Panel reflects on Canada’s international aid

The University of Calgary Engineers Without Borders Chapter hosted a discussion panel March 18 on Canada’s role in international development and aid. The four-person panel addressed a range of topics including aid harmonization and international cooperation.

Glen Pearson, London North-Centre member of parliament and liberal critic for international co-operation spoke first.

“I have seen overseas the difference that government money can make,” said Pearson.

Pearson discussed a to trip Sudan he organized to assist internally displaced people. He asked for six million dollars from the Canadian government, received three and set off for the war-torn African nation.

“I took a team of 15 average Canadians over [to Sudan] and they were in tears over what they saw,” said Pearson. Pearson further stated that they did a “tremendous job developing water systems through the refugee camps.”

Pearson remarked on a “crisis of confidence around the government’s role in development,” and encouraged Canadians to “work with us, come after us, help us to realize what can be done.”

Caesar Apentiik, a Ghanaian instructor in African and Development Studies at the University of Calgary, outlined the main two schools of thought regarding foreign aid. He identified the ‘crusaders’ school which “believes that the western world needs to do more,” and the ‘infidels’ group which believes that the developing world gets enough money from the west.

“Both argue over the same points,” said Apentiik. “They both may be right to some extent.”

Apentiik believes it is important for Canadians to become better informed about aid, stressing there is “a lot of ignorance around the subject.”

“One of the things that we need to do is to get ourselves well educated whatever way we can, and from there we can put pressure on our government,” said Apentiik. “It is very important in my view to fight about injustice from home and put pressure on our government.”

Third to speak was Naheed Nenshi, associate professor at Mount Royal University and Calgary Herald columnist.

Nenshi illuminated a range of issues regarding Canadian aid and was excited to say that 100 per cent of Canada’s aid will be “untied” by 2012.

“In the past, foreign aid has often had conditions, we call that tied aid. So I will give you money, but you have to purchase goods from Canada with that money. And by and large foreign aid thinkers have realized that doesn’t work very well, because it tends to benefit the Canadian wheat farmers, for example, more than the hungry people that are buying the wheat,” explained Nenshi. “It is actually a great, amazing move forward that Canada has made an announcement that all its aid will be untied.”

Nenshi reflected on different approaches to aid and their effectiveness. He believes that aid is best carried out by forcing Non-Governmental Organizations to compete for projects, rather than the “Bono plan,” which is characterized by grand plans and interventions that are not as effective.

Charles Parker, the Canadian International Development Agency regional director for the prairies, concluded the speeches. Parker gave the audience a comprehensive overview of CIDA’s role in international aid. CIDA spent $3.5 billion last year, mainly concentrated on 20 countries, following a recommendation from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, said Parker.

Parker touched on international co-ordination of aid, which has increased since 1999 when 189 countries signed on to the Millennium Development Goals, which have given “everyone a common purpose.” The MDGs consist of eight agreed upon development goals which guide nations and groups in development. Parker remarked also that he was “Surprised that my fellow Canadians by 2006 were not aware of the MDGs,” referring to a poll which revealed that 86 per cent of Canadians did not know what the MDGs were.

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