Canada is radically changing how it doles out foreign aid, funding partnerships with chosen mining giants and development groups, while ignoring those most in need, critics say.
Ottawa hands out C$5 billion (US$5.02 billion) in aid annually, benefiting mostly Haiti, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Pakistan.
However, late last month, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government slashed its development assistance to poorer countries by 7.5 percent or C$377 million, as part of a bid to balance its budget within three years.
Several aid groups said the cuts to their programs were “excessive,” and the latest blow in an “extreme makeover” of Canada’s foreign aid program lauded by Canadian International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda.
Oda says the move aims to make its help “more effective.”
In one of the major changes, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) awarded C$6.7 million to three groups that have partnered with mining firms IAMGOLD, Barrick and Rio Tinto Alcan to provide job training to youths in South America and Africa, where they have mines.
“The most effective way to reduce poverty is to stimulate a country’s economy, creating more opportunities and jobs for people in need,” said Oda’s spokesman, Justin Broekema. “By helping people acquire the needed skills, more people will be able to enter the workforce and increase their household income.”
The aid community is split on the merits of partnering with for-profit firms. Some view the government funding as a subsidy to provide companies with cheap labor, while others say it creates wealth in poor communities with rampant unemployment.
Julia Sanchez, president of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation coalition of non-governmental organizations, said that aid groups have partnered with resource companies in the past.
However, “what’s new is [direct] support from CIDA,” she said.