Canada and the Post 2015 development agenda: some observations…

Picture1I have been following the discussions and scholarly literature on the Canadian development aid and agenda post 2015. I have collected some observations and tried to highlight key dimensions that are worth noting and further exploring. This framework is a work in progress. Any feedback and comments are appreciated.

Canada has always affirmed its commitment toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and beyond, and contributed lately in setting the principles that have been guiding the post 2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs) while serving on various forums, particularly the 30-seat Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs. Its presence in the development cooperation is getting off the radar screen recently. This might be attributed to a couple of factors:

  • Paradigm Shift in scoping development assistance: illustrated in the shift from a development oriented approach to a more commercial and economically driven one. This is clearly reflected in the emphasis on trade and commerce over poverty alleviation dimension.
  • Institutional set-up: as a direct manifestation of the conceptual shift, the conservative government has merged CIDA and the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2013 under the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD). As such, development and humanitarian assistance rank low in DFATD priorities. This is clearly illustrated in DFATD mandate – as defined on its website, namely to “manage Canada’s diplomatic and consular relations, to encourage the country’s international trade and to lead Canada’s international development and humanitarian assistance”.
  • Shift in focus: This shift in paradigm in favor of the new approach is associated with:
    • Emphasis on less risky places/ countries and themes, to ensure both safe implementation and steady flow of funds.
    • Obvious focus on (1) middle income countries rather than the poor ones; (2) mostly in extractive industries and (3) over a shorter timeframe to yield results.
  • Dwindling ODA contribution: manifested through the decrease (estimated at 10%) in the government ODA took place over the last 5 years.
  • Chronic ODA management syndrome: The change in perspective has not triggered changes in the way ODA is managed so far. The latter is still managed centrally, result-focused and with a tendency to avoid risks! Ian Smillie, in his contribution to the recently launched book “Rethinking Canadian Aid” has warned from three tendencies development assistance usually falls into: (1) centralized, top-down, rigid, paper-bound, and remotely managing development programs, (2) politicians’ obsession for quantitative short term results not long-term impacts! jeopardizing knowledge capture and management, and (3) Risk avoidance characterized by hiding failures and consequently losing the opportunity to learn from failures.
  • Stakeholders Engagement: The implications of the conceptual shift are observable on the Government- CSOs consultation toward post 2015 development agenda. The process has been mostly government-led and managed. In fact, DFATD has mandated an internal team to coordinate among the concerned departments and align the national agenda with the global goals, in order to support the government negotiations at the UN end of 2015. The national consultation process however was not as inclusive as it should be. There were limited opportunities for Canadian CSOs to engage and provide input. Nevertheless it is worth noting that a lot of hope is held over the recent policy on “International Development and Humanitarian Assistance Civil Society Partnership” in which the government fully recognizes the role of CSOs in achieving sustainable development. It reiterated its commitment to support an enabling environment for civil society in developing countries, to foster multi-stakeholder approaches to development.

Is this shift in paradigm for the best interest of Canada? Will the partnership policy translate into action soon? and most importantly, what are the implications of both on the SDGs era?

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