Abolish CIDA? …In an Era of More Government?
“The era of big government is over”, Bill Clinton famously said in 1997. Coming from a Democratic President, it was a clear recognition of the power and influence that neo-liberal conceptions government had achieved. Skepticism of big government and faith in free markets were the zeitgeist of the times.
A lot has happened since 1997. The tech bubble burst in 2001. Business and stock scandals, both in Canada and the United States, rocked the corporate world, Enron and Nortel being two notable cases. Calls for greater regulation and oversight from lawmakers continued through-out the decade. Sarbanes-Oxley resulted. And finally, the epic failure of free markets in 2008, around the world but most notably in the United States, ushering in a new era– perhaps foreshadowed for years — not necessarily of “big” government, but at least more government.
So why is it that even with these important changes, the first reaction that a politico or talking head has to problems within a government agency is to turf the thing? Abolish it? Tear it down? End it? Fini? Apparently, the era of more government has not resulted in an era of less people calling for less government.
CIDA is the latest target. After the jump, I explain who’s doing the targetting and why they might be wrong.
So despite this era of more government, I offer you, sirs and madams, the recommendations of one Bhupinder Liddar, the scion of CSIS debacles, recent Diplomat, and now, with one masterstroke, the new enfant terrible of the Canadian foreign policy establish. That’s right. Having just left Canadian Foreign Affairs, where he would have dealt with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Liddar comes now to Ottawa not to praise CIDA, but to bury it. Claiming that CIDA has done only harm by creating “dependency” rather than “capacity building” in countries receiving its aid, Liddar recommends abolishing CIDA entirely.
Well, let me offer a lukewarm defense of CIDA. While it is true that CIDA makes mistakes. And creates dependencies. And, as can be easily argued, shouldn’t be prioritizing business interests over poverty or conflict prevention. But pretending that Canada can have an effective foreign policy without an aid agency is naive and, well, silly. People can disagree about the method of administering funds, what projects are targeted, funding priorities, “countries of concentration”, etc. But all that just means greater focus on CIDA’s mission and methods, not sacrificing it, in toto, on the alter of political grandstanding or tunnel-vision foreign policy, both of which, I would suggest, apply here. Yes, bilateral engagement is important to effective diplomatic and foreign policy, but it isn’t everything; it can be costly, time consuming, and sometimes offer very little for efforts made. In many cases an aid agency with the proper funding and focus can produce similar or better results, while eating up less time and even costs.