From Bad to Worse: Canada’s Development Agenda in the Americas

In the most recent Canadian budget, it was announced that the Canadian International Development Agency was being “modernized.” Going forward, CIDA will no longer function as a separate governmental agency, but instead it will be folded into the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Kevin Edmonds 3/28/2013


In the most recent Canadian budget, it was announced that the Canadian International Development Agency was being “modernized.” Going forward, CIDA will no longer function as a separate governmental agency, but instead it will be folded into the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Shutting down an ineffective and often interventionist agency like CIDA would often be greeted with goodwill in progressive circles—especially due to its checkered history and limited success. However, one has to hand it to the Canadian government, who managed to shut down a poorly functioning agency only to replace it with something worse. This shift to “modernize” Canada’s development agency will now most certainly make it less transparent, democratic, and accountable. It also sets a regressive example for other governments to follow.  

The “modernization” of Canada’s development agenda seeks to limit the amount of money spent on development or aid projects—and instead seeks to “promote private sector partnerships in development, in turn spurring business growth, creating jobs, and generating tax revenues that fund basic social services.” In many ways, as outlined in CIDA’s Sustainable Economic Growth Strategy, Canada is seeking to implement the underlying assumptions of trickle-down economics as their main tool in their international development toolbox. Given that Canada’s primary economic interests beyond its borders are related to the extraction of minerals, CIDA’s operations in both Honduras and Haiti highlight the darker side of the agency—and provide a troubling example of what might be expected under a developmental agenda driven by private investment.

The 2009 coup in Honduras was supported by Canada, as two of the key policies implemented by President Manuel Zelaya and the popular movement were to place a moratorium on the granting of new mining concessions and raising the minimum wage by 60%. This past January, the moratorium on mining was lifted with the support of CIDA. The new mining law will allow open pit mining, placing water sources at risk of severe pollution and opening the door to allow foreign mining companies to access international tribunals in order to protect their investments. The implementation of this mining law was crucial to the upcoming Canada-Honduras Free Trade Act.

Similar to Honduras, CIDA backed the overthrow of democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. In 2007, Richard Sanders outlined in great detail how CIDA bankrolled the 2004 coup and ushered in an era of weakened government and foreign occupation in the form of MINUSTAH. CIDA also was engaged in a campaign of misinformation regarding human rights abuses being ordered by Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. While Canada had already frozen the Haitian government out of the distribution of funds in practice, in January it was put into policy as CIDA announced that it would be freezing all new aid to Haiti. Given the shift towards the private sector, it makes much more sense. Given the distribution of gold and copper mining concessions to Canadian firms, there is little need to invest in building the capacity of health and education outside of the mining camps.

It would be one thing if the shift towards aligning development initiatives with larger private sector projects could claim a better record of human rights and environmental protection. Sadly, it cannot. Currently, Canadian mining companies are facing an increasing amount of criticism over their human rights abuses. Currently, HudBay Minerals is being sued in a Toronto court for the role of its security personnel in murdering Adolfo Ich and the gang rape of 11 women at their former mining project in Guatemala. The abuses are not regarded as isolated incidents either, as a 2009 industry report from the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada revealed that Canadian mining companies are implicated in four times the number of human rights and environmental violations than firms based in other countries.

In many ways, the combination of development projects and private investment is a strategy which can whitewash potentially harmful and destructive projects. Mining is notorious for having a low multiplier effect on the local economy, as the workers are paid very little for the minerals they unearth—which later go on to receive high prices internationally. Secondly, there are massive environmental impacts related to resource extraction, which come in the form of stripped and degraded land and the pollution of water through the release of heavy metals. With this shift, mining companies can promise local communities that the Canadian government will provide schools, medical care, or upgraded housing in order to enter areas which would have otherwise been against resource extraction. It is another tool that mining corporations can call upon to pressure communities.

Given the shift in CIDA, it can be assumed that Canada’s relationship with Haiti and Honduras will erode from bad to worse. The Canadian model of development—while highly controversial before—seeks to use development projects as a Trojan horse for mineral extraction throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It will create a program which is even less transparent, democratic, and accountable. Given the overall priorities of the Canadian government at home, they can at least be credited with being consistent in their policy of undermining people and the environment for corporate profit.  



Kevin Edmonds is a NACLA blogger focusing on the Caribbean. For more from his blog, "The Other Side of Paradise," visit Edmonds is a former NACLA research associate and a current PhD student at the University of Toronto, where he is studying the impact of neoliberalism on the St. Lucian banana trade. Follow him on twitter @kevin_edmonds.

Like this article? Support our work. Donate now.