Recently, on a trip to Africa’s drought-stricken Sahel region, Minister Fantino hosted a teleconference with Canadian journalists. He had some intriguing insights into Canadian generosity, the threat of terrorism and the state of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which he recently took over as minister.
Here are some highlights.
On the state of CIDA’s ability to deliver foreign aid:
“In actual fact, the CIDA budget has not been cut. We’ve just been more selective, if you will, in how we spend Canadian taxpayers’ generosity,”
Perhaps the new minister for CIDA didn’t get the memo, but Jim Flaherty cut his budget by nearly $380 million. Or maybe Minister Fantino has a different definition of what constitutes an “actual fact” than most Canadians.
Regardless, we must ask, what does the minister mean by being “more selective”?
According to media reports, being more selective means completely cutting off funding for some of the poorest countries in the world, including countries in the Sahel, the region in Africa where Minister Fantino made his curious remarks.
On Canadian generosity:
“As much as every nickel is appreciated, it really is underwhelming when one relates that to the tremendous need and these challenges faced here on the ground.”
Canadians are charitable. Canadians give their time and their money to help their own and help others around the world. Canadians also pay taxes and expect the government to be a leader on aid, not a follower. If Minister Fantino thinks that the Sahel is a priority, then he shouldn’t be cutting aid dollars to the region and to neighbouring African countries. Instead of waiting for Canadians to donate, he should be using our international aid to invest in Africa’s future.
And finally, on terrorist threats:
“We’re not immune to the challenges in the Sahel and as we have seen in Afghanistan and East Africa, hunger and lack of opportunity can lead to instability, both in the region and globally…Al Qaeda affiliates are beginning to prey on those suffering at their most desperate time and we must take notice.”
To call a hungry family in the Sahel a threat to democracy is simply crass, Minister Fantino. Drought threatens that family’s livelihood and hunger threatens that family’s life. That’s why we fight hunger. We don’t fight hunger because it is expedient to defending democracy. We fight hunger because we believe no one should go hungry.
And we carry on that fight every day, whether there is a humanitarian crisis or not. International development is what we do to help countries prevent a crisis, or mitigate its affects.
Minister Fantino has some hard work ahead of him. Restoring his department’s credibility after Bev Oda’s tenure will be harder than getting a room at the Savoy. And if his recent comments are any indication, Canadians should be very selective in how much trust they invest in this minister.
Liberal Critic for International cooperation