Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, everyone.
I would like to thank the committee for inviting us to appear before you today.
World Vision is a child-focused, Christian relief, development and advocacy organization, working in nearly 100 countries around the world.
We work in the world's toughest places, actively supporting and empowering communities to take control of their own futures by overcoming poverty, injustice, and fragility.
We're pleased to share our thoughts on the committee's study on countries of focus for Canada's bilateral development assistance. We understand that the committee is looking to address a number of issues during the course of this study. For our time this afternoon, we'd like to focus on how Canada's international assistance framework can effectively address the circumstances facing the least developed countries.
Let me start with an evident acknowledgement: the world is rapidly changing. Conflict, violence, inequalities, climate change, and the mass displacement of people have changed the way we look at poverty and development and challenge us to find new ways of working.
The UN refugee agency states that globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world's 24th largest. It's realities like this that strengthen our resolve to collectively envision and work with urgency toward a new reality, one in which poverty, hunger, and preventable deaths are eradicated, a world in which no one is left behind.
What will it take to get there? We must adapt our approaches and make them fit for purpose. World Vision itself is in the process of evolving its own efforts and its own approaches. We are increasingly working in fragile contexts—building resilience and sustainability, empowering citizens to hold their governments accountable, and investing in innovative partnerships. We know that there is immense opportunity before us.
In order to take advantage of these opportunities, we believe Canada can review its international assistance and design a framework that is focused on the poorest and most vulnerable in the world's toughest places, one that responds to evolving context by defining adaptable approaches. These principles have implications regarding both where and how we must focus our efforts, which I would like to unpack for you this afternoon.
Canada is a country known for upholding human rights and empowering the most disadvantaged around the world. While we've seen tremendous progress with the millennium development goals, the impact has been uneven among countries, and even within them. We need, then, to ask, who has been left behind, where they are, and how we reach them.
Let's start first with who has been left behind. They are the unregistered—children who are not officially acknowledged at birth; the missed—mothers and newborns who die in childbirth; the isolated—indigenous children and ethnic minorities living in remote rural areas and urban slums. They are the untraced—child labourers and trafficked children; the neglected—orphaned and homeless ones; the unclaimed—refugees, the stateless, and the internally displaced. Most fundamentally, they are women and girls. It is critical that we identify these individuals and keep them front and centre as we walk through these specific considerations.
Now that we've identified who these individuals are, let's focus on where we might find them.
The majority of these individuals are in places where the burden of instability, poverty, hunger and mortality are the highest, yet where the biggest gains are to be made: in fragile contexts and where pockets of fragility exist. These are the places where there is conflict and violence, widespread violations of human rights, limited access to justice and rule of law, where there is economic instability and a lower capacity to adapt to shocks and stress, and where the government may be unwilling or unable to meet the needs of all or some of its residents.
In the next decade, some of the world's most acutely vulnerable people will be living in fragile and conflict-afflicted cities and states. While we may think of traditional places like Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Somalia, they also include places like Mali, Honduras, and Nepal. For example, while Honduras and El Salvador are not traditionally known as fragile, violence in urban settings has had an adverse affect on society and its development, including things such as youth employment.
In World Vision's community development program, we're addressing the root causes of violence through investing in rehabilitation, diversion, and skills training initiatives with youth in or affected by gang violence.
Our experience in such a fragile context has shown us that significant progress is possible, so our focus should be where the risks are higher but the potential gains greater.
This brings us to recommendations about how Canada's international assistance should be designed to best reach the regions of the poorest and most vulnerable in these contexts.
In order to effectively undertake the exercise of country prioritization, we recommend that Canada not only look at countries as a whole but also recognize that pockets of vulnerability exist within countries and across regions. This should be done in coordination, of course, with the international donor community.
Let's illustrate with the examples of Jordan and Lebanon.
Jordan has been prioritized for development and humanitarian support largely as a result of its alignment to donor values, legitimacy of government, and relative stability as compared with others in the region. Canada's bilateral support to Jordan has been highly influential in ensuring effective policy development to support the growing number of refugees, including supporting refugees' ability to enter the labour market and the education sector's ability to accommodate Syrian children.
Lebanon, on the other hand, is potentially on the brink of significant escalation of conflict that will destabilize the entire region even further. In part because of poor governance and limited bilateral investment, Lebanon has been unable to effectively manage the significant influx of refugees.
While priority countries have allowed for predictability of support and reduced aid fragmentation, there needs to be a mechanism in place that allows for the nimble shifting of resources regionally, as the burden of other countries can often overwhelm priority countries.
Additionally, we recommend that once the country prioritization has been determined, an adaptive approach to bilateral development assistance be put in place. This is to ensure that country strategies and programs are responsive to who the most vulnerable populations are, wherever they may be, recognizing the kaleidoscopic, evolving context that we've described here today.
One of the challenges with the current approach to funding of the government's bilateral development programs is that it does not enable partners to use funding to adapt to changes in rapidly evolving contexts. For example, the way World Vision's own community development program model addresses this challenge is to immediately allocate 20% of private development funding to prevention and response. Repurposing such funds allows us to address emerging situations, as was the case with an unfolding food crisis in the Sahel in 2012, or currently in southern Africa with the impact of El Niño.
What would be most effective at an institutional level is an approach that sees improved cross-departmental collaboration and analysis, working together with national governments, regional bodies, and Canadian civil society to effectively respond to and prioritize these changing situations, ombined with multi-year strategic efforts, such as block grants that allow for community-led response to fluid contexts.
Such measures allow us to protect development gains, bridge the relief development divide, and transition emergency responses to recovery as soon as appropriate and possible.
In closing, we see a clear opportunity for the government to direct its focus, based on these principles, towards ensuring that we reach the unregistered, the missed, the isolated, the untraced, the neglected, the unclaimed, especially women and girls—those who are the poorest and most vulnerable in the world's toughest places.
Thank you for inviting us to be here today and for including our field-informed perspective in this important study. We look forward to your questions.
CARE Canada is pleased to appear before this committee for its study on countries of focus and thematic priorities for Canada's bilateral development assistance. It's timely for a number of reasons.
Seven years have passed since the Government of Canada selected its first 20 countries in 2009, and the list has undergone a number of changes.
In 2014 it was expanded to include 25 countries.
In 2015 the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction articulated a new plan to help communities recover from disasters.
Months later, a new global framework for international development was adopted in the form of Agenda 2030 and the sustainable development goals. Last December, the Paris agreement promised to help developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change.
Amid these changes, the geography of poverty has continued to shift. Inequality within nations has risen, erratic weather patterns have grown more frequent and severe, and crises have grown more numerous and protracted.
Today, as Canada sets out to review the framework of its international development policy on funding, the time is right to re-evaluate the “countries of focus” approach. Prompted by some of the trends just listed, CARE itself recently undertook a review of our own strategy for eliminating poverty and social injustice around the world. Much like the Government of Canada, we were motivated to focus our resources, capacities, and experience for maximum impact.
For CARE, the process began with an understanding that poverty is caused by unequal power relations. Today, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, and the majority of them are women and girls. Addressing gender inequality is therefore critical for making significant impacts on poverty.
We also see one of the greatest inequalities of our times reflected in the causes and consequences of climate change. The world's poorest and most vulnerable are the least responsible for causing climate change, yet they continue to bear the brunt of its impact.
Building on this analysis, CARE provides three ways of addressing the underlying causes of poverty and social injustice: strengthening gender equality and women's voices; promoting inclusive government; and increasing resilience to climate change, conflict, and disasters.
We committed to four specific outcomes by 2020: that 20 million people affected by the humanitarian crisis will receive life-saving humanitarian assistance; that 100 million women and girls will exercise their rights to sexual, reproductive, and maternal health and a life free from violence; that 50 million poor and vulnerable people will increase their food and nutrition security and their resilience to climate change; and that 30 million women will have greater access to and control over economic resources.
These outcome areas share many similarities with the thematic priorities that have guided the Government of Canada's international development efforts in the last years. We are pleased that the themes being prioritized by the present government largely build upon Canada's strengths in these areas.
Determining where to concentrate one's efforts to achieve the greatest impact is another exercise that CARE has recently experienced.
In 2015 we undertook to generate an index for development and humanitarian needs. This required us to develop a set of criteria to determine where needs were greatest with respect to each of our thematic priorities: the percentage and the overall number of people living under the poverty line, the prevalence of maternal mortality and of women's economic inclusion, and so on. Our analysis also took key global indexes and reports into account, such as the Gini inequality index, the global climate change adaptation index, the gender development index, and the index for risk management.
Finally, we considered future needs and risks, including the vulnerability of a country or a region to climate change, the projected conflicts risk, the projected number of people below the poverty line by 2030, etc.
The end result was a tabulation of countries with the greatest needs, categorized under each of the thematic priorities defined in our own program strategy. For instance, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Madagascar topped the list under overall poverty and inequality, while Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen topped the list of countries in need of assistance in areas such as women's economic empowerment.
Many countries, of course, were found in need in several areas. However, critically, our analysis showed that not all development needs are created equal in all countries. Some communities are best assisted through a combination of civil society and institutional capacity-building. Others stand to benefit most from measures to strengthen women's access to safe or dignified jobs. Yet others are better suited to receive support targeting women's access to nutritious food.
The Government of Canada today faces a unique opportunity to undertake a similar analysis to ensure its international assistance is tailored to address the right issues in the right communities for the greatest possible impact. CARE Canada is pleased to present five recommendations to help guide this process:
First, the government should undertake an evaluation of Canada's country-of-focus approach. This should include an assessment of what has worked or not worked since the approach was first adopted in 2009. Has the focus on selected countries truly enhanced the impact and efficiency of Canada's development assistance? Has it improved development outcomes for women and girls in those communities?
Second, the government should ensure that its focus on helping the poorest and most vulnerable people defines how, where, and what type of assistance is delivered. Need, in other words, should not be defined by a country's status as a least developed country. According to the World Bank, 73% of the world's poor live in middle-income countries. People, not countries, should be the targets of Canadian assistance. In CARE's experience, inequality is the lens through which these people are best identified and assisted.
Third, if a country-of-focus approach is retained, the government should be held to account for those commitments. This means developing long-term, 10-year to 15-year strategies for each country in consultation with implementing partners. This should be linked to broader regional strategies and attached to transparent and predictable funding envelopes. They should also be underpinned by robust monitoring and evaluation systems and subject to regular reviews. They should be flexible enough to accommodate changing conditions but rigid enough to follow through on complex change. They should include mechanisms to support emergency preparedness in countries prone to natural disasters or conflict and to redirect resources when disaster strikes.
Fourth, Canada's new international assistance framework should include a mechanism for regular impact monitoring. The broad range of indicators attached to the sustainable development goals provide a ready means to help Canada measure their impact while ensuring alignment with global objectives.
Finally, international development assistance must always be motivated by the interests of the people it aims to serve. The amalgamation of Canada's foreign affairs, international trade, and international development departments creates the conditions for more coherent and efficient engagement in the world. Trade and diplomacy can do much to leverage Canadian advantage and support international development objectives. However, international development itself is undermined if it is seen to support trade and diplomatic outcomes.
With that, I thank you for your attention. I look forward to answering your questions.
Honourable members of the committee, thank you so much for having me here today.
As I mentioned before, I'm Carleen McGuinty, the deputy director of international policy and programs at UNICEF Canada.
Thank you for inviting UNICEF Canada to speak this afternoon. I will be speaking to you about our perspective on bilateral aid from the government of Canada and about our recommendations regarding your study. I will be focusing on the development of the government's new strategy.
I will be pleased to answer your questions in French, but I will be giving my presentation in English.
Very briefly, UNICEF is the United Nations' children's agency. We're active in 190 countries around the world. UNICEF Canada was established 60 years ago. We work tirelessly in the areas of health, education, protection, emergencies, clean water, nutrition, and the list goes on. We've benefited from a very good and strong partnership with the Government of Canada, and I'm delighted to be here today to share our perspective with you.
I've just returned from Chad. I returned on Friday afternoon. I spent a week there. I want to give you a little bit of a perspective on what I saw. It will inform some of our discussion.
Chad is a fragile state. It is not a country of focus for Canada. It is a member of La Francophonie. It is almost at the very bottom of the human development index. It's at number 184 out of 187. It is completely surrounded by fragile states. It's surrounded by Libya, Sudan, Central African Republic, and Nigeria, to name a few.
It is in a very precarious situation. It also has one of the highest mortality rates for children under five in the world, the third-highest. It has low immunization rates. Child marriage is an issue. The list goes on and on. This is one of the toughest places in the world to be a child or a woman.
I went there to see a vaccination campaign against tetanus. This is a program that the Government of Canada is funding UNICEF Canada to do. We're there with partners. Despite there being very little infrastructure, we've been able to immunize thousands of women against tetanus, which is a killer of their children. It actually kills newborns within a few days of birth if the umbilical cords were cut with unclean instruments.
We are able to vaccinate all these women. The reason we were able to do that is, first, because of the support of the national government. The government has committed to purchasing all vaccine for all immunizations. Second, we were working with a number of partners, including Gavi, the World Health Organization, and local partners on the ground.
What was apparent was that they are also using local innovation. They are using solar-powered energy to make sure these vaccines are cold, so although they don't have a lot of resources, they are using what they have, and that's the sun.
I met some women who were being vaccinated in a very remote area of the country, thousands of kilometres away from the capital. What was apparent was that, yes, they were happy to be vaccinated, happy for the protection, but they kept telling me, “We have no water here”, “We have no schools here”, “Our children have to leave school so they can help me fetch the water”, and “The water we have isn't clean.”
This is just to give you a sense that there are still a lot of very fundamental aspects that have not yet been addressed. We need to continue working in some of these most underserved places and continue to reach the children who are living in these hardest-to-reach places. I think Canada is well positioned to do that.
I want to start by saying that this is an exciting time for Canada to be reviewing its international development assistance. We're in 2016. It's the new era of international development. We have the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. We are now looking at a global agenda for the world. We have progress. We know where we want to go. We have 17 goals and we can work together to achieve them.
I think Canada needs to use the sustainable development goals and this agenda to drive our work and to measure progress. There are 169 targets. We don't have to measure ourselves against all of them, but we can select those where we'll have the most impact and use them to drive Canada's international development assistance and to show progress.
I have to say that Canada really has to be commended for the work that the government did ahead of signing the 2030 agenda for sustainable development to ensure that children were part of these goals. Canada played a leadership role there, and I think we should be very proud of that.
I want to make sure children and youth are at the heart of Canada's international development assistance. They have to be at the heart of delivering the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, and they are the litmus test for the health and future well-being of all our societies.
Currently, securing the future of children and youth is part of Canada's development strategy. That focus needs to continue. Children still suffer disproportionately from poverty.
There is a very strong economic argument to invest in children; there are very strong economic and social returns. Children and young people are not passive recipients of aid; when we invest in their rights, they grow into the people who will change our world for the better.
Also, what UNICEF has realized through our own research is that if we reach the most disadvantaged children first, if we invest in the most disadvantaged children first, this has two key advantages: it allows us to be faster at making progress, and it is more cost-effective than focusing on the easiest-to-reach children.
Canada can't do it all, so how can we make Canada's aid work harder and smarter?
The way we can do that is by focusing on the most underfunded areas of the sustainable development goals. Those are the areas of health and nutrition for children, child protection, quality education, and early childhood development. This isn't just the right thing to do; this is what economists are saying is the right things to do. This is where you get the biggest bang for your buck.
There is the Copenhagen Consensus, which is over 100 peer-reviewed analyses from the world's top economists and sector experts. They have identified 19 of the 169 targets of the SDGs as being the most effective investments, and 13 of those 19 are targets that are focused on children. I would encourage Canada to focus its efforts on these 13 targets.
Furthermore, as I said, Canada can't do it all. Where can we do it?
The number one priority is to focus on the most vulnerable people. Those are children and youth who are living in hard-to-reach areas, and they need our help. They include children who are living in humanitarian emergencies and in fragile settings. We know that cycles of poverty are intergenerational, and they are perpetuated because of the repeated and cumulative effects of crises. If we want to stop these, we need to invest in resilient development. Resilient development means providing children and communities with what they need to better prepare for shocks in the future, to better manage crises, and to recover from these more rapidly. Canada is already investing in some of these areas, and it should continue down that path.
The second priority is to make sure that we are supporting the gains that have been achieved. Between 2015 and 2030, a number of countries are going to move from a low-income to a middle-income status. That doesn't necessarily mean that the government has the capacity to make that transition. We need to continue investing in these countries, making sure we can help them sustain the gains they have made.
We need to leave room for innovation. Canada's aid needs to remain flexible and nimble so that we can invest in those game-changing initiatives for children—for example, clean energy. We know that if kids can have access to safe lighting at home and clean cookstoves, this will change their family's life. They will be healthier, they will be able to do their homework safely, and girls won't be forced to go out to collect firewood and be exposed to exploitation.
Lastly, Canada needs to play to its strengths. We have a comparative advantage in certain areas, including maternal, newborn, and child health; sexual and reproductive health; and climate change.
In the area of maternal, newborn, and child health, we know that Canada is a leader. We need Canada to continue to invest in sustaining these gains. There are still eleven children under the age of five who die every minute. We need Canada to remain focused there.
We also need to make sure that children are healthy and protected from violence. We can't exclude the issue of violence. This is a new area in the sustainable development goals, and Canada has been a leader. If Canada pulls out of this area, we risk losing the gains that were made. In fact, this committee conducted a study in June on the issue of protection of children against violence. I would encourage the committee to look at the recommendations that came out of that study.
Canada has invested heavily in addressing climate change. It is an exciting opportunity and it has a lot of benefits for children. We know that children are the ones who suffer disproportionately from climate change. Investments in clean energy will go a long way, and we are very encouraged by Canada's investments in this area.
That is where I leave it with you. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.
I will answer in English.
I think you're right. We have not enough resources to go to every country, and we know for a fact that focusing resources normally has a bigger long-term impact.
I think the critical element is how the Canadian agencies are going to balance both. We need to focus in order to not be changing priorities but to be able to invest in long-term plans—those I mentioned, of 10 years or 15 years, because the kinds of changes we want to have are in many cases behavioural changes, changes in capacity of government, of infrastructure, and we cannot do these things in a four-year plan. That's going to be one way.
On the other side, we want to be able to create funding mechanisms with governments and agencies that are also flexible in responding to change.
As an example, CARE is working with the Government of Canada in many areas in Ethiopia. We have a long-term plan in Ethiopia around food security, nutrition, maternal health, microfinance. It's a very comprehensive approach, responding on a five-, six-, seven-year basis in different areas.
We've had El Niño. We've had several droughts, one after the other. We have to have mechanisms such that certain elements of the funding that was planned in a very specific plan can also be allocated for some specific needs in a more humanitarian action that actually is going to build capacity and is going to build the resilience of those communities to continue on their development path.
It is not going to be an easy journey, but it's going to be a journey of balance.
The other piece—I think World Vision was very clear—is the regional approach. Most of the issues that we are facing today are regional. Most of the strategies that most of the agencies are developing are regional—southern Africa, the Sahel, Central America—because the issues are regional. Focusing on one country is not always going to be the best way.
The other piece is going to be how we engage as Canadians with other donors and other governments in our plans and how we have that discussion, which is actually already happening in many places today, on countries and how we talk with the other development agencies to be sure that where the Canadians cannot go, the French, say, can go.
I think these are the three elements that we have to have under consideration to achieve the goals that we want.
I think you've enumerated a number of concerns that do soak up a lot of the aid investment dollars.
I think one of the aspects is counterbalances, or checks and balances, in having resources not just go to one level of government or to one NGO or to one multilateral. It helps with some of that. What we should have is a co-operative spirit. Some of those competitive metrics keep us all honest.
What we found is that we are able to work with local community actors. Whether it's at the national level, at a regional level, or a local level, we try to identify the power actors all along the strata who can be influenced to do what's right and to ensure best value for dollar in their community context. As we identify them, they're able to advocate for better impacts for their community.
One of the things we found helpful is something we call Citizen Voice and Action, which empowers local actors. They may say, for example, that they want to ensure better development outcomes in education in their community. The breakdown is that maybe they have teachers and they have books, but the calibre of teaching is not up to snuff or the teachers don't even show up, even though they're paid for.
They are able to band together and advocate with the local government, or even at the national government level, to say these things are not being upheld. It's like giving them a microphone or a megaphone they can use to advocate for those things.
We're trying to do that at different levels. We may identify at one level.... I remember that in China I was approached by a local official who said, “We weren't keen on working with you at first when you came to our community, but we saw your concern, your care, and the impact on children in these communities, and we realize as party officials that we wanted to replicate this in other areas.” That changed it from a combative relationship to a collaborative relationship.
I think stitching that together is one of the ways we can do this. Whether it's an NGO community, government actors, civil society, or faith-based actors, there are different capillaries that can get development into areas to address the real needs of men, women, and children.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I am happy to be here today to speak to you about issues related to development assistance from Canada. As the chair, Mr. Nault, said earlier, I am a professor at the University of Ottawa's School of Political Studies. I have been working on development assistance issues for at least two decades, and on Canadian development assistance for about 15 years. It is with pleasure that I will be sharing with you the results of my research and observations in the medium term, not to mention the long term.
I should also mention that I've written a number of publications on development assistance from Canada, including a chapter I sent to the clerk today. I don't know whether it will be possible to provide copies of it to MPs and committee members. I am also co-editor of several books on development assistance, the latest of which will be out in a few weeks. This second edition is entitled Rethinking Canadian Aid.
I'll be happy to send copies of the book to each and every one of you, if that would be welcome.
I'm very happy to be talking about the question of focus, because I think it's quite a red herring in foreign aid programs, and not just Canada's. I think there's too much emphasis being put on which countries and which sectors and on the idea that if we just get the countries right and we just get the sectors right, with the themes right, Canada or whatever country we're talking about will have a much more effective aid program.
There's actually no evidence that focusing on a smaller number of countries or themes increases aid effectiveness. I believe my colleague Lauchlan Munro will be talking about that. He has published on this point. He makes a very compelling case.
What I would like to say is that it introduces an element of “flavour of the month”. It's not quite “the month”, because it usually takes a few years for priorities to change. If we look at the Chrétien government, we see that they actually changed pretty frequently, often every time there was a new minister. A new minister would come in, and agriculture would be put on the list. Then the next minister would come in, and agriculture would come off and children would come on.
Even if we only revise our themes and our countries every few years, this introduces many elements that are actually contrary to aid effectiveness principles. One thing that is pretty obvious would be volatility or unpredictability and the perception that Canada cannot be seen as a reliable partner working with specific countries or working on specific themes.
It can also lead to over-concentration. If we're picking themes that are trendy internationally, then we're following the herd. We're spending money where everybody else is spending money and we're neglecting themes that are neglected by other donors.
In terms of countries, let me illustrate some of the quandary that Canadian aid has been in because of this rotating list.
Burkina Faso and Benin were introduced as countries of focus or development partners, depending on the terminology used at the time. They were added to the list in 2005. They had not previously been on the list. They were added in 2005, removed in 2011, and added again in 2014. I think you can understand that this is not a formula for effective aid or being a reliable partner.
Having a list of countries of focus also constrains us needlessly. It introduces new problems when something happens in a certain country and we don't wish to continue our aid there.
For instance, soon after Burkina Faso was re-added to the list in 2014, there was a coup, and Canada suspended aid. Recently Canada suspended aid to Mozambique, a country of focus, because of corruption; aid was suspended to Mali, a country of focus, because of a coup; and aid was suspended to Haiti, a long-standing country of focus, as well. This introduces a very unhealthy dynamic, if what we care about is aid effectiveness.
To me, the question of focus is mainly one of branding. It's, for one thing, to be able to say that “we”—Canada or the Canadian government, or quite often “we”, the political party in power—have this as our branded aid program: this is what we do.
I would say that this is in many ways very limiting. You heard from the previous witnesses about how it constrains countries in terms of lack of flexibility. If Ebola comes up and you're working in one country but not another, this hampers efforts.
The targets of having 75% or 80% or 90% of your bilateral aid focused in one country is not driven by effectiveness; it's driven by the idea that you can say this and it looks good to the Canadian public.
I would abolish the list of countries of focus. I think we should focus on certain types of countries, and I would agree with people from the previous panel who talked about low-income countries and fragile states. It doesn't mean that we should not provide assistance in middle-income countries, but I think our focus, even if we don't name the countries, should be on low-income and fragile states.
If you choose not to follow my advice and want to maintain a list, I have a few recommendations.
One would be to drop Ukraine. Ukraine is not even a developing country, in most people's perspective. It is literally at the border of the European Union, and they are much better equipped to provide assistance. It is also not a country with a lot of absorptive capacity right now, because of great instability and corruption.
Other countries that have made their way onto the list that I don't think should be priorities for Canada, whether they are named or not, would be Colombia, Mongolia, and Peru.
I think we also need to take into account the issue of donors, of donor darlings, and of orphans. We can't just think, in isolation, “What should Canada do?” We need to look at what other countries are doing.
Consider, for instance, Mozambique. Everybody's in Mozambique. Does Canada also need to be in Mozambique? There are some countries, such as the Central African Republic, that were neglected for a long time by all the donors. This had maybe not a direct but at least an indirectly detrimental effect and reinforced instability in that country.
Myanmar is another example. It was added to Canada's list in 2014. I think it's part of a global rush not only to have a presence in Myanmar but also to have access to Myanmar's mineral resources.
I do not think these are good reasons to have these countries as countries of focus.
I'm especially interested, if Canada continues to select countries of focus, in what the criteria will be. Until recently one of the criteria on the Global Affairs website was the country's alignment with Canadian foreign policy. I noticed today that it's no longer there.
I was actually happy to see it was no longer there, because alignment with Canadian foreign policy is not about development; it's about Canada. This can often harm aid effectiveness, and it is not the purpose of foreign aid. Foreign aid is defined by Canadian law to be all about poverty reduction, and the definition of official development assistance agreed to, including by Canada, in the OEDC development assistance committee, DAC, means that it has to be directed towards the welfare of the recipient country.
Now I'd like to talk a little bit about themes. I'm aware that I should probably go too quickly, though the interpreters might not like that, because we're running late and I certainly don't want to steal time from my colleagues.
Regarding themes, again the tendency has been “flavour of the month”. As I mentioned before, every time we had a new minister or a new government, we had new themes.
I notice that the instruction I received for the discussion here today—or perhaps it's the mandate for this committee—is to talk about “the sectoral themes that the Canadian government has prioritized, namely food security, sustainable economic growth, and securing the future of children and youth”.
I was actually quite surprised by this, because it is my understanding that the Canadian government has already moved on to new themes. I was at a consultation at Global Affairs Canada on Friday, and Ms. Gould, the parliamentary secretary, was there. We were presented with six new themes. I'm interested in hearing from the members of the committee, perhaps after the hearing, to what extent you're examining the old themes, when it seems that the new themes have already been decided.
I have a lot to say about these new themes, but I won't say it now because of time. If you want to ask me a question about these specific themes, I would be very pleased to share my thoughts with you and also some thoughts, from what I've seen, on the consultation process.
One question I have about themes, and I've been following them for the past decade or more, is whether they actually mean anything. Sometimes we have so many themes that you can fit almost anything into them, in which case they don't actually provide any focus at all. In other cases it could be that they do have an influence, but in such a case, it's mainly about branding, about being able to say “this is what we do”.
When we had new themes in 2009, we included food security, because that was a hot topic at the time. Now the six new themes don't include food security.
Or do they? When I asked Global Affairs officials about it, they told me how, from these six themes, you could sort of fit food security into three of them. That to me suggested that it's not about actually changing the work but about changing the optics, and I don't think that's a very effective use of anybody's time.
To conclude, I would say that Canada should not focus on specific themes unless we take a global theme, such as poverty reduction, or maybe add inequality, because those are the real purposes of aid. What we do should be focused on reducing and perhaps even eliminating poverty and reducing inequality.
I don't think we can reduce inequality, but that is what's defined in the ODA accountability act.
We should not be entertaining reasons of trade and investment, as has been the case in the past. Reducing the amount of partisan branding of particular themes and countries of focus would create more staying power.
To conclude, to me focus is not the magic bullet. It should not actually be the main topic under discussion, if we want to improve Canadian aid.
If the committee is interested, we can talk about other things that would improve Canadian aid, such as decentralization, empowering people on the ground, or giving decision-making power and spending power to people on the ground who understand what is going on in the country. We heard about the need to be nimble. You cannot be nimble when you're in Ottawa and don't have a strong sense of what's going on on the ground and need 23 signatures and three and a half years to get any new project approved.
I will end there. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I will be speaking to you in English, but if you'd like to ask me any questions or make any comments in French, it will be my pleasure to respond to you in the official language of your choice.
Countries like Canada provide aid to foreign countries for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we seek to alleviate poverty overseas, sometimes we want to help contribute to some global public good, sometimes we want to win friends and influence people abroad, and sometimes we contribute funding just so that we can have a seat at the table and know what's going on in that part of the world. Overarching all of these objectives is, of course, a concern that public funds should be spent wisely, effectively, and honestly.
Sometimes these various objectives come into conflict with each other. We saw an example of that under the last government, when the policy of focusing our aid on fewer countries in the name of greater aid effectiveness came into conflict with our objective of winning enough friends and influencing people to get them to vote us onto the UN Security Council.
The idea that Canada's aid should be focused on fewer recipient countries is rooted in the objective of aid effectiveness. The idea of greater country focus is, as my colleague Stephen Brown has said, an old one. Indeed, I suspect I was invited here today because over a decade ago I wrote an article on this, and I entitled my article “Focus-pocus?” I have long been, and continue to be, a sceptic on country focus as a way of increasing aid effectiveness.
Focusing aid on fewer countries makes intuitive sense, and that's why the idea became and has stayed popular in policy and media circles. Working in fewer countries means that we have fewer overhead costs for each country program. If we work in fewer countries, we get to know their problems better and can work more effectively with them to solve their problems, or so the argument goes.
Why, then, do I remain a sceptic about the benefits of country focus as a way of increasing the effectiveness of Canada's aid program?
Well, first of all, I know of no evidence whatsoever to prove the assertion that working in fewer countries increases a given aid program's effectiveness—not for Canada, not for any other country. I'm not even aware of any attempt to construct a measure of aid effectiveness for bilateral programs that could then be correlated with a measure of country focus. While country focus may make intuitive sense, the lack of concrete evidence to support the notion is absolutely striking. The idea that aiding fewer countries will make Canada's aid program more effective is faith-based policy-making, not evidence-based policy-making.
The most focused bilateral aid program in the world, as far as I know, is the Belgian development cooperation group. Historically, well over half of Belgium's aid has gone to a single recipient country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Without wishing any disrespect to my Belgian friends and colleagues, I know of no one who will tell you that Belgium's is the best bilateral aid program in the world, or even close to it.
If Canada did focus its aid on fewer countries in the name of aid effectiveness, would that be enough? Would Canada's aid suddenly become more effective if we gave it to fewer countries? It might, but if and only if Canada did other things to increase its aid effectiveness.
I have argued before this committee in the past that the first step in aid effectiveness should be a fundamental rethink of the tsunami of bureaucratic rules, oversight, and risk- and results-based management procedures that have engulfed our good public servants in recent years under governments of all political stripes in the name of accountability.
I hasten to add, lest I be accused of being partisan, that I cannot recall any opposition party denouncing this tendency either.
Moreover, the logic of country focus tells us that our bilateral aid program would be more effective because we would be specializing on fewer countries and would get to know these fewer countries better, but that logic, if we really followed it—and we haven't, as my colleague has just shown, with all the flipping in and out of that list—would impel us to redesign Global Affairs Canada's whole system of recruitment, training, career development, and rotation. At the risk of oversimplifying somewhat, our current system values generalists, not country or regional experts. Taking country focus seriously would imply a generation-long attention span by politicians and senior public officials to set a list of focus countries, and then follow that up with a systematic cultivation of deep expertise on individual countries, including fluency in local vernacular languages.
I cannot end without making one final comment on the whole issue of country focus in our bilateral aid program. That comment is to say that country focus is a very 20th century way of looking at things. It assumes that bilateral aid and bilateral co-operation with independent states is at the heart of the aid and international co-operation business. While that might have been the case 30 or 40 years ago, it is no longer the case.
Today the most interesting and important challenges in international development and international co-operation all cross national borders. Climate change; new and emerging diseases like Zika, Ebola and SARS; international peace and security; the fight against transnational organized crime, including terrorism; international financial instability—none of these problems will be solved or even dented by bilateral aid programs. They can only be addressed by international—indeed, global—co-operation.
At the next level down, the more mundane but nonetheless important issues, such as river basin management, the construction of regional infrastructure projects, and the movement of refugees, require transnational networks of projects that are consciously linked and complementary with each other.
Focusing our bilateral program on fewer countries is not inherently a bad idea, but it is no magic bullet and it is an unproven idea; in fact, it's one that's never been tried. Furthermore, and more importantly, we have reason to believe that the frontiers of development co-operation lie elsewhere, in areas where co-operation must be multilateral, not bilateral, and where developing countries must be brought in as equal participants in the search for solutions to problems that are global and networked and beyond the power of any single actor, even the most powerful, to conquer.
Thank you for your consideration.
Good evening everyone. Thanks for inviting me today.
I'm a professor at UQAM. I head the Canadian Research Institute on Humanitarian Crisis and Aid at the School of Management. However, before becoming an academic, I worked at CARE Canada for a number of years, as well as at the Red Cross. I was a practitioner and now I'm a researcher, which makes me a bit schizophrenic. That said, you need not worry.
I'll do my presentation in French, but as did my colleague, if there's any question in English, I'll be happy to respond.
I prepared my allocution trying to answer each of the four questions we were asked. My approach was therefore an academic one. My colleagues have already showed me what was required of us. This is what happens when you are the last one to appear. At least it's reassuring to me because, as scientists, we've arrived at the same conclusions. I will therefore avoid being redundant and and focus my presentation more on the recommendations.
Beyond what my colleagues have said—particularly with regard to inconclusive evidence on sectoral and regional focus —I will say, if I may be so bold, as a former practitioner—and Mr. Brown also noted this—I believe that geographic focus remains, even today, despite everything, a form of consensus that is associated with a way of thinking that is far from scientific, but that still seems absolutely reasonable.
I'd like to pick up on what Mr. Brown was saying about predictability, that is to say, the importance of being predictable. We understand that we're dealing with countries that don't have the ability to draw financial resources from taxes or their taxation systems. It's clear that their funding comes from outside the country. If they can't plan for the long term in developing their own policies, then we become a bad partner. I think that long-term agreements with countries or regions would be the way to go in that regard.
It's already been said, but I'll emphasize again that, for me, the importance that geographic focus can have on building local capacity is the other key element. This means that, within this predictability, it's important that local institutions and governance be able to develop. Unfortunately, we are often faced with extremely deficient and dysfunctional governance at all levels. If we are able to build local governance over time, I think we'll become a better partner.
The second question we were asked was whether Canada should focus its bilateral development assistance on fewer countries. This relates a bit to the first point. I believe that what my colleagues and I have found is a failure that's due to our country's inability to remain focused on specific countries. Rest assured that we're not the only ones.
Today I looked at the most recent statistics. Canada provides bilateral assistance to 130 countries around the world, out of a total of about 198. Ultimately, we're not that far from offering support to the United States. As far as I'm concerned, without getting into too narrow of a focus by country, I believe it is crucial that we dramatically reduce the number of countries with which we have bilateral or multilateral assistance agreements.
I think Canada is a very unique country. Its history, its diaspora, and its bilingualism make it such that we're locked into a number of multilateral and bilateral agreements. In the past, we've seen a good number of politicians, ministers, and governments pressured by requests and demands, which forced us to say yes because we wanted to be a good actor on the international stage. However, I think that in order to do that, we have to learn to say no and to keep focused.
We talked about the negative example of Belgium, and I agree. But, there are still countries that focused on assistance, which yielded more positive results. Take Denmark, for example. Canada could at least use it as a model because it's a good example. Denmark's assistance to Bolivia and Angola, among others, has been quite fruitful, even though there were many difficulties.
The third question we were asked was how Canadian assistance should take into account the varying circumstances in different countries? As we just mentioned, in the aftermath of the major crisis of the Ebola pandemic, with earthquakes, climate change, and the increased presence of ISIS, Canada has no other choice but to incorporate humanitarian assistance and the protection of civilians into its international assistance program.
These major issues, like others that were already mentioned, are not themes centered on specific countries. Rather, they are broader and more long-standing themes in certain regions and that must be analyzed in a scientific manner or, at a minimum, given serious consideration. All of this is aimed at understanding these issues and trying to respond in a general or geographic manner—and not by country—to the great challenges facing humanity today.
I do not share the view of my colleague, Stephen Brown. I think that Canada should withdraw immediately from middle-income countries, starting with Ukraine. It doesn't make us a good donor country. I think that withdrawing from middle-income countries would be a step in the right direction. We could reduce the number of countries of focus and significantly increase Canadian assistance based on the vulnerability of populations rather than on our own business opportunities, as was often the case in the past.
The fourth question is as follows: how can Canada align its bilateral assistance programs with its ongoing commitment to support the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? The previous panel of witnesses discussed this a bit. It was interesting. I think it showed that the objectives of the United Nations were completely and practically always unattainable and unrealistic. So what happens is that you fail, change names, and start over again.
Obviously, having the same objectives becomes a kind of roadmap for donor countries to coordinate and harmonize their efforts. Coordination among donor countries is, in my view, one of the crucial issues, beyond even the geographic concentration we should have. My response to this question is that Canada must support this initiative while ensuring it always has added value.
I am getting to the value-added dimensions accompanied by a few recommendations. I will briefly list five.
Indeed, Canada must absolutely avoid the trap of spreading itself too thinly policy-wise. Even if there are howls of protest—as there sometimes are when political decisions are made, and you would know this better than I—I think we should withdraw our financial assistance from middle-income countries in a logical and gradual manner.
We must also ensure that building local capacity and governance is the central driver of all our actions. In fact, in my own writings, and based on my experience, this is certainly where there is the most agreement on effective ways of helping poorer countries free themselves from the grip of poverty. As I understand it, international assistance will have to cease one day because there will be no more poverty. To this end, we must indeed ensure the emancipation of our partners.
More than a cross-cutting theme, Canadian assistance must ensure that all of its methods are directed towards strengthening local institutions. Despite the fact that my former employers were seated at the table a few minutes ago, I note that this may involve funding local organizations without going through Canadian intermediaries. What Mr. Brown was saying earlier is fundamental. We must absolutely keep open the possibility of decentralizing assistance and having decisions made locally. Obviously, local populations and governance structures are in the best position to know how they want to work towards achieving their emancipation.
The third recommendation is aimed at ensuring women are at the heart of development. I won't say much more on the matter because it appears that the current government, particularly Minister Bibeau, already issued a statement on that this week or last week. As far as I'm concerned, I was extremely satisfied to hear that issues of gender equality will be a priority for this government.
The fourth recommendation is to capitalize on the added value Canada and its implementing organizations bring to the table. I'm basically referring to NGOs in the case of bilateral international assistance. In terms of geography, I won't be providing many details. I will do as my colleagues did. If you have any questions, we can discuss them later.
More specifically, we are prisoners of our bilingualism. As a result, dimensions related to West Africa and Haiti obviously have much meaning. The Horn of Africa also has a lot of meaning for English-speaking countries. However, India and Ukraine leave me scratching my head about the kind of expenditures we are making with our tax dollars.
On a thematic level, we quite clearly bring added value to the fields of health, water, and economic development. We need to maintain this important envelope of emergency humanitarian aid, which is an extremely well-built tool in terms of reacting and responding to the multitude of crises confronting humanity right now.
This last point is particularly important to me. I'm convinced that it is also of particular concern to my colleagues. It's the dimension of research and building Canadian capacity. What does this mean? It means that today, Canada's assistance policy depends, in my view, essentially on American and European assistance policies. By “American”, I mean the United States, of course. Why?
Why is that the case? Most humanitarian and development organizations are either American or European, and they themselves depend on external capacities. The development of their own capacities and analytic networks and their current influence on government officials tend to skew somewhat our perception of reality.
Canada must commit, with its community of practice, organizations, and researchers, in other words, with its community as a whole, to strengthening its capacity, and to stronger institutions that are more capable of carrying out research and establishing evidence to help us provide the information you need to make the best possible decisions.
The questions that you are asking today are completely legitimate and necessary. However, as I just mentioned, they are an indicator of the fact that we still have too little information and evidence on the impact of our official development assistance. We need to better understand what works. We need to find better ways of sharing what does not work as a result of our capacities. The assistance field is heavily controlled by NGOs, and the field is obviously strongly linked to consultation. This does not favour openness with regard to lessons learned. Instead, the assistance is presented as a black box, a charity business, and we are not at all up to date on what is being done, in particular in several European countries.
We must demand a better understanding of the problems and failures, because they do exist, to find solutions. Unfortunately, the failures are being hidden and what works well is basically being repeated.
Lastly, I would simply like to mention that Global Affairs Canada is currently providing one million dollars in funding to different think tanks and research centres worldwide, in particular in Europe and the United States, and that no funding is allocated to Canadian research and capacity development organizations. I am thinking of ODI and ALNAP, among others.
The Canadian government has resources. It encourages capacity development outside our country. Obviously, today we have very few resources, with limited research capacity and Canadian organizations that depend on their international networks to develop a Canadian public policy.
I am certain that if we reinvest in our capacities and our community of practice, we could better inform decision-making and possibly present much more satisfactory evidence to the committee.
Is the committee aware of what these six themes are? No?
Okay, let me read them.
My understanding is partial. I participated in these consultations that were held on Friday. They were aimed at NGOs and consultants in international development.
We were given six themes to discuss, and we broke into groups to discuss each of the six themes.
The first is health and rights of women and children. I noticed that Minister Bibeau was already making announcements and press releases around specifically this wording, so to me it seems as though it has already been adopted.
The second is green economic growth and climate change.
The third is governance, pluralism, diversity, and human rights.
The fourth is peace and security.
The fifth is responding to humanitarian crises.
The sixth is delivering results by promoting innovation and improving effectiveness, transparency, and partnerships. I still have trouble wrapping my head around that one.
Part of my problem is the way this consultation took place. To me, it wasn't really a consultation. It was a sort of stage-managed way of getting us to talk about them, but because we were broken down into groups with each table addressing one of these, there was no space to actually ask why these six themes were chosen, whether these were good ideas, or whether these themes were actually well formulated.
For instance, the first one is health and rights of women and children. My guess is that they took maternal, newborn, and child health—MNCH—which was a Harper government initiative and closely associated with the prime minister, and they wanted to add sexual and reproductive rights, which is something the Liberals had talked about, so they somewhat transformed it: they changed the word “mothers” to “women” and then added on “rights”. However, if we're talking about health and rights of women and children, why just health and rights? Why not also education? What about human rights, which are in number three? Why are women's rights number one and human rights number three? There have been court cases about whether women are people, and I think that's been resolved.
To me there's overlap there. It seems to be... You have to go into the path dependency of this. It wasn't designed to be effective; it was designed to take the old one and rebrand it and add in the thing they wanted.
Responding to humanitarian crises is something that we do. To me, it's an activity; I don't understand how it's a theme. I don't know, to go back to health and rights of women and children, whether it is different from gender equality. Is this an overarching theme, a cross-cutting theme, a separate theme? I'm not sure.
I don't know what the future consultations will look like, but I hope they will involve some space such that people can actually comment on these themes. We were told time and time again that nothing was set in stone, that everything was up for debate, but the way it was organized showed that these six themes were already decided, and off the record, people from Global Affairs Canada said that the minister was very attached to these themes. I don't quite understand what a consultative process is if the decision has already been made.
As I said, I was interested in the fact that food security was no longer there. When I asked about whether that means that Canada is no longer going to work on food security, I was told that it fits in theme number one, because women need good nutrition, especially expectant mothers, and children need nutrition too. I was told that agriculture fits under green economic growth and climate change and that food aid is an important part of responding to humanitarian crises.
That goes back to my previous point: does this make a difference or not? If we're still doing food security and we have now split it among these three themes but are going to keep doing what we're already doing, why does it matter? Why do we need themes? Why do we need to change themes?
If it does make a difference—if we are dropping food security— then can we have a discussion about that?
Yes, absolutely, the obstacles are a problem, and there's no easy answer to any of them. When a civil war breaks out, it is going to hamper your aid delivery and it will increase overhead costs.
I think that what happens all too often is that aid effectiveness is not the determining factor in aid programs. Often, these are very political decisions. The largest program the Canadian government has ever had in foreign aid was in Afghanistan, and that was all about security interests. It was about showing to NATO that Canada was a team player.
In many ways, the spending was very misguided, so much of the money was wasted. Our focus in Kandahar was related to the fact that we had Canadian troops there. There was this facile idea that aid would help win hearts and minds.
These considerations are not helpful for aid effectiveness. We need to take into account things like absorptive capacity. I'm in favour of increasing aid budgets, but often we're presented with a false dichotomy, such that it means you're just throwing money out the window or through the door.
I think aid should be smart aid. It should be spent well. This requires a Global Affairs Canada that has staff who are well trained, who know what they're doing, and who, as we've discussed, are decentralized, who have presence on the ground, with decision-making authority, and who can be more nimble.
In one book I edited, there was a chapter by Molly den Heyer, who talked about budget support to the Tanzanian government. They would have a donor meeting, and the U.K. would say it was putting in this amount and the Danes would say they were was putting in that amount. They were doing basket funding that had been negotiated over a long-term period. It was considered the right way to do aid. It was not isolated little projects, but joint support for the Government of Tanzania for.... I can't remember which sector. Perhaps it was education. It was to support the education sector rather than to just build one school in one community. The Canadian representative was not actually able to make any commitment and had to go back to Ottawa.
Canada's representative was the only one at the table who said, “I can't tell you because I need to check first.” Then it turned out that Treasury Board guidelines prohibited Canada from transferring what I think was $10 million to the Government of Tanzania, so Canada gave it to the World Bank, and then the World Bank gave it to the Government of Tanzania. The World Bank charged $1 million, I think, as a fee for carrying out this service, so nothing was gained except by the World Bank. Canada had to go through this red tape and the Government of Tanzania got $1 million less.
The parts of the problem that we can do the most about are the parts that are internal to Canada. The problems abroad, such as corruption, civil strife and so on, are very, very complex. That's where we need well-trained and empowered people who are knowledgeable on the ground, people who can respond to these issues and come up with strategies that are appropriate, people who will not have a cookie cutter approach but will design adaptations to programming.
For instance, if it's no longer a good idea for whatever reason—corruption or something else—to channel money through the government, they would be able refocus and rechannel it through local NGOs, Canadian or other international NGOs, or the UN to continue supporting the people of that country, rather than punishing them because we don't want to support their government.