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Rethinking Canadian Aid

Stephen Brown
Molly den Heyer
David R. Black

Section III: Canada's Role in International Development on Key Themes

Chapter XVI. Undermining Foreign Aid: The Extractive Sector and the Recommercialization of Canadian Development Assistance

Stephen Brown

Texte intégral

  • 1 Though CIDA was absorbed into the newly renamed Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Developme (...)

1In 2011, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) announced three new development projects in conjunction with Canadian NGOs and mining companies.1 The total amount of CIDA funding committed was not especially high, nor was it the first time that the CIDA had supported such projects. Nonetheless, the partnerships attracted considerable media attention, much of it critical. Claims and counterclaims about whether CIDA was subsidizing mining companies multiplied in the press, on the radio, and in the blogosphere, as the various parties involved struggled to establish a clear and consistent narrative on the concrete nature of the partnerships and their underlying rationales.

2This chapter argues that the new initiative was emblematic of a new turn in Canadian development assistance – namely, the explicit recommercialization of aid. Canadian trade interests have always underpinned Canadian aid to a certain extent (Morrison 1998). However, a clear trend in the 2000s, under Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, and the Stephen Harper minority government, had been to move away from commercial self-interest. The progressive elimination of the requirement that be aid funds be tied to procurement in Canada, first in the area of food aid and then for goods and services more generally, epitomized that trend. The new partnerships thus represent a shift in the “first principles” of foreign aid, openly reintroducing and celebrating benefits to Canadians – or, more accurately, shareholders of Canadian companies – as a motive for the renewed commercialization of Canadian aid, with an emphasis on Canadian foreign investment, rather than on the Canadian farming and manufacturing sectors, which had been the main rationale of tied aid.

3The package that CIDA announced in 2011 represents a stark public declaration of the Harper government’s intention to reorient official development assistance (ODA) towards the interests of private Canadian companies, particularly those in the extractive sector. The government’s use of aid funds to support the mining sector is impelled primarily by a top-down desire to rehabilitate the image of the Canadian mining sector and increase its investment opportunities – and hence its profits – overseas. Though undoubtedly some benefits will accrue to poor people in developing countries, the emphasis on extractives is an ineffective and potentially illegal use of ODA funds that will benefit wealthy mining companies more. This use of ODA resources for non-development purposes is facilitated by nebulous discourse in two areas: (1) the role of the private sector in development, which conflates small and medium-sized businesses in developing countries with large Canadian multinational extractive firms, and (2) corporate social responsibility (CSR).

4Below, I first introduce the projects mentioned above. Second, I consider whether the CIDA funding constitutes a subsidy or not, a significant bone of contention. Third, I explore the competing rationales invoked to justify the projects, most of which are contradictory and implausible. Fourth, I assess the potential benefits to the various parties involved in the partnerships, as well as the risks. Finally, I conclude by contextualizing these initiatives within Canadian foreign aid and government policy, and in relation to the extractive industry and commercial self-interest.

The Three “Pilot Projects”

5The CIDA announcement, made by Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda on September 29, 2011, comprised three “pilot projects” with well-established Canadian NGOs and mining companies (total budget $9.5 million, of which $6.7 million were CIDA funds), presented as a package (CIDA 2011b). Of the three projects, the one that received the most attention was a $7.6 million youth training program in Burkina Faso, to which CIDA contributed 75 percent and the mining company IAMGOLD only 13 percent, while the implementing NGO, Plan Canada, provided the remaining 12 percent. The second project, implemented by World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and co-financed by Rio Tinto Alcan, provides assistance to residents of the mining communities of Bibiani-Anhwiaso Bekwai district in Ghana, notably via education and improved access to water (CIDA 2011b, 2013). CIDA allocated $500,000 to the project, over half of the total cost of $928,000. By the time CIDA announced the project, Rio Tinto Alcan had sold its mine to a Chinese company and no longer operated in Ghana. CIDA also contributed $500,000 (50 percent) to the third project, implemented by World Vision Canada and co-funded by Canadian giant Barrick Gold. It provides socio-economic assistance to residents of the Quiruvilca district of Peru, where Barrick operates a mine.

  • 2 The announcement also included the mining-related Andean Regional Initiative for Promoting Effecti (...)

6The total value of Canadian development assistance to these three pilot projects is $6.7 million, to be provided over five and a half years (CIDA 2011b).2 This represents a very small proportion of Canadian ODA, barely 0.1 percent of annual disbursements. It was also not the first time CIDA had partnered with NGOs and Canadian mining companies. For instance, CIDA provided almost $500,000 to a reforestation project near a Barrick Gold mine site in Peru, run by Quebec-based NGO SOCODEVI, to which the mining company contributed $150,000 (Blackwood and Stewart 2012, 229). However, since the government presented the partnership arrangements as “pilot projects” and otherwise suggested they would be replicated in the future (Mackrael 2012b), they merit closer analysis as indicators of future trends.

Subsidies or Not?

  • 3 Unattributable author conversation with Plan Canada officials.

7Following the announcement, critics decried the use of public funds to subsidize highly profitable private mining companies (Leblanc 2012). Part of the confusion around subsidies related directly to the largest project, in Burkina Faso. Especially controversial was CIDA’s claim that the project “will receive job skills training linked to labour market needs in the mining sector and its sub-sectors” (CIDA 2011b). Further suggesting that IAMGOLD would benefit from the training, the Globe and Mail cited a Burkinabé government official statement that, “A number of graduates are expected to go directly into jobs at the mining company.” It also reported that the project would “provide at least 500 internships” with the mining company (York 2012), a claim that Plan officials subsequently and vehemently denied.3

8The government responded to accusations of subsidization by emphasizing that no funds were being transferred to the mining companies themselves (e.g., Fantino 2012a), which was technically accurate but sidestepped two key critiques. First, CIDA was indeed subsidizing the companies’ CSR programs, even if not the companies directly (MiningWatch Canada 2012). In a sense, this is not very different from how CIDA funds NGO projects, which are only called subsidies by critics. However, a key difference is the profit-making nature of the private corporations carrying out the CSR projects.

9Second, CIDA funds were being directed specifically to communities affected by Canadian mining companies, providing them with benefits that they would not otherwise have received. This will have a positive impact on the companies’ reputation and also make it easier to obtain and maintain a “social licence to operate,” that is to say, the consent of mining communities. In short, the message to sceptical local communities is that if they accept Canadian mining projects, the Canadian government will provide them with extra assistance. Some refer to this as a “pacification program” (Arnold 2012).

10Pierre Gratton, the president of the Mining Association of Canada, initially argued in an interview with the Globe and Mail, that such endeavours “make it easier for mining firms to sell their sometimes controversial projects to local populations” (Leblanc 2012). Gratton, a key lobbyist for the industry, later stated that “the mining industry does not need nor want subsidies from CIDA” (Gratton 2012b, 8), echoing CIDA minister Bev Oda’s claim that, “In no way are public funds being used to increase the profitability (of these companies)” (quoted in Payne 2012). These denials were contradicted by Oda’s successor, Julian Fantino, who declared that “CIDA’s work with mining companies would help them compete on the international stage” (Mackrael 2012a). If this is indeed the case, it is hard to deny that CIDA is providing a public subsidy to private businesses.

Confused Rationales

  • 4 Schulman and Nieto (2011); unattributable interviews with NGO and mining company officials.

11CIDA announced the three-project package as part of “Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Strategy for the Canadian International Extractive Sector” (CIDA 2011b). The Canadian government conceptualizes its broader support for CSR as a means to “improve the competitive advantage of Canadian international extractive sector companies by enhancing their ability to manage social and environmental risks” – also implying a subsidy to increased profitability by enhancing international competitiveness. The strategy’s title, “Building the Canadian Advantage,” also suggests that Canadian companies are the desired beneficiaries (FATDC 2013a; see also Goyette, this volume). The CSR rationale created an oxymoron: public funds being used for private CSR. This was especially contradictory for the Burkina Faso project, where CIDA was providing three-quarters of the project’s financing and the private corporation only 13 percent. For that reason, NGO and mining company officials have expressed discomfort with the government’s decision to apply the CSR label to the partnerships.4

  • 5 Unattributable interview with an NGO official.

12The Mining Association’s Pierre Gratton (2012a) also argued that the public-private partnerships helped companies access NGO expertise, ignoring the fact that mining companies could enter into agreements with NGOs or hire experts without CIDA funding, which in fact many already had. He further stated that CIDA funding would help ensure that the mining companies would be held accountable for their development projects (Gratton 2012b), inadvertently suggesting that they otherwise were not – and that this was a problem, implying that the Canadian government would be justified to enact mandatory accountability regulations for their activities. A senior representative from one of the three NGOs involved, however, has argued that there will be little benefit to the mining companies or the extractive industry more broadly, and that they are acting purely philanthropically.5 This contradicts public statements on the CIDA website and others by two CIDA ministers, as well as the presidents of World Vision Canada, IAMGOLD, and the Mining Association of Canada.

13CIDA and other Canadian government officials have also justified the partnership on the grounds that they provide better development assistance. Bev Oda, for instance, stated, “It’s another way of improving the effectiveness of CIDA’s work” (quoted in Payne 2012). There are two separate and somewhat contradictory strands to the effectiveness argument. One is that the private sector does things better than the public sector (such as job creation or achieving concrete results). The other is that the main advantage is resource mobilization for CIDA’s work. Neither of these arguments is convincing.

  • 6 This exchange took place at a public event under the Chatham House rule. I cannot therefore provid (...)

14Those invoking the first strand (see, for instance, Conservative MP Bob Dechert’s comments in SCFAID [2012b]) ignore the fact that the mining companies are not implementing the projects, but rather the NGOs are. As mining industry lobbyist Gratton admitted, “We’re miners, we’re not in the business of social and community development that the NGOs are experts at” (quoted in Mackrael 2012c). The mining companies’ inputs are mainly financial and the projects themselves do not differ substantively from traditional aid projects. Second, if the main concern is leveraging funds (Mackrael 2012c), why seek funds from specifically Canadian companies and why only companies in the extractive sector and not, say, RBC or Tim Horton’s? When I asked a CIDA official those questions, he replied that it was because CIDA already had contacts with the Canadian mining sector, failing to mention that CIDA had actively sought out those contacts.6 Moreover, the actual contributions of the mining companies to the three projects range from $300,000 to $1 million, meagre sums by CIDA standards (not to mention mining company budgets). If CIDA is doing it for the money, it sure is cheap.

15Other reasons invoked by the projects’ supporters include the fact that other donor countries, such as the US and the UK, are already funding similar partnerships, that it is “the way of the future,” or that public-private partnerships are inherently more efficient (CBC 2012; Dade 2012, 7; Fantino 2012b). Deploying huge, vague, and highly debatably generalizations, they fail to address the specific merits of the projects themselves, or show how corporate involvement actually makes a difference.

  • 7 The CIDA official was speaking at a public event under the Chatham House rule and therefore cannot (...)
  • 8 Unattributable interview with NGO officials.

16The origins of the partnerships could shed some light on the underlying motivations. IAMGOLD president Steve Letwin stated in a radio interview that CIDA “came to see us” (CBC 2012), a claim contradicted by the other parties. According to a senior CIDA official, Plan and IAMGOLD developed the project on their own and then applied for CIDA funding that would “probably” have been approved even without mining company participation.7 Such claims are disingenuous because CIDA actively encouraged the mining–NGO partnerships and had in fact let it be known that special funds had been set aside to fund them, at a time when it was cutting the foreign aid budget, including support to Canadian NGOs.8

17The reasons CIDA has promoted these partnerships are unclear. Is it subsidizing or promoting the mining industry or not? Does it constitute CSR or not? Will Canada mining companies benefit or not? Clearly, there is insufficient coordination among the various parties in explaining the initiative’s nature and rationale to the Canadian public. Many actors involved may also lack an understanding of the issues, or even lack competence in public relations. It could also be that different actors are trying to sell different messages to distinct audiences, hoping other people will not notice discrepancies and contradictions.

The Benefits and Risks of Involvement

18The lack of coherent narrative does not prevent the various parties from having their own reasons to participate in such partnerships. For NGOs, participation allows them to access additional funds and scale up their operations (McCarney on CBC 2012), even if they assert that it is “not about money,” but rather that – as stated by the heads of the three NGOS – “our goal is to see that maximum benefits accrue to the communities where we work, while also working diligently to mitigate and prevent harm” (Eaton et al. 2012). Claims by the executive director of WUSC (quoted in Schulman and Nieto 2011) and others that working with mining companies will help the latter improve their corporate practices can be considered magical thinking, as the projects contain no provisions for NGO input on actual mining activities.

  • 9 On the limits of CSR, the failure of court cases to date against mining companies, and the need fo (...)

19Moreover, by focusing on mining companies’ “philanthropic” side activities, the partnerships actually deflect attention away from accountability for Canadian corporate malpractice in the extractive sector (Denault et al. 2008) and the significant problems associated with mining-led development (Coumans 2012). Public relations “greenwashing,” if anything, can make it easier for environmental and human rights abuses to continue (Hamann and Kapelus 2004).9 In that sense, to use John Cameron’s terminology, the projects may “do good,” but they fail to support the more fundamental imperative of “do no harm” and may even facilitate harm (see Cameron, this volume).

  • 10 The project’s implementation plan recognizes that allegations of malpractice against IAMGOLD and o (...)

20Rosemary McCarney, president of Plan Canada, stated that accepting money from IAMGOLD would not prevent her organization from criticizing it: “No partnership … would keep us from speaking out when we see abuses or bad practices,” adding, “Shame on us if that would silence us in any way” (CBC 2012). Other NGO actors, such as Samantha Nutt, are more sceptical of any NGO’s willingness to “[bite] the hand that feeds” (quoted in Westhead 2013; see also Nutt 2012). In fact, Plan Canada’s official project documentation suggests that Plan would refrain from commenting publicly on any allegations regarding IAMGOLD’s mining practices and foresees helping the company manage public relations problems in case of public outcry.10

  • 11 A study commissioned by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada in 2009 but never off (...)
  • 12 Unattributable interviews with NGO and mining company officials. Had the government not specifical (...)

21For mining companies, CIDA funding allows them to scale up their CSR programs. The partnerships allow them to claim credit and get positive publicity for development projects towards which they contribute as little as 13 percent of total costs. These partnerships also help them refashion their image. CIDA-funded projects help extractive companies, generally seen as highly problematic actors,11 reinvent themselves as philanthropic development actors and dodge demands for accountability for their actual operations – though mining companies have done very little to advertise in Canada their involvement in these partnerships. They, along with some NGO officials, were in fact unpleasantly surprised when CIDA publicized their projects as of a broader strategy, which brought unwanted Canadian public attention to them.12 Still, as mentioned above, the partnerships can help convince local communities to welcome mining operations, and specifically Canadian ones, with the promise that the Canadian government and Canadian NGOs will provide some sweeteners. Moreover, by mobilizing additional Canadian government resources, the companies help protect themselves from tax and royalty increases or even expropriation in the host countries (Dawson 2013; see also Schulman and Nieto 2011).

22For CIDA, DFATD, and the Canadian government more broadly, the reasons for initiating and supporting the partnerships appear to be mainly commercial and ideological; they produce a non-critical, pro-business stance across various areas of activity – not just in foreign aid – often in favour of the widely criticized extractive sector. In early 2011, the Harper government started to develop a new strategy to increase the involvement of the Canadian private sector in Canadian aid programs, which included having a parliamentary committee study the issue (Foster 2013). The report of the committee, which was dominated by Conservative MPs, recommended setting aside funds for public-private partnerships, among other measures (SCFAID 2012a). It portrayed the private sector as the motor of economic growth worldwide (see also Fantino 2012a), but repeatedly confused growth with development and conflated local small and medium-sized enterprises with Canadian multinationals. Moreover, the committee ignored CIDA’s very poor history of directly funding the Canadian private sector (see CIDA 2007). I do not mean to imply that the private sector should play no role in development assistance; rather, the government has overstated its case and poorly justified its rationale for using aid funds to work with Canadian multinational corporations.

  • 13 Oda’s assertions fly in the face of well-documented record of abuses by numerous Canadian mining c (...)

23During this period, successive CIDA ministers defended both the record of Canadian companies and the idea that they should benefit from Canadian aid. For instance, Oda said in April 2012, “There’s nothing wrong with private sector, and particularly our Canadian private sector. They’re responsible. They’re good” (quoted in Shane 2012, 5).13 In November 2012, Fantino echoed that perspective, stating, “Canadian companies have shown themselves to be socially responsible,” adding, “most importantly: this has contributed to [their] bottom line” and that, “building on [Canada’s free-trade agreement with Peru], CIDA has focused its work in areas of benefit to Canadian interests” (Fantino 2012a). The following month, Fantino further developed the centrality of self-interest in Canadian foreign aid when he stated, “we have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that Canadian interests are promoted” and that “Canadians are entitled to derive a benefit” (quoted in Mackrael 2012b). In 2013, Fantino told the board of directors of the Mining Association of Canada, “we want to help you succeed” (quoted in Mackrael 2013). This framing of aid is compatible with Cranford Pratt’s “dominant class perspective” (see discussion in Black, this volume).

24The partnerships also pose risks for all parties involved, but unequally. The NGOs’ reputations have already been somewhat compromised by their partnerships with mining companies whose operations are seen by many as unethical. Both WUSC and Plan Canada have lost private donors as a result. McCarney initially defended Plan Canada’s partnership with IAMGOLD, stating that they knew the risks and did “an extraordinary amount of due diligence … on the ethical standards of that company” (CBC 2012; see also York 2012). However, her subsequent comments suggest Plan Canada might be regretting its involvement: “Would we try it again? Probably not … It’s upsetting to donors. People are mad. The reality is that working with any mining company is going to be a problem. There are going to be (employee) strikes and spills. Is it worth the headache? Probably not” (quoted in Westhead 2013).

25Risks can extend to NGOs who do not work with mining companies. Some NGO officials feel that the sector as a whole has been discredited as development actors in their own right and will be increasingly viewed by beneficiaries as handmaidens of the mining companies or, in the words of Samantha Nutt (2012), “bagmen, advancing Canadian mining interests with taxpayer funding by appeasing local communities with gifts of health care and education,” instead of advocates for the poor. Moreover, these partnerships have proven highly divisive in the NGO community, in effect driving a wedge between those that prioritize access to funding and those that are more interested in playing an advocacy role.

26Like the NGOs, CIDA/DFATD will also suffer a reputational risk if a scandal erupts concerning any of the three mining companies. A Swiss business intelligence firm considers two of them – Rio Tinto and Barrick – to be among the world’s ten most controversial mining companies because of their “negative impacts on communities and the environment” (RepRisk 2012, 1). An American NGO has placed Barrick Gold on its “Top 10 Corporate Criminals List” – covering all industries, not just mining – for “contaminating waterways in Latin America and failing to uphold safety promises to nearby residents” (Global Exchange 2013; see also Arnold 2012). For the mining companies, however, there are few risks, unless the NGO-run projects prove disastrous, which is highly unlikely, or if the partnerships bring extra attention to their transgressions linked to their extractive activities, as they have begun to do (which might help to explain why the mining companies have done little to publicize the partnerships in Canada). Meanwhile, the companies stand to gain financially from association with development actors.

Conclusion: The Bigger Picture

  • 14 That Rio Tinto Alcan ceased operating in Ghana after the project with WUSC was initiated does not (...)
  • 15 Mining is often destructive, but nonetheless a necessary economic activity. Some degree of public- (...)

27Though ODA grants to date for CIDA–NGO–mining company partnerships are relatively small, they are likely a harbinger of things to come, as the Canadian government has reiterated on several occasions its intent to expand the three “pilot projects,” even though using aid funds to support for the Canadian extractive sector lacks a justifiable rationale. The three projects will surely, as their proponents assert, provide assistance to thousands of people, but that is not the key issue. The World Vision/Barrick Gold project in Peru, the WUSC/Rio Tinto project in Ghana (though not the Plan/IAMGOLD one in Burkina Faso), as well as the $20 million Andean Regional Initiative for Promoting Effective Corporate Social Responsibility, all focus on mining-affected communities. Though poor people in such communities are worthy of assistance, the same can be said about all poor people – certainly not just those living in communities affected by Canadian mining companies specifically.14 Moreover, such activities use ODA funds to provide public subsidies to private corporations, even if only indirectly, which is highly problematic and poses reputational risks to the Canadian government and especially NGOs. The partnerships do nothing to actually improve the practices of extractive companies; they merely encourage adding on charitable side projects.15

28The central question is why the Canadian government is setting aside resources and allocating them to these projects, particularly at a time when it is reducing its overall aid budget and cutting back on funding to NGO projects that do not include mining company involvement. Explanations based on the mobilization of additional resources or expertise are not convincing, since the amounts the mining companies are contributing are relatively small and those companies do not actually have development expertise. Nor do the projects include components that monitor or help improve the practices of the companies. Indeed, the greatest beneficiaries of the projects are the mining companies themselves: public funds enhance their ability to operate in mining-affected communities and their competitiveness on the global scene, while reducing their risks. In short, through at least two of the three “pilot projects,” foreign aid is, in fact, subsidizing the bottom line of Canadian companies, which contradicts the provisions of Canada’s Official Development Assistance Accountability Act (which mandates a central focus on poverty reduction) and may therefore be illegal (Blackwood and Stewart 2012).

29The use of foreign aid to bolster the Canadian mining industry constitutes a significant shift in the renewed commercialization of Canadian development assistance and the latter’s “first principles.” Though self-interested goals and altruistic objectives can be compatible in some “win-win” situations, the growing emphasis on aid’s benefits to Canada led other Western donors to remind the government that “there should be no confusion between development objectives and the promotion of commercial interests” (OECD 2012, 11). Canada’s concerted efforts to promote its own mining sector as a tool of development abroad also contradicts the principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, endorsed by Canada, which emphasises the importance of donors aligning their policies with recipient countries’ priorities, rather than selecting their own.

30Under the guise of support to CSR and emphasis on the private sector as the driver of growth, the Canadian government’s aid discourse is increasingly shifting from altruistic humanitarian principles to explicit claims of “mutual benefit” (Fantino 2012a; Mackrael 2012b). These claims echo the Chinese government’s justification of its use of aid to promote Chinese commercial and investment interests, as well as some of the discourse of African elites who seek to move away from a charity-based approach.

31For decades, commercial self-interest characterized much Western foreign aid, but this decreased as Canada and most other donors progressively eliminated aid tied to procurement in the donor country. However, commercial interests are now resurging under a new form. At least in the Canadian case, aid is promoting Canadian companies’ foreign investment and overseas operations far more than the export of Canadian products. Benefits will therefore accrue to shareholders and not support the job-creating manufacturing industries and agricultural production in Canada. The benefits of the recommercialization of aid are thus likely to be more concentrated among wealthy Canadians, along with foreign shareholders, than was previously the case.

  • 16 The Lundin Foundation, initially named Lundin for Africa, was established by the Lundin Group of C (...)

32CIDA’s activities in support of the mining sector are not limited to those discussed here. It also funds NGOs set up by the extractive industry, such as the Lundin Foundation, to which it granted $4.5 million in 2011, with an additional $2.8 million in 2012, for its work in conjunction with Engineers without Borders (CIDA 2011a, 2013).16 CIDA/DFATD is also contributing $25 million to create the Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development, housed at the University of British Columbia (discussed in Goyette, this volume). In 2014, Minister of International Development Christian Paradis announced a new DFATD-managed fund “to support large-scale development projects in the extractive sector in Africa” with an annual budget of $25 million (FATDC 2014). For a fuller picture, future research should consider those and other government-supported projects involving the mining sector.

33Another promising path for future research is the concept of conflict of interest, invoked by Helleiner (2013, 296) and Payne (2013a), which applies when a country such as Canada that has powerful mining interests not only advocates foreign investment in mining as a path to development, but uses ODA funds – legally committed to fighting poverty in developing countries – in ways that benefit its own industry. For instance, CIDA funds have helped rewrite the Colombian mining code in ways that favour Canadian companies, including by reducing the royalty rates that foreign companies have to pay (Blackwood and Stewart 2012). In Peru, Canada will help “streamline” the environmental impact assessments that proposed mining projects must undergo (Berthiaume 2013). CIDA’s absorption into DFATD is likely to increase pressure for the use of ODA funds for commercial purposes, which warrants close monitoring. The chief executive officer of Rio Tinto Alcan is one of five members of an external advisory group on the merger-related restructuring (Payne 2013b). DFATD’s first post-merger policy blueprint mentions the government’s intention to “leverage development programming to advance Canada’s trade interests” (FATDC 2013b, 14).

  • 17 It was a SEMAFO mine in Niger that Robert Fowler and Louis Guay had just visited when they were ki (...)

34This chapter has limited its discussion to CIDA and ODA funds, but the Canadian government is in fact deploying a “whole-of-government approach” in favour of the extractive sector that extends far beyond the use of foreign aid, including the erstwhile Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), as well as Export Development Canada (Blackwood and Stewart 2012). DFAIT, for instance, contributed $564,000 directly to Quebec-based Société d’exploitation minière–Afrique de l’Ouest (SEMAFO), whose president, Benoît La Salle, used to chair Plan Canada’s Board of Directors (FATDC 2012).17 In future research, more attention should be paid not only to such grants from different government actors, but also to the formal and informal connections between government, NGOs, and mining interests, which could shed more light on the recommercialization of Canadian aid.



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1 Though CIDA was absorbed into the newly renamed Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFTAD) in 2013, I still refer to it in this chapter by the name it had at the time.

2 The announcement also included the mining-related Andean Regional Initiative for Promoting Effective Corporate Social Responsibility, with a CIDA contribution of $20 million, to cover Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, but provided little detail. In the DFATD international development project browser, one can find an entry under the initiative for each of the countries. They all list WUSC as the executing agency and mention partnerships with other Canadian NGOs, including CARE, CECI, and SOCODEVI.

3 Unattributable author conversation with Plan Canada officials.

4 Schulman and Nieto (2011); unattributable interviews with NGO and mining company officials.

5 Unattributable interview with an NGO official.

6 This exchange took place at a public event under the Chatham House rule. I cannot therefore provide additional information on his identity.

7 The CIDA official was speaking at a public event under the Chatham House rule and therefore cannot be identified here by name.

8 Unattributable interview with NGO officials.

9 On the limits of CSR, the failure of court cases to date against mining companies, and the need for Canadian government regulation, see Campbell (2008) and North and Young (2013).

10 The project’s implementation plan recognizes that allegations of malpractice against IAMGOLD and other mining companies operating in Burkina Faso are “probable” and that this poses a reputational risk to Plan and the project. The document anticipates that Plan and IAMGOLD will develop a crisis management strategy that could best be described as public relations damage control, in case the media generate negative publicity (in other words, the joint strategy would try to counter media criticisms and not address any actual malpractice). The document also strongly suggests that Plan Canada and its local counterpart Plan Burkina would not share information critical of IAMGOLD with the public or in any way act contrary to the company’s interests. In particular, it specifies that Plan should not address any allegations concerning IAMGOLD’s mining operations and would limit its public comments to matters directly related to the project itself (Plan Canada 2011, 26, 32–33).

11 A study commissioned by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada in 2009 but never officially released found that “Canadian mining companies are far and away the worst offenders in environmental, human rights, and other abuses around the world,” as well as “more likely to be engaged in community conflict, environmental and unethical behaviour” than companies based in other countries (Whittington 2010).

12 Unattributable interviews with NGO and mining company officials. Had the government not specifically used ODA funds to support these three projects or had CIDA not prominently announced them as a package, the partnerships might have escaped public attention in Canada.

13 Oda’s assertions fly in the face of well-documented record of abuses by numerous Canadian mining companies, as recognized by the industry’s internal report cited by Whittington (2010). They were also swiftly contradicted by multiple corruption scandals at construction and engineering giant SNC-Lavalin. The company had held numerous CIDA contracts, including for the Dahla Dam in Afghanistan, and was subsequently banned from bidding on CIDA and World Bank projects for a ten-year period.

14 That Rio Tinto Alcan ceased operating in Ghana after the project with WUSC was initiated does not obviate the fact that they would have similarly benefited had it stayed.

15 Mining is often destructive, but nonetheless a necessary economic activity. Some degree of public-private interaction is therefore essential to try to mitigate the damage to communities and the environment. For a discussion of positive measures the Canadian government and its industry partners could undertake in the extractive sector, see McLeod Group (2012).

16 The Lundin Foundation, initially named Lundin for Africa, was established by the Lundin Group of Companies, which includes Lundin Petroleum, accused of complicity with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan (Sunderland 2010).

17 It was a SEMAFO mine in Niger that Robert Fowler and Louis Guay had just visited when they were kidnapped in 2008 (Engler 2009).


Professor of Political Science at the University of Ottawa. He is the author of numerous publications on foreign aid, and editor of Struggling for Effectiveness: CIDA and Canadian Foreign Aid (2012). He has published widely on democratization and political violence in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is currently working on issues relating to aid effectiveness and policy coherence


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