Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Issue 5 - Evidence - Meeting of March 4, 2008


OTTAWA, Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, to which was referred Bill C-293, An Act respecting the provision of official development assistance abroad, met this day at 5:39 p.m. to give consideration to the bill.

Senator Consiglio Di Nino (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Good evening to all and welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Today, we are continuing our study on Bill C-293. This bill aims to make poverty reduction the goal of Canada's official development assistance, to ensure that this assistance is consistent with Canada's international human rights obligations and that it takes into account the perspective of those living in poverty.

[Translation]

Today, we have the pleasure of welcoming two witnesses. Our first witness will be Ms. Raymonde Folco, Liberal member of Parliament for the Laval-Les Îles riding since 1997.

[English]

Following Ms. Folco's presentation, we will hear from Mr. Nigel Fisher, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada. Formerly Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations since 2002, Mr. Fisher was most recently Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Project Services. He has also served as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Relief, Recovery and Reconstruction in Afghanistan, holding the rank of Assistant Secretary- General.

I hope I have done justice to our witnesses this evening. On behalf of my colleagues, I welcome you both to the Senate of Canada. I understand that Ms. Folco will be our first speaker.

[Translation]

Raymonde Folco, Member of Parliament, House of Commons: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Honourable Senators, in my capacity as Chair of the Canada-Caribbean Parliamentary Friendship Group, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to express my viewpoint to the members of the Senate concerning Bill C-293, an Act respecting the provision of development assistance abroad, which was adopted by Parliament on October 16, 2007.

I am here as a member of Parliament, but also as someone familiar with developing and less developed countries. I have spent considerable periods of time in the CARICOM where I lived and worked. I have also extensively visited French-speaking African countries on several occasions. I am saying this to give you a context in which I will present my remarks to you today.

Before I begin, I wish to state that I strongly agree with the principle and general intent of Bill C-293. Official development assistance (ODA) is an important part of Canada's international commitments and an integral part of its foreign policy. It is also essential that aid be transparent and that recipient countries be encouraged and supported in improving accountability mechanisms to donor countries. Recipient member states are determined to move toward economic and social self-sufficiency within the international marketplace.

[English]

The bill has clearly not included any of the principles of international declarations, such as the five principles outlined in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, which donor and recipient countries have endorsed. These principles are ownership and leadership by developed countries; alignment by donor countries with the development policies of recipients and the use of their institutions and procedures rather than the donor's; harmonization by donor and recipient countries of more collective, transparent and effective activities; managing of results by both donor and recipient countries; and mutual accountability.

Bill C-293 does not seem to take into consideration any of the changes toward good governance that recipient states have been implementing as part of their commitment to upholding the declaration.

These are the international drivers underlying the increased need for better aid accountability that Bill C-293 is striving toward. By codifying these in Canadian law, as legislators, we would be meeting our commitments as endorsed under the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. I believe the bill can be made clearer and less intrusive without losing its purpose.

Donor countries have come a long way in considering how aid is delivered. We are slowly moving away from actually setting the agenda for developing countries and are beginning to work more effectively as partners in global development. Missing from the discussion on Bill C-293 is the question of how donor countries make aid more effective so there is tangible evidence of its success toward eliminating the plight of the poor. None of that can take place without raising the standard of living of less developed countries.

The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness outlined those parameters previously mentioned. The declaration strengthened the concerns of developing countries for autonomy in putting aid where it is really needed. It also gave legitimacy to building meaningful partnerships between donor and recipient. Together with ownership, donor countries commit to recipient countries to locally deliver holistic aid for maximum long-term effectiveness. Prior to the declaration, developing countries had already been working toward that goal.

For example, in the partnership agreement between the group of African, Caribbean and Pacific states and the European Union, signed in 2000, those developing states set ownership of their development strategies as well as the fundamental principles of their partnership with the EU. In Africa, the strategic framework known as the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD, was adopted by the Organization of African Unity, OAU, at their 37th summit in July 2001. NEPAD underscored the importance of ownership by recipient states for their own development. One could say it is the moving away from being parented to being active partners in their own growth.

A key aspect in both examples I have cited was the participation of civil society in determining the needs, how the growth would take place and holding governments accountable. The word ``ownership'' is very powerful because it comes with a different type of accountability for results-based outcomes dealing with education, health, infrastructure development, skills training and development that eventually enable and empower the poor to envision a better living environment for themselves, their families and their countries.

[Translation]

This paradigm shift, like all new policy development, requires an adjustment period by donor states, civil society actors and international non-government organizations (NGOs) who deliver aid. Both recipient and donor countries have to develop mechanisms for rapid, effective consultations with representatives of civil society.

In this regard, I believe that CIDA could benefit from the experience of the European Commission which I know CIDA consults in the field. The clear purpose of Bill C-293 for aid spending, according to section 2, is:

. . . to ensure that all Canadian official development assistance abroad is provided with a central focus on poverty reduction and in a manner that is consistent with Canadian values, Canadian foreign policy, sustainable development and democracy promotion and promotes international human rights standards.

[English]

While the intent of the policy is commendable, its application would be lost as the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA, tries to evaluate proposals set against the backdrop of Canadian values superimposed upon another state's values and norms that may not work within that recipient state. For example, would there be an advisory team of specific country experts at CIDA who fully understand the cultural drivers of values and attitudes in recipient countries to assist with the evaluations?

Another aspect is the question of what benchmarks will be used to decide a country's adherence to international human rights standards as proposed in the bill. Research proves that among developed and developing states that are signatories to international conventions — such as the elimination of all forms of racism, racial discrimination, the elimination of discrimination against women and child labour — some are unable to adequately uphold these conventions. There are a number of reasons for this, and I will not go into detail here.

The bill before us provides that official development assistance must take into account the perspectives of the poor. Other developed countries' aid legislation, as far as I am aware, speaks to the centrality of poverty reduction and its eventual eradication in the context of an integrated strategy toward sustainable development.

This requires understanding and responding to the root auses of poverty in the march toward wealth creation in developing countries. Clause 4(1)(b) of Bill C-293 and the principle of sustainable development might not necessarily be mutually reinforcing.

Former CIDA and current departmental officials have presented their views on this bill before the House of Commons standing committee and this Senate committee. They have cogently argued the reasons for their disquiet about the implications of the bill. According to Robert Fowler, a retired senior official, in his appearance on June 13, 2007, at the Senate's hearings, if the department had to work within the confines of this bill, CIDA's work running programs in southern Africa in the 1980s, both on the front-line states and within South Africa itself, to assist the victims of apartheid, which included the then-banned African National Congress, quite simply could not have happened.

There is good intent in my colleague's private member's bill. It is important, as other witnesses have said, that aid be effective. At the same time, poverty cannot be eradicated, and neither can there be sustainable development and self- sufficiency without peace and security.

I want to speak specifically on the Caribbean Community and Common Market, CARICOM. Let me add that I have consulted with CARICOM's state's representatives here in Ottawa who share CIDA's concerns on the bill. Canada has had a long relationship with the Caribbean, dating back to before official diplomatic ties 45 years ago. I continue to be concerned about the dialogue that is not taking place about the type of tests that would be applied to the present projects now underway. An example is the negotiator's training program for Caribbean trade exports under their trade competitiveness program. A total of $14.5 million will be spent on the initiative. It is part of the Canadian government's $600 million, 10-year regional programming initiatives in the Caribbean announced in July 2007.

[Translation]

For the seven CARICOM countries, the funding amounts to $60 million a year and if it is divided equally, a little more than $8 million a year per country. In today's dollars, it is not an awful lot. It is good to see that in the most recent budget, international development dollars are being increased, doubled in fact, to $4.4 billion within the next fiscal year.

[English]

The point being made here is that the training of trade negotiators neither derives from the perspective of the poor, nor does it directly foster poverty reduction as required by Bill C-293. However, within a liberalized world where trade is the engine of growth, Canada's long-term vision of development support must include this valuable form of capacity building. This also accords with the principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, which advocates that developing countries exercise ownership and leadership in developing and implementing their economic strategies.

[Translation]

Yet, it is difficult to envision this program passing the test of aid going towards the people who need it most — the poor. And let me inform this honourable committee that there are several other Caribbean programs, including other major CIDA programs for Jamaica, approval of which would be doubtful within a strict interpretation of Bill C-293.

The CARICOM now have a clear strategic five-year plan that includes resource mobilization, a clear and logical framework analysis that includes expected results, performance measurements, risk assessments, budgets, and civil society contributions both within the regions and the diaspora. Thus, former nationals can be made more aware of the developments and be encouraged to participate in development policies and practice.

Last, it provides for economic investment and other CARICOM initiatives.

[English]

What is CIDA's outreach policy under the accord between the Government of Canada and the voluntary sector, 2001, on outreach to leverage the knowledge and increase awareness and understanding of international development issues and programs amongst Canadian CARICOM civil society organizations, CSOs, such as community groups? Surely their value as change agents has to be an accepted part of CIDA's vision.

[Translation]

All these aspects are in accord with the principles of ownership, leadership and civil society participation outlined in the Paris Declaration, where recipient countries are encouraged to set their own agenda for development.

I would like to reiterate that the principles of Bill C-293 are good. The intent is good. Nevertheless, aid effectiveness will not take place under the conditional ties set out in the legislation as it now stands. As legislators and lawmakers, we have a duty and a responsibility to make a policy that is not cumbersome and that gives clear directives to those implementing the law.

[English]

We cannot look at the dollars involved alone. This is important policy and must encompass a strategic vision that benefits recipients in a positive, sustainable manner. How else can mutual respect and trust be developed amongst equals in a world that is becoming more and more interdependent?

[Translation]

I am sure that the honourable senators will agree with me when I say that Canada's international reputation as a humanitarian leader is well respected. So we must continue to lead by example.

Allow me to reiterate what I have said before: as a donor, let us continue to work in partnership with recipients to set their development agenda by letting Bill C-293 reflect those values.

I have five recommendations to make to this committee, honourable senators. I hope, Mr. Chair, that I will have time to read them to you.

[English]

The Chair: We are running a little later than anticipated. If you could wrap it up, it would be appreciated.

Ms. Folco: Thank you very much.

[Translation]

Ms. Folco: I therefore have five recommendations. First, since the key to aid effectiveness includes the participation of civil society — something I discussed extensively — include the potentially affected diaspora communities in Canada and NGOs as witnesses when legislation is being studied by the Senate.

Second, of course, review the 2005 Paris Declaration.

[English]

Third, to reframe the clauses so that the bill reflects the intent of the declaration with respect to untying aid- conditional ties by donor countries — I will give you the details at another time.

Fourth, in drafting the regulations and administrative guidelines that will explain the legislation of Bill C-293, expand on the meaning of these principles so that CIDA and other staff implementing these programs will have clear directives as to the parameters for aid.

Finally, include the support of appropriate media awareness and training of civil society with respect to rights and responsibilities.

[Translation]

Let us not continue to set the agenda for recipient countries, but work in partnership so that there will come a time when aid and its conditional ties is no longer needed.

[English]

The Chair: You may, if you wish, provide the information to the clerk, and we will include it as part of your presentation.

Ms. Folco: I apologize. I thought it was ready, but it is not quite. I will be providing both a French and English text tomorrow.

The Chair: Thank you kindly.

[Translation]

Nigel Fisher, President and CEO, UNICEF Canada: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It is my pleasure to appear before you this afternoon to speak about Bill C-293. My remarks are brief and will address two overarching issues. First, the logic of a central official development assistance focus on poverty reduction, the history of all-party support for such a focus, the international context of this focus and its complementarity to security concerns.

Second, the benefits of such a focus in explaining results to Canadians, engendering their support, facilitating program-based approaches and strengthening cohesion and complementarity of Canadian ODA with that of other international partners.

[English]

First, to look at the logic of a central official development assistance, ODA, focus on poverty reduction, if Bill C-293 becomes law, it will make the purpose of Canadian official development assistance very clear — poverty reduction — and it will situate Canadian ODA squarely and consistently within the blueprint for development agreed upon by all the world's countries and leading development institutions.

This blueprint is formed by the eight Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, which have galvanized international efforts to meet the needs of the world's poorest people. The first overarching MDG is the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. This is the platform for the other goals, which address health, education, environmental sustainability and global partnership formation. In addition, consistent with Canada's commitment to equity, is the goal to promote gender equality and women's empowerment, a field in which Canada's leadership internationally is recognized.

Poverty reduction, which is already an important priority for Canadian ODA, is an enabling focus, not a constraining one, including, as it does, economic and social development, environmental protection, human rights, good governance and democratic development.

The bill wisely makes special provision for response to natural or human-made disaster relief and emergency assistance. Even as immediate humanitarian relief is being provided, poverty reduction measures can begin almost immediately in emergency settings, while increased investment in such measures in potentially unstable environments will impact positively in crisis prevention and mitigation. For example, consider the positive impact that significant international development investment in quality state education and in microcredit for the poorest over the last few decades could have had in Pakistan's border provinces with Afghanistan and on the stability of Afghanistan itself.

[Translation]

Bill C-293 comes on the heels of 20 years of Canadian parliamentary concern with legislating Canada's development assistance and basic principles to guide it, going back to the 1987 Winegard Report. Bill C-293 reflects very similar previous bills, Bills C-446, C-204 and C-243. Taken together, these four bills, introduced by MPs from three different parties, would suggest that the issue of poverty reduction and aid accountability cuts across party lines.

Clearly, Canada is not alone in addressing the issue of ODA focus. No doubt this committee has examined aid accountability legislation enacted in such partner countries as the UK, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain, all of which posit poverty reduction as the central focus.

[English]

What about security and combating terrorism? Of course, these are essential foreign policy concerns and integral to Canada's broader international assistance remit and to the whole-of-government approach. My experience of working in Afghanistan has convinced me that maintenance of security is a necessary corollary of development assistance aimed at poverty reduction. Without measures to enhance security, humanitarian and development initiatives are at risk in Afghanistan.

My work with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan encompassed relations between the military, development and humanitarian agencies. Of course, such relations are absolutely necessary. However, I would respectfully suggest that within an overall international assistance envelope, the distinction between ODA and other types of assistance falling outside the ODA definition contained in Bill C-293, including capacity-building of security forces, does need to be maintained.

With respect to secondary benefits of a poverty focus, poverty reduction provides a clear, enabling focus to ensure aid accountability for measuring impact and results. CIDA is often criticized for not demonstrating the results of its ODA, but, in fact, excellent examples do exist of the measurable impact that results from focused, targeted international development assistance reaching the most disadvantaged.

In the document before you, I cite examples from the health sector of results that can be and have been achieved when Canada and CIDA adopt a rigorous results-based approach to investment and targeted and integrated health care interventions to reach the most vulnerable children and women. I cite the UNICEF-led Accelerated Child Survival and Development Initiative in 11 West African countries, strongly supported by CIDA financially, which has led to measurable and significant declines in infant mortality.

[Translation]

Bill C-293 proposes that provision of ODA take into account the perspectives of the poor. This is both essential and feasible. Again, to refer to Afghanistan, one of the most effective ways of continuing development work at the grassroots level, even in the most insecure of environments, is to ensure consultation with the many shuras, or local councils, that exist at the community and district level throughout Afghanistan. The shura is a form of representation and consultation which Afghans know and trust. Outreach to these councils, transparent discussion concerning the level and intent of development aid flows toward the communities, is the key to success in Afghanistan at the local level. Successful examples of this direct outreach model, for community development and microcredit, are in operation in Afghanistan and are supported by CIDA.

Another benefit of legislated poverty-focused official development assistance would include the establishment of a framework for clearly explaining the results of ODA investment to the Canadian Parliament and people; it would receive strong public support — witness the hundreds of thousands of Canadians and the hundreds of Canadian civil society organizations backing the Make Poverty History campaign.

[English]

Internationally, such legislation would respond emphatically to the OECD Development Assistance Committee, DAC, peer review recommendations for policy coherence and focus. It would enable Canada to adhere, with optimum efficiency, to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. Not the least, it would facilitate relationship development with stakeholders at country level, decentralization of more authority to the field and rapid reaction to local needs.

Are the reporting and consultation requirements of Bill C-293 onerous? They do not have to be so, and in large measure, leave to the Minister for Development Cooperation the scope to align, rather than duplicate, the types of reporting requirements and to decide on the nature of consultations to be undertaken with stakeholders.

However, the very fact of having legislated provisions for reporting and consultation on poverty-focused ODA strengthens the perception of stakeholders and of Canadians that accountability and dialogue are core principles endorsed by Canada's government and legislators in the provision and direction of Canada's official development assistance.

In conclusion, Bill C-293 is a good first step toward achieving increased focus in Canada's official development assistance and a more robust accountability framework. I am sure that as and when the bill passes into law, there will still be further discussion at an operational level on the articulation of accountability measures and on the nature and scope of consultation processes. The bill builds on multi-party initiatives and provides the constructive prospect of a legislated mandate for foreign aid with a clear purpose: ending poverty.

Senator Segal: I thank the witnesses for sharing their perspective and expertise with us. Ms. Folco, I am appreciative that as a member of the House of Commons you would take a moment to offer advice and counsel to this committee as we deal with what the House of Commons has passed on to us. I appreciate your frankness and clarity.

I want to ensure that I understand the purport of your advice to the committee. Are you saying that from the perspective of CARICOM and the concerns around existing programs that CIDA and Canada engage in, and from the perspective of the goals of the NEPAD agreement — at which our own former Prime Minister Chrétien was so prominent at Kananaskis with our African and G8 partners — that it would be better, in your judgment, to amend the bill to deal with those specific five areas that you have addressed rather than proceed apace to have it passed and then signed into law?

If I understand correctly — and please correct me if not — you are saying that that could have some unwitting, deleterious effects on our partnership, aid programs and relationship with, for example, our Commonwealth brothers and sisters in the Caribbean region, that would be, in your judgment, unconstructive.

Ms. Folco: How and whether you want to change the bill is a prerogative of the members of the Senate. There are several ways you could do that. You could amend it, as you suggest.

However, through the regulations and administrative guidelines, there are a number of barriers that you can put in that would clarify exactly what can and cannot be done. We are all legislators. We know after a bill is passed, a number of documents come out that clarify articles of the law. That is what I would suggest.

Senator Segal: Mr. Fisher, I want to deal with one specific reference in your statement. You talk about the different types of aid that are not necessarily related explicitly to the ODA standard. In the second paragraph from the end of page 2, you say:

I would respectfully suggest that within an overall international assistance envelope, the distinction between ODA and other types of assistance falling outside the ODA definition contained in Bill C-293, including capacity- building of security forces, does need to be maintained.

I want to understand if you are saying that there should be a distinction between the core poverty reduction focus and all the other aspects, some of which Ms. Folco was good enough to reference in terms of the training of trade negotiators, judicial and other activities. You are saying that you are quite comfortable, based your vast experience in international development activities, that having those areas excluded and separate from the poverty reduction goal, as defined in Bill C-239, is both necessary and, in your judgment, desirable. Is that correct?

Mr. Fisher: In looking at this particular item, I was specifically looking at issues around security, security reform, military support and those types of areas. The overall definition of poverty reduction can be quite broad in certain circumstances. It includes democratic development; it looks at human rights, et cetera. There may be areas where, for example, trade regulation has a direct impact on the poor. Therefore, I would not necessarily exclude that.

There is a great deal to interpret in the definition of poverty reduction. However, there must be a line between core official development assistance and broader assistance within the overall assistance envelope. When it comes to security, training of armed forces to ensure security, as in the case in Afghanistan, has to be strictly separated in core ODA.

Senator Segal: We have, at the present time, a government which is seeking to increase aid — not as much as we would like, perhaps, but it nevertheless is heading in the right direction. I want to be clear that both of you are reasonably comfortable that a future government using the law as it is in front of us today would not use that to cut other programs.

While you, Ms. Folco and I might absolutely believe those programs are fundamental to poverty reduction, someone may take a less Catholic view and say, ``It is not about poverty reduction; it is about training judges, democratization and women's rights but not about poverty reduction. Let us cut that because the law says we should.''

Do you not have any worries that — because we may not be there to advise those who make that decision in 15 years' time — they will look at this law and use it, if they are so disposed, as a pretext to cut important aid activities that we would be very much in favour of sustaining?

Mr. Fisher: The challenges facing Canada are choice and focus. Even within a definition of poverty reduction, we cannot possibly contribute to every requirement in every country. We still have to make choices and reject acting in certain countries or on certain valid propositions. Therefore, it requires focus even within this framework.

If I look at the international definition of poverty reduction, as in the Millennium Development Goals, it is the arching goal, which includes the others and aspects such as looking at gender inequity, as you mentioned. Therefore, everything is open to interpretation. However, in terms of poverty reduction, whatever we do must involve focus and choice. We cannot do everything that is necessary in the world.

Ms. Folco: No law is perfect; all laws have to be interpreted. That is why there are regulations and administrative guidelines. It is why we all exist; we help to interpret the laws.

This bill, as it stands, is imperfect, in my view. However, that is so for nearly any bill that is passed. Being involved in immigration and immigration law in the House of Commons, I would say that this is a law that has stood the test of time for the last 30 years and has been amended many times in order to correspond to the changing conditions.

When we talk about poverty and aid to developing countries, there are, have been and will be changing conditions. I would expect that the law, in that case, would be changed to correspond to those.

I should have said Bill C-293, but we were talking in terms of a possible law.

Senator Stollery: Bill C-293 has not been around for many years.

Senator Segal: Thank you for those answers.

The Chair: Ms. Folco was talking about legislation governing this issue, which has changed over the years. Is that correct?

Ms. Folco: Yes, that is correct.

The Chair: Mr. Fisher, near the end of your presentation, you talked about the reporting and consultation requirement. You suggested it need not be onerous.

I want to read what Robert Fowler says. As you know, he is a respected man in this field; he is an ex-diplomat and was also responsible for the Africa file for a long time. He talks about being a firm believer in the importance of wide consultation. However, then he talks about the language in the bill:

. . . such language would impair the flexibility of the minister and her staff to act as imaginatively and creatively and indeed courageously as they have in the past to alleviate strife and suffering and to encourage positive change in very particular geopolitical circumstances.

He has some serious concerns about the requirements on reporting and consultation. Do you disagree with him on that?

Mr. Fisher: With respect, yes, I suppose I do. I would distinguish between consultation and decision making. To consult with civil society is not to let civil society dictate decisions. Therefore, it seems me, under the terms of the bill, which are generic at this stage, the minister has a great deal of flexibility in deciding how and when to consult. I really do not see the constraints that Robert Fowler suggests.

The Chair: The legislation, the bill, uses the word ``shall'' not ``may.''

Mr. Fisher: It says, ``shall consult,'' but it does not specify how and in what manner. There is still some amount of interpretation.

The Chair: I am not a lawyer, but I believe that is maybe a little tougher than what we are hearing right now.

Senator Stollery: I appreciate the testimony of both our witnesses.

My question is peripheral to Bill C-293. We had UNICEF before us in New York when we were preparing our Africa report. It was an extremely interesting, important and useful meeting because, at the time, we were talking about Africa, obviously, but also about Sudan and the problems in Darfur. I remember it because the UNICEF people with whom we met said that UNICEF had been in Sudan since the 1950s. I am not suggesting for a moment that the events there have been good, but the UNICEF people had a much different take on the Sudanese government and Darfur. Their experience dated from the 1950s.

The committee has been interested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, D.R.C. You talked about your experience in Afghanistan. I just happen to be writing an article about this, and I was looking at the figures. Afghanistan, with 31 million people, receives the largest amount of Canadian aid. The D.R.C., with 62 million people, double the population, is way down the list. We have 2,200 soldiers in Afghanistan, and, the last time I looked, we had 8 non-combatant soldiers in the D.R.C., with 3 million people dead, which I would have thought was far more frightening if we are to start balancing these.

Is UNICEF in the D.R.C.? I am aware that this question is peripheral to Bill C-293, but this committee knows about Bill C-293. Is there any reason that there is such a discrepancy? Is UNICEF as equally involved in the D.R.C. as they are in Afghanistan?

Mr. Fisher: Yes, we have been in the D.R.C. for many years. I would say right now that it is the worst conflict in the world as it affects children. The estimates for deaths are even higher than you mentioned, senator. It is an interesting situation where much of our work has to be done through civil society organizations, given the weakness of the government, but we are indeed there.

Each country has its priorities, and we have other donors who provide more significant funding for the D.R.C. Unfortunately, despite its mineral wealth, the D.R.C. has less importance now internationally in terms of international security and terrorism. That is reflected in some of the lack of assistance going there.

Senator Stollery: If I were a Congolese, I would have thought the terrorist problem there was pretty bad. One cannot help but draw the conclusion — and I know the D.R.C. quite well — that 3 or 4 million dead Black people do not seem to equate a smaller number of terrorized White people.

The Chair: I will talk about another area of concern that we heard in testimony from witnesses. Graham Flack, Assistant Deputy Minister, International Trade and Finance Branch, was concerned about clause 5(1)(d), which states:

a summary of any representation made by Canadian representatives with respect to priorities and policies of the Bretton Woods Institutions . . . .

The concerns here are with the words ``any representation.'' He talks about the ability of the representatives to have a frank and clear exchange between members on the issues before that particular body. He gives an example:

. . . if a country report is being analyzed, the Canadian representative may give relatively blunt advice behind closed doors about the exchange rate policy of the country — advice which, if it was made public, would be highly market-sensitive.

That was a quotation from Mr. Flack. I, too, have a concern that we may be asking Canadian representatives, in effect, in confidential discussions, to make those discussions public, even if it is only by summary. It could jeopardize relations, and it could also, of course, jeopardize the whole issue of the aid that we are trying to make available for these countries.

Has either one of you looked at that? Can you give us an opinion?

Mr. Fisher: The bill requires a summary of positions taken by Canadian representatives with respect to the policies and priorities of the World Bank, for example. In fact, many countries have this provision. The United Kingdom, France, Sweden and Italy all have arrangements for public reporting on their priorities and positions at the World Bank. The bank's own disclosure policy notes that ``governments of member countries are free to release statements of their positions on matters considered by the Board.''

A summary characterization of Canadian positions as required by the bill is unlikely to violate the disclosure policy of the bank.

The Chair: I want to pursue this a little further. Mr. Flack was concerned with the words ``a summary of any representation made,'' not a summary of the meeting, which means that they would have to make public the position the Canadian representative took, which is a little different than the words in the other agreements that you read. I am going by memory, and it was only a minute ago, but it still did not sound quite as strong as the one contained in this bill.

Mr. Fisher: I believe it does because, if I may repeat the disclosure policy, ``governments of member countries are free to release statements of their positions on matters considered by the Board.''

The Chair: ``Free to release'' does not mean ``shall provide.'' It means that they have a choice. Anyway, that is a concern I had that I wanted to put on the record, at least for our deliberation.

Senator Segal: I want to stand back from the bill and place it in the broader context of the general reform, rehabilitation and upgrading of CIDA. I ask the question always with the most intense respect for the good men and women who work so hard in CIDA in difficult circumstances, who go up against almost unmanageable problems and do so with great intensity, tremendous dedication and competence.

However, I have a concern about the structural issues. Other aid agencies around the world have 50 per cent of their people in the field. We have far less. Other aid agencies have a level of efficiency with respect to the distribution of their aid dollars because they have networks on the ground. I feel CIDA takes the view that they are a funding agency not an operational agency, and we often provide funding to other international bodies or to governments, which, in some cases, are transparent and helpful and, in other cases, less so. Every time we write a cheque to another international body, they have a legitimate overhead and so do we. Therefore, a couple of overheads must be covered before the cash gets to the intended program or recipient.

Because parliaments tend not to come back on a regular basis, this would be the first substantive — to its credit — piece of legislation relative to CIDA reform since CIDA was established, and it does address some of the many issues.

However, it does not address the core question. In your experience, Ms. Folco, as a parliamentarian and someone involved in international relations and development with great intensity and background, and, in your experience, Mr. Fisher, in terms of your work both inside government and in prominent international non-governmental organizations, NGOs, are you troubled that if all we do is what is in this bill and nothing more, it may be a good step, but it may be the final step for a generation?

In your judgment, is that fair in terms of the levels of reform that we may need to consider for CIDA and that many of the people who work within CIDA would themselves like to see parliamentarians be part of and lead in a dynamic way?

Ms. Folco: As it happens, as I was preparing my few words before you this afternoon, I read a peer review by the OECD's Development Assistance Committee on Canada. I found that document extremely interesting. I have never actually worked with or for CIDA, but this peer review points out the discrepancy between the number of employees in the field and those in Ottawa, as you have just mentioned. However, it also talks about the heavy hierarchy, particularly top-heavy hierarchy, in CIDA, all of which I suppose is in Ottawa or in the Ottawa region.

The review also makes the point that in order to spend any money, there were so many levels of acceptance. It meant that so much time was taken in going from one level to another because anything over CAN $500, I understand, had to receive all sorts of approbations.

There are a number of items that can be looked at. Whether they will be looked at by this committee or by a committee of the House of Commons, or even a bill, remains to be seen. I do know there was talk of this a year or so ago, that we would look at CIDA. I also know, senator — dare I mention — that under a Liberal government, we did make some changes to CIDA. However, any organization needs to be constantly looked at and reviewed. Certainly, the difference between the number of people in the field and the number of people who make policy has to be attended to.

Mr. Fisher: I had rather hoped this bill might be the floor, not the ceiling, so I would hope it is not the last bill we see for a generation.

To me, this bill outlines how aid monies should be spent. It does not go into details of which agencies and how those agencies should conduct themselves. This is a private member's bill and is limited in that scope in how the monies are spent.

CIDA may well need review and overhaul, but I do not see that as the necessary subject of this bill. I would hope, for example, that there is increased decentralization of CIDA decision-making power to the field, which is very much in line with the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness principles and so on. I would hope it is a beginning, not the end.

Senator Segal: I have a question related to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. I was very pleased and gratified to hear Ms. Folco deal with that at the level of detail that she did.

I know that some aspects can be done by regulation and some cannot. I am troubled — and I will defer to others more experienced in these matters — that if we do not specifically mention the core premises of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness as one of the governing principles and priorities that shall define how we manage aid, then we are probably unable to include it by regulation if it is seen to be an amplification, change, upgrading or updating of the core ODA principles. I worry that while it may be possible to do some aspects by regulation, as Ms. Folco has creatively suggested, I am not sure we could go down that road.

Would you be comfortable with a bill in a form that did not address, in any way, shape or form, either by regulation or by statute, the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the important values with respect to shared partnership and goals that are underlined in that document?

Ms. Folco: I have made my position clear in the text that I read and specifically in the recommendations. The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness is the whole context in which any international aid must be looked at. This includes Bill C-293.

Senator Stollery: I want to pick up on the issue of this bill. Mr. Fisher said that he saw this as a floor rather than the end of reform in the aid business. I wonder if each of our witnesses would like to comment on the fact that this committee has strongly recommended, in our report on Africa, that CIDA have a stand-alone statute, that it have a statute of its own; that the minister of CIDA, instead of being a sort of paragraph in the foreign affairs act, be a full minister; that when, for example, trade negotiations take place, which are so important to developing countries — the most recent would be the Doha Round, which seems to be stalled at the moment — that we would have a minister with influence, who would be at the table as an advocate for trade reform, for example, and the types of economic development that will make a real difference in the standard of living of developing countries.

We have all heard about the difference between social development being social or economic, these types of arguments, but these arguments should take place in the designing of a CIDA bill where the minister is a real minister and not a sort of revolving-door minister, which is what we have had for so many years. What is your opinion?

Mr. Fisher: A short answer is that I feel it would be very useful to have a statute governing CIDA in specific terms.

Ms. Folco: We are not, of course, talking about Bill C-293 here; we are talking about something quite different.

Senator Stollery: However, it is part of the whole scene.

Ms. Folco: As far as I am concerned, we are talking about something quite different. My answer to your question would be, yes, I agree.

In my example of CARICOM, I talked about trade. I know that the phrase ``root causes'' that we are using these days is not a very nice phrase, but we go back to the root causes of poverty. It has to do with trade. If there were a minister for CIDA who could sit with the minister for external trade at the table with the ministers from the CARICOM countries, for example, then the internal aid that we give as Canadians could be tied in to the type of trade that we are doing. This is one of the recommendations that I suggested in my paper.

[Translation]

Senator Corbin: My question is addressed to Ms. Folco. As a member of Parliament, you know that our constituents often come to us for help with applications for subsidies, passports, employment insurance, et cetera. Have you ever been approached and asked to intervene with CIDA?

Ms. Folco: As you know, we receive hundreds of requests of all kinds. Personally, people know that I am involved in matters that are not directly connected to CIDA, but that indirectly have to do with foreign countries, through immigration, as I said. I am very interested in this.

People come for advice and I am ready to give advice. However, my answer to the people who ask me for help has always been that I am glad to advise them, but I cannot intervene for them at the government level, because the law forbids this to members of the House of Commons. Therefore, I give them information, sometimes I personally go to CIDA to get the information, or to any other department, and then I transmit the information to the constituent. Nevertheless, a direct intervention is absolutely out of the question.

Senator Corbin: I certainly agree with you, I have been a member of Parliament and I am familiar with our respective codes of ethics. I was not trying to trap you with this question. To the contrary, I wanted to find out whether, in the course of your activities as an MP, you have occasionally realized that there is a tremendous amount of unjustified delays, dithering, et cetera, when applications are assessed, be they submitted by Canadians, Canadian companies operating abroad and receiving subsidies from CIDA, or even applications from abroad.

Could you give us an idea of the efficiency of the application approval process?

Ms. Folco: I cannot say, sir, because I am not familiar enough with the approval process. I do not know it in detail. However, I have spoken quite a bit with Canadians who had contracts with CIDA. I have also had extensive discussions with people who had projects in Africa, for instance, and who were asking CIDA to help them with their projects.

We were very frustrated, when I wanted to give them the information, because, among other things, they took an enormous amount of time before even answering us — I am speaking on behalf of the group — and because the reply was often negative, with few explanations. Let me give you an example that happened quite some time ago. There was a group of nuns from Quebec in an African country who wanted, because of the floods that had occurred near their hospital, to restore the riverside area. They had asked CIDA for help. CIDA knew these nuns very well. It took an enormous amount of time before CIDA heard them out. That was the reason why they came to see me. In fact, they should not have needed me because they were already well-known to the organization.

Senator Corbin: Thus, as you have personally noted, there are occasional cases of inefficiency. Perhaps there are also other cases of applications being treated in such a cavalier way. Perhaps the organization is too large to be efficient. Would I be right in saying that?

Ms. Folco: I cannot answer this question. What I thought at the time was that perhaps, given the modest sum that they were requesting, it would have been better to approve this budget on the ground, in the country where it had been requested, rather than to send it from that country to CIDA and then to Ottawa, et cetera, thus going through the entire flow chart of CIDA from bottom to top. It would have been much better to repair the grounds in that place with a small budget. I cannot answer your question.

Senator Corbin: I am still astonished — this is just a comment on my part — by the generosity that Canadians showed in answering the appeals by the Red Cross to help the tsunami victims. The Red Cross, as we know, from recent information, was not able to spend at least a hundred million dollars of the donations it received. Canadian generosity is extraordinary. It comes from the heart and without hesitation. When I compare this to CIDA, I am flabbergasted, because the process becomes so drawn out and bureaucratized that applicants no longer know what to do. I think that CIDA needs a radical reform so that it might reflect the outstanding generosity of Canadians. This is just a comment of mine.

Ms. Folco: I do not disagree with what you have just said, but let me say that on the other hand, this has to do with accountability and transparency. CIDA also has a duty to be accountable.

[English]

Senator Mahovlich: Mr. Fisher, how does Bill C-293 rank against other donor countries' legislation guiding the provision of development assistance, and how does it differ from these countries' legislative mandates?

Mr. Fisher: I do not know the details of those bills well enough to comment. I understand that in the U.K. there is perhaps greater specificity on both the definition of poverty and the reporting requirements, but I really do not know the details of all of those other bills. I am sorry.

The Chair: I would like to extend our appreciation and thanks to both of our witnesses.

This is legislation that, in principle, has very little objection from senators involved in this. We are looking at some of the issues that we feel make it quite difficult to make this process efficient. In that respect, we thank you for giving us your wisdom, opinions and participation in enlightening us. It will be helpful in our deliberations. Thank you for coming.

Senator Stollery: The arrangement we have is to vote clause by clause on Bill C-293 on April 2.

The Chair: It is important to put on the record that the steering committee had a discussion, and the steering committee, on division — this is important, because it will be on division here again.

Senator Stollery: It is the report of the committee. It does not matter what it is.

The Chair: I believe Senator Stollery is saying that we would like committee approval that, on April 2, all matters dealing with Bill C-293 be dispensed with and the bill reported the following day.

Senator Corbin: Mr. Chair, if I may suggest, we should also say that we will have witnesses, yet to be identified in some cases.

The Chair: We have some identified. We have two witnesses for next week.

Senator Corbin: That would also be an opportunity for members of the committee, who so wished, to present amendments.

The Chair: The minister has also indicated that she will be appearing on April 2 on this bill.

Senator Corbin: That is when we come back following the Easter break.

The Chair: I believe that is Wednesday, April 2.

Senator Stollery: We can report it to the Senate, and then if there is anything else, it can be done in the Senate.

Senator Smith: That is better than April 1.

Senator Stollery: All in favour?

The Chair: Is that on division?

On division. Thank you.

Senator Corbin: Why are you promoting division?

The Chair: I believe that there are some serious problems with this bill.

Senator Stollery: May I move that motion?

The Chair: It is done already, on division.

Senator Corbin: You like that word.

The Chair: I want to make sure people understand that I am not in favour of it.

The last item I wanted to bring to your attention is that tomorrow you have a day off. There is no meeting tomorrow.

Senator Corbin: Do not say we have a day off.

The Chair: You have a day off from this committee. I have two other committees to attend tomorrow. The next meeting will be a week today, same time and same place.

The committee adjourned.