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Evidence of meeting #36 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was cida.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Stephen Brown  Associate Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, As an Individual
Khalil Shariff  Chief Executive Officer, Aga Khan Foundation Canada

4:30 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Stephen Brown

The risk isn't so much in partnering with them, but in partnering also with the mining companies.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

But those organizations are also partnering with those companies.

4:30 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Stephen Brown

Yes, that's their decision, and they're aware of the risk, and they've had some—

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Presumably CIDA is as well. Isn't that right? What I'm suggesting to you is that Canada is not going directly to these companies. Canada is working with a respected NGO partner in every single case.

As I understand it, in Ghana, the Rio Tinto project is providing 134,000 residents of 12 communities with educational services and water and sanitation. This is broader than would have been done directly by any individual company.

In Burkina Faso, 10,000 young people in 13 communities are being trained with skills to get jobs in a partnership between Plan Canada and IAMGOLD—and Canada's money is going to Plan Canada, not directly to IAMGOLD. My understanding is that 10,000 young people being trained there is far in excess of what any private sector company would do in a project of that size. So what's the problem with partnering to expand the number of people who are being trained?

4:30 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Stephen Brown

As I said earlier, many of the benefits are in fact good things. More schools, more people trained, more clinics—those are good things. The real question is, should that be where Canada is spending its money?

To go back to your other question about what actually is the problem, the presence of a reputable NGO will not shield the Canadian government from negative fallout. Let's say there's a terrible disaster—mercury poisons the groundwater or something like that. It's not because CIDA is giving the money technically to Plan and not to IAMGOLD, or something like that, that the negative fallout won't affect Canada as well.

Furthermore, we know there have been cases of public relations disasters. For instance, the CEO of Barrick Gold—I'm sorry, I'm not 100% sure it was Barrick Gold...yes, it was Barrick Gold. In Papua, New Guinea, when there were instances of gang rape on the mining company compound, the CEO said that was part of local culture. That kind of thing would tarnish any NGO and any donor country that's partnering.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

World Vision is partnering with Barrick Gold in Peru in a project that CIDA is involved in to provide 1,000 families with business opportunities, presumably suppliers to that project.

Everything we do in the world takes risk, but if we're getting a greater benefit—we're getting 1,000 families involved in business, which not only provides them with immediate income but teaches them the long-term skills to continue a sustainable business. We're partnering with an organization like World Vision, which has very high ethical standards.

Is that not a risk worth taking to provide those people with the wherewithal to create those business opportunities and learn those skills for the long term?

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Mr. Brown, that's all Mr. Dechert's time, but I will let you answer the question.

4:30 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Stephen Brown

I see what your point is, but I'd like to take one step back and say we're not asking if it's worthwhile to train 1,000 people. We're saying if we have a limited amount of money, where is that money best spent? The answer is not clear that it should be spent with World Vision and Barrick Gold in mining-affected communities.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

If you can train 1,000 people as opposed to 100 people by going that route—

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

That's all the time we have. That ends the round.

We have committee business after this. If there are any other follow-up questions—we don't have a ton of committee business; I would extend it to.... If it's all right with our witnesses, since they're here already, we can ask a couple of questions.

Mr. Dechert, Mr. Dewar has a question, and then if any Conservatives want to follow up....

May 7th, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

I'd be interested in following up, because I think we're getting some interesting points of view here and maybe some juxtapositions that are worthy of our committee.

Mr. Dechert was saying why not, you get this benefit when you have this “partnership”. I think one thing that I find interesting is that if the money were spent somewhere else, we would see perhaps similar or better ripple effects. I say that because the money that is going into these partnerships is predicated on having these operations.

This isn't about looking at where we can do the most good; this is where a Canadian company happens to be operating, and that's where the action is and that's where the money goes. I think it's important to note that, because without a context, we're seemingly just talking about looking at the benefits and at the outcomes.

Mr. Brown, you have made some important points on the fundamentals, and the mission, if you will—we'll call it the mission statement of CIDA and what it is supposed to do. I'm not sure if any other country is going down this path, with the exception—Mr. Eyking, I think had it. We're going down the path with China, because China is one-size-fits-all. The mining companies come in, they build the road, and some think that's the way to go.

Maybe it is, but I missed that debate, if we decided to go that route. I think the frustration for many of us is where this is situated within our international obligations. Where is it situated within good, solid development policy?

That's why I think it's important that the government come clean and say they discussed this, debated this, and their source was...fill in the blank.

We haven't heard that. All we've heard is government announcements, and great pictures, and using NGOs that, let's be frank, have been cut. I don't have to mention the list—Kairos and others that have been cut.

What's the game in town? You go to where the money is.

If we go further down this path...and you were right, let's not go too far on it, but we're not talking about all the money at CIDA, I'll grant you that, and you made that distinction.

The concern about this trend—and if you can cite any development policy or frameworks that you're aware of when the government might have come up with this idea, could you please reference them, because I can't.

4:35 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Stephen Brown

I haven't heard any evidence-based argument that has anything to do with improved effectiveness. I haven't heard any rationale cited, other than blanket statements that this is more effective. I'm not aware of any such studies anywhere that say this is a more effective way to do development.

It is a concerning trend, and I'm happy that you brought up the issue of the de-funding of the NGOs. I see this sort of thing as being linked. I see it as part of a silencing of dissent in Canada. I see it as reducing the role of NGOs in development, whereas Canada has signed all sorts of international agreements and proclaimed that NGOs are development actors in their own right.

If you look at government policy documents, they celebrate NGOs for having knowledge that CIDA doesn't have and for being able to operate where CIDA can't operate or doesn't operate as efficiently. But when it comes down to it, the way the funds are allocated does not value the partnerships and knowledge of NGOs. It's based on government-identified priorities, and that process is very opaque. There aren't discussion documents around that.

It is hard to make comparisons and say that the private sector could do this in Peru and make 1,000 jobs, and that's better than another organization that would make only 100. But which other organization would only make 100? We haven't seen any kind of competition of ideas.

There is a competition process for NGOs. It's also very opaque. But these partnerships with mining companies did not even go through that kind of competition. They were fast-tracked straight to the minister's office. They were given more money than was allocated to NGOs that did go through the official process that has official criteria. That is very worrying.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Thank you.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We'll move back over to Mr. Williamson.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Professor Brown, you made a comparison with mainland China. Do you agree with it?

4:40 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Stephen Brown

Which one? Do you mean the bundling of aid and non-aid?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

The Canadian policy...and Canadian firms by implication, when they operate overseas, they operate a little differently from Chinese firms.

4:40 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Stephen Brown

The Canadian government definitely operates differently. Only now, with these kinds of projects, is it doing the kind of bundling—

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Let me put it this way. Do you think the strategic objective of Canada is the same as it is in mainland China?

4:40 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Stephen Brown

I'm sorry, I don't see countries as having one strategic objective.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Just one policy objective of the two countries is similar.

I'm curious to kind of build on this. You throw out mainland China, and with that comes human rights abuses at home and abroad—the exploitation you see. I think it's a stretch to say that Canada is even remotely in that league. I'm just curious about whether you're implying that Canadian firms are going to start to behave like Chinese firms overseas in the way they treat workers and in some of the human rights abuses.

4:40 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Stephen Brown

That was not at all what I meant or argued. Canada has signed on to and enacted legislation that says that foreign aid is separate from commercial objectives. It's separate from investment, trade, and non-aid. So we separate aid and non-aid instruments. There are certain definitions that must be followed to count foreign aid as ODA, official development assistance.

China doesn't make those distinctions. As Mr. Eyking said, it will provide infrastructure and loans. It will invest and sign a trade agreement. It will purchase natural resources, sign a 20-year contract—all of that bundled into one.

Canada currently officially does not do that. Officially it opposes that kind of activity. But with this kind of partnership with mining activities and a focus on countries where the commercial interests, not the needs, are the greatest, we are moving towards that.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

I see. So as Mr. Eyking said, it's more of a slippery slope. But I would argue that's true in any public policy.

It sounds like it's more of a scare tactic than anything else. You're suggesting that if this were to go horribly wrong, it could fail. But I think it was a question my colleague, Mr. Dechert, raised...that with any public policy, when you're trying to achieve better results, there is always a risk.

My last question is this. If it's okay for reputable NGOs to partner with Canadian companies, why is it so bad for the Canadian government to do the same thing? I don't get that. You're suggesting they can do it, but we don't have the skill, the expertise, or, frankly, we're not interested in the value for money that they are.

4:40 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Stephen Brown

In my closing remarks I mentioned that the Canadian government has many instruments with which it can—and in response to your earlier questions I said it should—partner with Canadian companies.

My main message here is that the use of public funds with private corporations for the goal of development—and by development I mean poverty alleviation and fighting inequality—must be done only with extreme care, and my concern is that the current partnerships with these mining companies and NGOs do not meet the standard of an effective use of public development funds.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

So if we were able to demonstrate that care to you, you would have no problem with the policy?