after only five years and in response to our own commercial and foreign policy interests rather than compelling cases for development effectiveness, the government has demonstrated that effectiveness is not its primary concern.

Figure 1: Average Annual Total Canadian ODA to Focus Countries, 2004-2012

Figure 1.

New focus countries in green.
Source: OECD Creditor Reporting System

To be sure, several of the countries added to the list are classified as low income economies and have low levels of human development (Benin, Burma, Burkina Faso, and DRC) meeting the criteria of ‘real needs’, but, as Figure 1 shows, in only two of these (Burkina Faso and DRC) has Canada been providing significant amounts of total net aid in the recent past (>$25 million USD annually averaged between 2004 and 2012).  Furthermore, in none of the middle-income countries has Canada provided on average more than $20 million USD annually in the 2004-2012 period. Mongolia, for instance received on average only $2.6 million annually in that period. Low levels of aid committed previously to these countries make an argument for effectiveness based on a substantial aid relationship difficult to believe.

Likewise, the fact that Canada is revising its focus countries adding new countries and dropping two former focus countries from the list for apparent political reasons, also raises issues about predictability and long-term nature of Canada’s aid commitment to such countries.  Five years in the aid business is shorter than it sounds given that it typically takes years between planning an aid program and actually implementing it on the ground.  Apart from short-term humanitarian programming or other quick-in initiatives, it is unlikely than any of Canada’s major bilateral projects planned in Pakistan or Bolivia since they were named focus countries in 2009 would have yet concluded, let alone be evaluated for their effectiveness or impact. Regardless of any internal analysis undertaken by DFATD, the decisions to drop these countries can be based on little more than a preliminary sense of what effect being focus countries had on either Pakistan or Bolivia, let alone the effectiveness of Canada’s aid in either country. Even if this preliminary sense is negative (there is no public indication this is the case), cutting and running from a commitment to focus, in this instance, flies directly in the face of the aid effectiveness aims under which focus countries were first introduced for Canada’s aid.

Commercial motives and political expedience shaped these changes to Canada’s list of aid focus countries.  Focusing aid where Canada has had little aid presence and suddenly prioritizing others that have been characterized as ‘emerging market opportunities’ highlight the short-term, self-interested, and ill-conceived nature of these changes.  Aid, under this government, has become simply a tool of Canadian trade and foreign policy with no pretense to being primarily about fighting poverty.  There should be no illusion about the motives for these decisions. Focusing Canada’s aid in these countries may enhance other Canadian interests, but it is decidedly not about aid effectiveness.


Table 1: Select Indicators for New Focus Countries

Country Remittances from Canada, 2012 (est, millions USD)1 Imports to Canada, 2013 (millions CAD)2 FDI outflows, 2012 ( millions CAD)3 GDP per capita, PPP, 2013 (2011 const $)4 World Bank Income Group5 HDI Rank
Benin 0.39 0.17 0 1687 Low income 166
Burkina Faso 0.10 0.39 1528 Low income 183
Democratic Republic of Congo 3.79 685 Low income 186
Jordan 53.24 46.13 0 11,340 Upper middle income 100
Mongolia 1.53 129.95 605 8,297 Lower middle income 108
Myanmar 8.50 Low income 149
Philippines 2032.00 1137.13 0 6,005 Lower middle income 114

1 Source: World Bank Bilateral Remittance Matrix
Source: Industry Canada, Trade Data Online
3 Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators
Source: CIDP – Canada’s Development Footprint Beyond Aid: Interactive Data
Source: World Bank – Country and Lending Groups

Project Approval Paralysis and Canada’s Declining Aid Spending

Canada’s media, opposition parties, and development community have all grappled with the questions of how much and why Canadian foreign aid funds were lapsed in the government’s 2012-2013 fiscal year.  Initial reports projected upwards of $800 million underspent.  Later figures suggest that the total amount lapsed was closer to $290 million.  With the end of FY2013-2014 just recently passed, we have yet to see whether another significant lapse of Canadian ODA has occurred. And still, we know very little about why Canada’s aid money went unspent last year.

This question of why Canada lapsed funds has continued relevance today. The OECD released its annual aid data this week showing that aid is at an all-time high and yet Canada’s aid contributions declined sharply in comparison to other leading donors (-11% from 2012 to 2013).  Reasons for this decline, linked certainly to the lapsed funds of 2012-2013, have been in short supply from the Government. The DAC report claims Canada justified its sharp drop in aid spending between 2012 and 2013 on extraordinary payments made in 2012 – simply the illusion of a cut.

In a November 2013 meeting of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, Nadir Patel, Chief Financial Officer of DFATD suggested the lapse was due to lower than expected assessments from international organizations, but then admitted that it was money that could have been spent by the Agency. In the same meeting, opposition MP Paul Dewar asked Minister Baird why so few new project approvals of more than $25,000 were being authorized by DFATD in the beginning of 2013-2014, and the Minister responded: “We’re doing smaller ones.” This question of approvals – of how many, what size, and what type of projects were being approved in 2012-2013 by the former CIDA and its Ministers, has received insufficient attention when trying to better understand the lapsed funds and last year’s sharp drop in Canadian aid levels.

To examine this in more depth, the North-South Institute (NSI) and Engineers Without Borders (EWB) began analysis using the government’s own open data files on aid spending, as well as data compiled from DFATD’s Disclosure of Grants and Contributions over $25,000 to try and reveal a clearer picture of the 2012-2013 lapse and its link to project approvals and the annual cycle of government spending.  Aniket Bhushan (NSI) and James Haga (EWB) convened a workshop in Ottawa at the end of March to preview the results (see: here and here) of their analysis, a detailed report of which is presumably soon to be available from the North-South Institute.

After attending the NSI/EWB workshop in March, I was inspired to look into a series of related questions using the most recent DFATD open data files from January 31, 2014.  This data – part of recent government efforts to participate in international aid transparency initiatives – reflects all active approved aid  projects for DFATD and, more importantly, their date of approval and total amount of funds committed to the new project. In particular, I was interested in how project approvals differed in 2012-2013. How many projects were approved in contrast to the preceding fiscal years and how did they compare in size?

First, I looked at how many new projects were approved by CIDA in each fiscal year.  Figure 1 shows that FY2012-2013 was notable for a sharply reduced number of new project approvals.  According to DFATD’s open data, only 280 new projects were approved in 2012-2013, a sharp drop from the 461 approved the prior year.  This nearly 40% decline in the number of new project approvals is a telling figure when considering the lapsed funds that year.  Without a sufficient number of new programs coming online to replace those that are ending, any donor agency is going to have difficulty moving its allotted budget of aid funds.

Figure 1. New CIDA Project Approvals by Fiscal Year, 2008-2013



Figure 2. New CIDA Project Starts by Month, Fiscal Years 2009-2013


With far fewer projects approved than had been typical at CIDA, I looked next at the question of when during the fiscal year projects were being approved.  Anyone familiar with the spending cycle of the Government of Canada knows that a significant amount of funds are frequently spent in the waning days of the fiscal year.  At CIDA this was ever the case. It is not surprising that complex and challenging programs aimed at reducing poverty and supporting international development might run into hurdles when it comes to spending their estimated budget in a given year.  For this reason, an annual ritual of ‘March Madness’ at CIDA was always the reallocating of undisbursed funds to those programs and projects which were able to spend before the end of March. It was not surprising then that the DFATD open data files revealed a similar pattern.

In each of the past four fiscal years (and presumably for time immemorial), there have been large spikes in the approval of new projects in the final month of the fiscal year.  Figure 2 reveals this trend, but also shows how strikingly different 2012-2013 (and indeed 2011-2012) was from previous years.  In contrast to the nearly 200 new project approvals in March 2011, in March 2013, the Minister of International Cooperation only approved 104 new projects.  More telling is that throughout that rest of the fiscal year, then Ministers Oda and Fantino approved more than 20 projects in a month only once (April 2012).

Fewer projects were approved in total, as well as in the key ‘March Madness’ period at the end of fiscal year in 2012-2013.  This, in and of itself, is not sufficient to explain the lapse in funds, because had new projects being approved been of larger scope and budget than in past, approving fewer of them would not automatically reduce CIDA spending.  To examine this question of project size I analyzed data on the dollar amount of new project commitments in the DFATD data. Not only are fewer projects being approved, the funds committed by these projects is in sum and on average less than in prior fiscal years.  Though the total committed in March 2013 was still significant (nearly $900 million), the total committed throughout the year was far less than in prior years.  On average, a new project commitment at CIDA in 2012-2013 was approximately $6 million, while in 2010-2011 it was closer to $8 million.  Figures 3 and 4 show these differences both in monthly total commitments from new project approvals and monthly average commitments.  The message is clear: not only were fewer projects being approved, but on average they were smaller projects making use of less of Canada’s allocated aid budget.

Figure 3. Total New CIDA Project Funds Commitments by Month, Fiscal Years 2009-2013


Figure 4. Mean New CIDA Project Funds Commitments by Month, Fiscal Years 2009-2013


To put it simply, if the Minister does not approve new projects, and the projects that are approved are much smaller than has been typical of Canada’s aid program in recent years, then CIDA/DFATD will have great difficulty in spending its allocated budget.  The 2012-2013 lapses in aid spending seem to have mostly been due to a sharp drop in new project approvals at CIDA.  Why would such a reduction occur?  Some have argued that this was simply a means of cutting through inaction or stealth and freeing up Canadian aid funds to be returned to the Government coffers in aid of nothing more than deficit reduction.  No evidence points to a deliberate government effort to spend less than planned at CIDA for this express purpose.

The bigger question is more straightforward:  Why were the Ministers of International Cooperation in this period not approving new projects at the same rate?  Were there simply fewer projects for them to approve?  Rumored piles of approval memos sitting on the desks of Ministers Oda, Fantino, and now Paradis are legend within the Canadian aid community and at DFATD and suggest that it is not a matter of no new projects being offered for approval.

The rumored addition under the Harper Government (and continuation through today) of a “No Objection” approval step for CIDA’s Minister may be partially to blame for the lower levels of project approvals. Where previously Deputy Ministers and Assistant Deputy Ministers might have been permitted to approve projects and contributions up to a certain threshold, now DFATD aid officials cannot reportedly approve anything before receiving the “No objection” nod from the Minister’s office.  Could this extra “No Objection” requirement from the Minister be responsible for the paralysis of project approvals seen in 2012-2013?  Unfortunately the DFATD data cannot provide the answer to that question.

As taxpayers, some might applaud this savings or “frugality” as Minister Baird put it to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on April 9, 2014, but many others will be left wondering why the government squandered the opportunity to use Canadians’ tax dollars to support development and fight poverty abroad, as they had been mandated to do.  Many of us would feel cheated if we donated to a charity for a specific cause only to learn later that the charity did not spend the money, returning it instead to its parent-organization’s general coffers because its executive director had been unwilling or unable to approve new programs.  Should Canadians feel any different about the exact same behavior within our national foreign aid agency?

This post originally appeared on the Ottawa Citizen Aid & Development Blog on 2014/04/12.


A Remarkable Year for Canadian Foreign Aid

It is beyond clichéd to reflect back on the year just past when we reach the tail end of December.  In most years, Canada’s foreign aid programs would not merit the attention of a year-end review; however, looking back on 2013, such reflection seems warranted.  After all, we have gone from being up in arms about swanky hotels and $16 orange juice to eliminating Canada’s aid agency altogether.  Indeed, it was a year encompassing deep cuts, an ill-planned merger, naked commercial self-interest, and a worsening lack of vision for how Canada can best contribute to global development.  For all these reasons and despite the cliché, I want to take stock of what made 2013 such a remarkable and disappointing year for Canadian foreign aid.

Let’s start with the cuts. It was not long into 2013 that it became clear that announced budget cuts to Canada’s aid program were going to be deeper than anticipated.  Aside from announced cuts of 7.5 percent to the aid program in the 2012 budget, reports surfaced that CIDA was going to lapse hundreds of millions of aid dollars during the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Described as “cutting through inaction”, “cutting by other means”, or “massive cuts without any transparency” by various aid experts, the previously budgeted aid funds projected to lapse in FY2013 implied a much more significant funding cut to Canada’s aid than expected.  By November 2013, updated reports suggested that about $300 million had been lapsed in this manner, representing almost 10 percent of the CIDA aid budget in 2012-2013.

The lapsed funding issue is of concern because it reflects the loss of Canadian contribution to combating poverty, promoting human rights, and generally contributing to development internationally.  By not approving new initiatives, allowing proposed programs to pile up on the Minister’s desk, CIDA ended up doing less than was budgeted.  To some, this simply sounds like a cost savings.  To others, it looks like children missing vaccinations, less clean water for communities, or fewer girls in schools.  Had a domestically-focused social program simply decided not to spend nearly 10 percent of its budget in a given year over and above existing cutbacks without any public consultation, heads would roll.  Yet, because it was only foreign aid funding, a few development experts and reporters took notice, and the cuts continued.  The fact that the year-on-year cut to spending at CIDA from FY2012 to FY2013 was closer to 12 percent – nearly $500 million – suggests the strategy of cutting through other means was sadly efficient.

In retrospect, these deep cuts to CIDA foreshadowed that the Agency’s days were numbered.  It was not much further into 2013 that we learned about the merger of CIDA and DFAIT into the new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD).  With little notice to senior CIDA management, and seemingly less advanced planning about how the merger would play out, the government announced its plans to remodel how Canada’s diplomacy, trade, and development efforts would look moving forward.  Rather than a relatively autonomous and specialized aid agency like it had since 1968, Canada’s aid will now be delivered by various pieces of an unwieldy DFATD, with the Minister for International Development simply one of three within the new mega-department.  The merger was announced with accolades for how it would make Canadian aid more efficient, more coherent, and more in keeping with Canadian interests.  With a new Minister and Deputy Minister for International Development appointed soon after the amalgamation, the dust has yet to settle on the merger almost six months since DFATD was created in law.  Only a few leaks of information have shed any light on how the merger has proceeded (or stalled) to this point – including the controversial appointment of a Canadian mining industry CEO to the “External Advisory Group” working to shape the new department’s vision and structure.  What is clear is that the integration of the aid function into a common department with trade and diplomacy has spelled out the direction in which the current government is steering our aid efforts: towards Canadian self-interest.

Aside from the use of aid to achieve diplomatic objectives (sharp focused upticks and subsequent reductions in aid to Afghanistan, Iraq, or Pakistan in the past decade when it was deemed politically expedient to achieve Canadian security objectives), we have also seen Canadian aid used in the past to bolster our trade and investment interests. The difference in the current context is how explicit this naked commercial self-interest has become.  Apart from the much maligned NGO/private sector pilot initiatives featuring three Canadian mining sector heavyweights (Rio Tinto Alcan, Barrick Gold, and IAMGOLD) under the guise of supporting greater corporate social responsibility, we have since witnessed a sharp turn towards Canadian aid being used as a tool to promote our commercial interests abroad.  The November 2013 release of the Global Markets Action Plan as a new direction for ‘economic diplomacy’ in Canadian foreign policy cements this aid-trade linkage further arguing that DFATD will “leverage development programming to advance Canada’s trade interests” (p. 14).  Aiming to use aid as just another tool to promote our own commercial gain, it is not surprising that CIDA was disappeared so rapidly following the merger.

There are no reasons why our aid cannot support benefits for Canada.  The entire notion of enlightened self-interest in the developing assistance context suggests that donor countries also benefit from fighting poverty and promoting peace and security elsewhere.  Still, the blatant linking of our aid programs to directly building Canada’s trade and investment profits goes far beyond this and smacks of a new era of ‘tied aid’ where the donor benefits just as much or more so than the aid recipient.  If under this new economic diplomacy aid becomes more about ensuring that Canadian private sector firms have better access to world markets than it is about fighting poverty globally, then Canadians will lose no matter the profits or jobs that come to us because of increased trade.

With the deeper than expected cuts, the ill-planned merger, and the commercial self-interest that has emerged as the new core of Canada’s foreign policy, 2013 was truly remarkable in terms of the evolution of our foreign aid programs.  Only a few short years ago, Canadian aid was trending upwards in both absolute and relative terms, Canada had a standalone aid agency with a strong legal mandate derived from the ODA Accountability Act, and commercial interests were at the periphery rather than the core of our aid policy.

As 2013 draws to a close, those among us with firm belief that Canada has the potential, and indeed the duty, to do more to promote development globally must surely be disappointed by the developments of the past twelve months.  The most disappointing fact about it all is that – for once – aid is receiving significant government and public attention, as many dollars and more hours are spent trying to mold the existing aid program into something new.  Yet, despite all these efforts, the results appear quite bleak.

Aid critics and supporters of the merger may disagree, but rather than an aid program to take pride in – governed by principles of accountability, transparency, and rigor – Canadians now find themselves having to stomach an approach to aid and development driven by ad hoc planning, Ministerial whim, and blatant self-interest.   2013 has, indeed, been a remarkable year as far as Canadian foreign aid is concerned.  It is hard to imagine that 2014 could bring more momentous developments in this respect, but then again, at the end of 2012 we were still recovering from the shock of $16 orange juice.

This post originally appeared on the Ottawa Citizen Aid & Development Blog on 2013/12/27.

A Forced Marriage: DFAIT and CIDA for better or for worse

Recently Canadians have witnessed a forced marriage with the merger of CIDA and DFAIT into the new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD).  This union was forced, in a sense, because at least one of the ‘partners’ in the merger appears to have been forced into it unwillingly.  It is of course the government’s prerogative to shuffle the deck in the bureaucracy as it sees fit; but it does not mean that those departments swallowed up or forced into a union with another are any more willing.  The hasty departure of CIDA’s former President following the merger likely indicates some of the reticence of the Agency and its leadership regarding the process.

After witnessing the announcement of this marriage in spring 2013, it is clear that it is still far from being consummated.  Yes, the CIDA moniker has been obliterated from signs out front of 200 promenade du Portage.  Yes, the CIDA website has been mostly absorbed into the new DFATD site.  Yet, more than six months on, very little has changed outwardly in terms of how the two organizations function together.

As witnesses to this wedding, the Canadian development community, taxpayers, and the public at large have been asked to accept the union of the two departments for the sake of greater coherence, efficiency, and support for Canadian values and interests.  Some former diplomats and foreign affairs experts have responded optimistically to the union, cheering on the new couple because it means that Canada’s aid can finally walk in lockstep with our trade and diplomatic interests.  Others, mostly from Canada’s community of development practitioners and experts, have reacted more like Benjamin Braddock, banging loudly on the glass at the back of the church in the penultimate scene of The Graduate. Much to their dismay, it seems there is no stopping this wedding.

Those hoping for a quickie divorce of CIDA and DFAIT following elections in 2015 are also likely to find themselves disappointed.  The time, energy, and money invested in dissecting CIDA into its constituent parts and carefully stitching them onto the former-DFAIT org chart are unlikely to be easily reversed.   To be sure, this merger will turn out to be an expensive process – the projected costs of which the Government has been silent about to this point.  Though from the outside it has not looked like a lavish wedding, a reorganization of this scale will certainly incur significant upfront costs that, at least for the short term, will outweigh any cost savings or efficiencies that result from the merger.  These costs are borne by the Canadian taxpayers and might well have gone towards promoting poverty reduction and economic development abroad, but have instead been channeled into an opaque and weakly justified exercise in bureaucratic bricolage.

The good news is that the Government has brought in wedding planners to help.  Usually couples engage such help before the wedding occurs – but in this case we are seeing the planning happen after the fact.  Media reports from last week cite an internal DFATD memo that identifies the members of an External Advisory Group (EAG) consisting of a foreign affairs expert, three current or former Canadian and UN diplomats, and the head of a Canadian mining company.  With a couple of EAG members previously declared as supporters of the merger (see here and here), it is difficult to see how the post-hoc planning of the new DFATD will proceed with a critical eye that incorporates the concerns that the merger will lead to an aid program more skewed toward promoting Canada’s commercial and political interests than development and poverty reduction abroad.

CIDA and DFAIT are embroiled in the slow process of becoming one entity.  A costly endeavor with real implications for Canada’s role on the global stage, it appears that six months into the merger process we are no closer to having a transparent account of how DFATD will act to deliver Canadian aid moving forward.  To this point, only media reports on the leaks of internal memos and e-mails have shed light on how the merger is progressing.  The question of how the forced marriage of CIDA and DFAIT will affect Canada’s contributions to poverty reduction and development are still very much up in the air. Canadians can only hope that by the time of the first anniversary of the merger we will have a better sense of how this forced marriage has reshaped Canada’s aid for better or for worse.

This post originally appeared on the Ottawa Citizen Aid & Development Blog on 2013/10/23.