OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs ordered some of Canada’s major embassies to appoint a senior diplomat to oversee foreign aid — but unlike the government’s recent efforts to bolster its trade commissioner service, the new jobs had to come from existing staff.
Memos obtained through Access to Information provide new insight into how the department moved forward with its controversial amalgamation after the Conservatives shut down the Canadian International Development Agency.
The government’s decision to shutter CIDA last year sparked criticism that it was favouring trade while pushing poverty reduction to the bottom of its foreign policy priority list.
The government has defended the move, saying it would allow for a more streamlined foreign policy by having aid, trade and foreign affairs all under one roof.
To that end, two of the department’s deputy ministers ordered the creation of the senior development positions in “like-minded countries.”
The new posts were to be created in embassies or high commissions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the European Commission.
But there was a catch.
“It is proposed that mission-based senior level Development focal points be established, using existing mission human resources, to leverage the full potential of amalgamation,” said the November 2014 briefing note written by Brian Jean, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, and Malcolm Brown, his counterpart in international development.
A separate briefing note on the “resource implications” of the new posting stated that “no new positions would be created” and would not add to the department’s “Full-Time Equivalents” complement.
It outlined the government’s rationale for establishing the new position: “Development has an equal mandate to Trade and Foreign Policy.”
It said the newly amalgamated department “requires integration and co-ordination at mission level” to help Canada liaise with its main aid partners, including USAID and Britain’s DFID.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Nicolas Doire said the positions have been added to 17 diplomatic missions, and more are planned. All of the jobs have come from current staff.
“The Development Focal Point network is already serving as a tool in furthering Canada’s development priorities and building knowledge on development issues,” he said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in March that Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service would “receive new staffing and programming resources to further assist Canadians doing business with the world.”
In November 2013, the government announced that its foreign policy would be focused on “economic diplomacy” — making Canada’s commercial interest the top priority of diplomats.
Some aid agencies have criticized that policy, as well as the government’s emphasis on public-private partnerships in overseas development.
The government has frozen aid spending for the past five years.
Liberal critic Kristy Duncan said the government needs to allocate adequate resources to ensure development is on an equal footing with trade.
“This is proof of what we’ve been concerned about since the merger — that development is taking a back seat to trade,” she said.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said the government allowed “hundreds of millions of dollars” of budgeted funds for diplomacy and development lapse in recent years, which could have paid for much-needed staff.
“Instead, Conservatives have cut funding for international development and reduced our overseas representation, and now it seems they’re trying to cover up their failures by shuffling people around.”
A recent analysis by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said Canada’s level of overall aid spending had fallen to its lowest point in more than a decade to 0.24 per cent of GDP from 0.34 per cent in 2011.
This past week, the aid agency Oxfam called on all countries to commit to the United Nations aid spending target of 0.7 per cent of GDP ahead of a major international development conference next week in Ethiopia.