The North-South Institute



What’s Your Vision for International Development, Canada?

June 22, 2012


The North-South Institute

On June 19, the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) – the forum through which bilateral donors coordinate their aid efforts – released its 2012 “Peer Review” of Canada’s official development assistance (ODA) work. Supported by Canada’s peers, France and the Netherlands, the review highlights both positives and negatives in Canada’s approach to the developing world. The key message throughout however, is that when it comes to international aid and development the Canadian government needs to do better at communicating its vision, policies, plans and decision-making criteria and processes to its partners, both domestic and foreign.

ODA Accountability Act

The reviewers highlight a number of strengths in Canada’s development approach, such as the ODA Accountability Act (ODAAA) which has led to improved reporting and accountability on the provision of Canadian aid. Yet, they also argue that there is a need for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to integrate the ODAAA into all strategies and programs. The ODAAA states that Canadian aid must contribute to poverty reduction, take into account the perspectives of the poor and be in line with international human rights standards. Indeed, CIDA seems to see their work as already meeting the requirements of the act “but they haven’t actually developed any mechanisms to evaluate or really translate that into its core practice” (Fraser Reilly-King, policy analyst from theCanadian Council for International Cooperation, statement before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development).

Focus, Effectiveness and Efficiency

The reviewers commend Canada for improving its focus by reducing thematic prioritiesand the number of partner countries. However, they argue too that CIDA needs to develop exit strategies for old sectors and partners and make these strategies public to avoid confusion. Reviewers also suggest that CIDA still has a long way to go in terms of incorporating international aid effectiveness principles. Canada has made progress on transparency through its Open Data portal and by joining the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Yet, Canada is lagging on aid predictability. Part of the problem is that CIDA’s 2009 Aid Effectiveness Action Plan combines domestic accountability and internal efficiency with international aid effectiveness principles, to the detriment of the focus on the latter, according to reviewers. Despite the focus on improving CIDA’s efficiency in the plan, reviewers highlight continued business modernisation as a key area for improvement. The review suggests that streamlining approval processes and placing a greater emphasis on international aid effectiveness principles would improve predictability.

Declining Aid Flows

Reviewers express concern over Canada’s declining aid budget, suggesting that Canada needs to develop a strategy for reaching the international aid target of 0.7% of ODA/GNI. The reviewers do however, commend Canada on meeting its targets for doubling aid over 2001-10.

Engaging the Private Sector

In light of Canada’s increasing engagement with the private sector on development – in line with outcomes of the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness – reviewers caution Canada to ensure that development objectives and commercial interests are not confused. Development priorities and partner country ownership should be central to activities and programmes in this area. Canadian debates on this issue suggest this could be a hot issue. Reviewers suggest that Canada develop a strategy for working with the private sector based on analysis and broad consultation. The strategy should outline a clear rationale for Canada’s engagement. This recalls the approach taken in the creation of CIDA’s 2003 Private Sector Development Policy.

Humanitarian Aid

The report highlight Canada’s cross-government co-ordination and rapid response toolbox in humanitarian efforts as strengths. However, reviewers feel that Canada needs to be more transparent in how decisions are made on humanitarian situations (including when it decides to match public donations) and better communicate the results it hopes to achieve through humanitarian programmes to the public and Canadian parliament.

Policy Coherence for Development

The reviewers recommend that Canada give sufficient weight to policy coherence for development in decision-making processes. Canada has some policy coordination mechanisms and has had some success in establishing development-friendly non-aid policies in areas such as trade (Canada offers favourable market access to least developed countries) as well as taking a whole-of-government approach in fragile states. However, reviewers recommend that Canada further improve policy coherence for development on priority issues and establish objectives for relevant government departments in consultation. The review highlights the need to articulate an overarching vision for development situated in the context of Canada’s foreign policy.

What does it all add up to?

The OECD-DAC Peer Review puts it well: “Canada lacks a clear, top-level statement that sets out its vision for development co-operation. The new approach to Canadian aid is not yet supported by sufficient or transparent decision-making criteria, complicating its processes and public accountability and constraining discussions with key stakeholders, including parliament… It now recommends establishing a clear, simple and consistent vision for Canadian aid – one that is anchored sustainably within its foreign policy and that remains stable over the long term.”

This main message from the review is carried throughout. Canada needs to do a better job at articulating its overall vision for development (and what this vision means for relevant government departments beyond CIDA), and policies, plans and procedures for taking into account the ODAAA, improving effectiveness and efficiency, mitigating the potential negative effects of declining aid flows, engaging with the private sector, and improving humanitarian donorship and policy coherence for development.

The Minister of International Cooperation, Beverley J. Oda, quoted by the Ottawa Citizen, said in response to the report: “Since our government took office in 2006, we committed to making Canada’s international assistance more effective, focused, and accountable…. This is a process that takes time, but we can be proud of our progress and the steps we took to make our international work more effective.” A reading of the Peer Review suggests that while this progress is welcome, the next step is for the Canadian government, in consultation with the broader Canadian development community, to articulate its vision for development cooperation and ensure that this vision finds its way into transparent priorities, policies and programmes.