41st PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION
Mr. Colin Robertson (Vice-President and Senior Fellow, Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute):
My name is Colin Robertson. I served in the Canadian foreign service for more than 32 years. I am currently vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior advisor with McKenna Long & Aldridge, a Washington law firm. I work through them with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. My volunteer activities include sitting on the board of Canada World Youth, which is funded by CIDA.
That said, my remarks are personal and do not represent any of these organizations.
I support reintegration of CIDA and Foreign Affairs into International Trade because I believe by linking the three critical policy levers of diplomacy, trade, and development, we’ll get better policy coherence in advancing Canadian interests abroad and advancing our development outcomes. I think the nexus of development, diplomacy, and trade works very well, and that’s how we try to do policy back in Canada, but in the field my observation was that sometimes CIDA operated separately. In my view, this did not serve our international interests, and it often confused, particularly those with whom we were dealing.
The short-term problem, and Paul addressed this, is how we deal successfully with the integration of CIDA into DFAIT.
Past experience with reorganization is not encouraging. The severing and then reintegrating of the trade part of the department in the early 2000s sapped energy. The best talent was devoted not to advancing the national interest but to moving boxes around in what was a rather painful and draining bureaucratic odyssey.
Development that creates the conditions where development assistance is no longer needed is the outcome we seek to achieve. Closer collaboration with the private sector, always a central theme of our international policy objectives, should be reinforced with the reintegration of CIDA into DFAIT.
I’m going to put my questions to you around four baskets: accountability, foreign policy, trade, and values and interests.
In terms of accountability, will DFAIT be ready to administer a fivefold increase in its budget? That’s significant. I would refer you to work by Barry Carin and Gordon Smith, both formerly of the department and now working with CIGI at the University of Victoria, on the millennium development fund. They are looking at accountability standards as to how you ensure that you’re getting full value for aid broadly, and I think that’s something we need to pay attention to.
With an extra $4 billion of the people’s money in its wallets, will the new foreign affairs and international trade and development department’s culture be up to the task?
CIDA has embraced results-based reporting and open data. Will the new department embrace this approach?
The challenge of integration is getting it done without handicapping operations or shortchanging policy development, always a problem with any kind of integration. You, as members, need to get from the department a timetable, with benchmarks, for reintegration and clear communication as to who, what, when, and, most importantly, why this is all going to take place.
The second basket is foreign policy. It’s one thing to say we’re going to align development to foreign policy interests, but in doing so, are you de facto reviewing your foreign policy? An example is the information technology shops in the merging of the DFAIT system. In the DFAIT system, Africa missions are put at the bottom of the priority list in terms of upgrades and modernizations. For CIDA, the place is at the top, and appropriately so. So how do you fix that?
At the level of foreign policy, will integrating CIDA transform Canada’s foreign policy priorities geographically? Will Africa, for example, be at the centre of Canada’s next generation of global relationships? How, for example, do we now deal with China? China ceases to receive Canadian development, becoming a player itself. How are we going to work with China, having helped it to achieve a certain degree of development?
On the trade front, how will the new department handle private sector and capital flows? Will integration allow trade deals that enable people to earn more money and create new jobs by exporting to Canada?
Canada is an exporting nation, so three vital policies are necessary: trade promotion, trade policy aimed at trade liberalization, and trade negotiation.
We are underresourced on trade negotiation, just when the world is awash in trade negotiations, bilaterally, regionally, and globally. The Prime Minister, of course, is down in Cali today looking at a new trade negotiation, a Pacific alliance. Again, I think that’s a good thing, but we don’t have the capacity. Trade negotiating teams need constant input from the private sector, and this remains weak, unlike the free trade agreement and the NAFTA, which I worked on, where we had a very strong system of consultations with various sectors. The private sector, for its part, truly has to step up. It could do more on public-private partnerships. Bringing new ideas and best practices to the table in a practical sense is something the business community should be able to help us with, and I would encourage you to look, for example, at the work on the Pacific Century that’s being done right now by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.
As we proceed with trade negotiations, our foreign aid should strengthen our industry position internationally, including the rights of local youth, women, and local governance. The case of Bangladesh and the garment industry is a case in point.
As for values and interests, which I think are important, but I put them last in my set of questions, the integration of CIDA tests whether our values are in fact interests in disguise. Take, for example, the condition of women and girls. Any state that does not address the condition of women and girls can be neither prosperous nor secure. Does the integration propel our non-geographic foreign policy interests more firmly in this direction? Does Canada now have any choice except to increase development assistance?
Look, for example, to Britain and Japan. Despite government cutbacks, each has increased foreign aid and support, particularly for youth organizations. Japan has developed new youth exchanges with 41 countries, including Canada. In my view, youth exchanges are the best form of soft power because they build a global brand for Canada among young people. We are, after all, a young country. It constitutes the front end, in my view, of building Canadian corporate trends and brands. To do this, I think we need to apply the “can do, own the podium” spirit that we saw exemplified during the 2010 Olympics.
The CIDA of the past perhaps relied too heavily on the voluntary sector to reflect Canadian values in the effort to reduce poverty worldwide. Their collaboration, however, particularly with the mining industry, proved that public-private sector projects can be a win-win for all sides.
Again, I think you need to task the new department to develop a branding approach so that these initiatives are not only coordinated at an execution level, but are also easily perceived and understood by and within the Canadian system. It is important that Canadians understand what we’re doing on aid. The Swedes do this well; Australia does this well; so do the Americans.
I think partnering with national companies and countries where we work makes sense. Look at the German model. We can and also should look to the EDC financing. It’s creatively Canadian.
In conclusion, the reintegration of CIDA into DFAIT makes sense in terms of better administrative coherence, but the sooner it is achieved, the sooner we can get on to policy development, which is the core purpose of Foreign Affairs. For now the focus needs to be on the administrative efficiency of the new department, and then on the effective delivery of programs that advance our values and reflect our national interests.
On foreign policy itself, that’s an issue for another day.
Thank you, sir.
I’d like to ask Mr. Robertson some questions.
In your letter to the Globe and Mail, you stated that the philosophical shift that’s being proposed here is not unique to Canada. You mentioned other international countries, such as Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and other European countries, that are moving toward the same objective.
Could you give us a view of what international thinkers, such as Dambisa Moyo or William Easterly, are saying about the future of international aid, and how this amalgamation ties into some of the things that are being talked about among international academia on this subject?
Mr. Colin Robertson:
Certainly. There has been a sort of rethink about development assistance. We’ve put close to $1 trillion into it, and the results are not what we intended. So we began to have people ask what’s not working.
Dambisa Moyo, Paul Collier, William Easterly, and others began to say it wasn’t good enough to just send money into a place. What you’re trying to do is develop skills and what I would call “sustainable jobs”.
The argument is that the private sector has to play a bigger role in this. We have a lot of foreign investment in Canada that creates jobs, and we should be doing the same in Africa. The private sector is now moving in that direction—the jobs that provide the sustainable development that we seek to achieve are largely being driven by foreign investment, working with the government at home. It’s not the pure development as we saw it in the past.
That’s a philosophical shift in thinking on how we’ve done aid for the past 50 years. We have a lot of opportunity. Think of our mining companies, which are extremely active. The Prime Minister just announced today in Peru—and he’s going on to Colombia—that we have opportunities.
We have an actual place and standing if we choose to use it. This takes us into social corporate responsibility. There are areas like labour, the environment, and respect for women in which we can make a shift in things. It is harder to do, but it is doable.
I want to make one last comment on integration. I have a very practical suggestion. Do not leave CIDA “siloized” on the other side of the river. My view would be to take the African bureaus and put them all together. Take the trade, the policy…. In my experience—and Paul lived through this as well—when you put the two together, cheek by jowl, and we did this in the early 1980s, it means that you lunch together, you walk down the hall and you talk together. The worst thing we can do in this integration is to leave the silos.
Mr. Colin Robertson:
Trade follows the flag in many cases. In this case, in Africa, trade is now ahead, so I think we’re going to be back in for all the reasons that Lucien has given.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Robertson, we may give you the opportunity to pursue that.
I just want to first be very clear, for the committee and for people who may be reading this, that there is a distinct difference between what we do in humanitarian aid and what we do in development. I just want to read the Prime Minister’s quote when he said:
||But when the need is great and the cause is just, Canadians are always there.And we will always be. Because that is what Canadians do.
We have stepped up to the plate with the Sahel, with the East African drought relief, with Syria, with Haiti. With innumerable humanitarian situations, Canada has been there. We will continue.
I want to posit a slightly different theory, though, and I ask for your comment on this. Canada has had enormous contributions. In fact, we are one of the largest contributors to the Global Fund. The reduction of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS is significant around the world. Our contribution in the reduction of polio has been enormous, and we are seeing such success there it’s almost astounding. We have put money into the World Food Programme, and again we’re one of the largest contributors. The maternal, newborn, and child health initiative, which is a signature project for Canada, is saving moms and babies all over Africa, in particular. What we’re seeing is reduced mortality rates, increased numbers of babies who are surviving and reaching five years of age.
Does it not mean that we need to restructure our development because we actually have a reclaimed generation? For the long run, what are we looking at? We’re not just dealing with getting food in the mouths anymore. We need to look at what the long run looks like in skills training and job opportunities, because we have a new generation, thank God, of young people who are alive and need hope and a future.
Do you have comments on that, gentlemen?
Mr. Colin Robertson:
Yes, we’ve always had instant, immediate relief to places that have had disasters, and that’s always been a key part, but at the same time, there’s the whole idea of development designed to basically take us to the point where you don’t have to provide development. We use all sorts of policy levers to do that.
You talked particularly about Africa and the things we do. I know that Madame Laverdière has a very good proposal she put forward some time ago in terms of providing drugs. I think that’s the kind of thing that sometimes deserves a re-examination, particularly in light of, as you described it, the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to maternal health and child care developments and improvements, and the real, personal commitment he has made with the President of Tanzania through the United Nations.
Thanks to our witnesses who have offered us interesting comments.
To underline, I think what they demonstrated in their testimony today, Chair, is the fact that this process we’re engaged in right now is not sufficient. When you look at what other countries have done and the way they’ve done it, they’ve taken the time to do it right. I want to make that point again, as I have in previous committee hearings on this. We have an omnibus bill in Finance; we don’t touch it at all. We have no ability to change or to hear from people like you to influence it. Hopefully they’ll hear over there when they’re having hearings at Finance.
And I say that because some of the points you’ve made…you have to do this right. It is about people, but it is about structure. I appreciate the fact that you mentioned that people make things work, but you can also have structures in the way of people doing good work.
I’ll start with you, Mr. Robertson, and I think, Mr. Chapin, you talked about this as well. When you have this kind of approach that we’ve seen in the U.K., certainly with the model I know, aligning your development aspirations with your foreign policy, is it not absolutely critical to have a foreign policy that people can understand? I say that because I think that’s the dilemma right now. I say this without prejudice, believe it or not. After we lost our seat on the Security Council, one of the things I put forward at the foreign affairs committee was to let this committee have a conversation with Canadians about what our foreign policy should be. I would challenge anyone around this table to tell us exactly what our foreign policy is. Where do you find this anywhere on the Foreign Affairs website? You’ll hear speeches, you’ll hear comments like we’re in favour of freedom and democracy, as if anyone isn’t.
What is the challenge if you don’t get your foreign policy articulated first in this equation, because if you don’t have an articulated foreign policy, will it not disrupt this approach and undermine all the good things we can see out of this model?
Mr. Colin Robertson:
I’m reminded of a phrase of Lester Pearson, whom I greatly admired. He inspired me to join the foreign service. His view was, don’t spend a lot of time studying foreign policy—this was in the context of the Trudeau review—do it. But remember, he built on a whole career and a great knowledge of foreign policy.
Certainly you have to have a combination…. Developments go on all the time. I think you as a committee have a responsibility to bring forward the policy experts from Foreign Affairs to inform you of the trends so you can make the necessary policy judgments. You don’t want to gridlock our foreign affairs department in a reorganization over the next couple of years when what they should be doing at this critical time…. The world continues to evolve, as you just alluded to in other developments, China and things. You want to have the best minds—and I think you’ve still got a lot of very good minds at Foreign Affairs—to give you that advice so you can make the informed decisions you need.
On development, I’m not fussed by Foreign Affairs coming out…. I think that’s a very healthy thing for Foreign Affairs now, because I think development concerns have not always been considered. We’ve heard this at the table. I think now that they’re going to be an essential piece at the table, I wouldn’t be afraid of this. This is what I tell my friends in development. Don’t be afraid. You have a real opportunity to have a huge influence.
I lived in Hong Kong for five years. We just heard about China. The influence that Hong Kong has had on the rest of China…. The ideas are powerful. You’re dealing with an ideas department, particularly Foreign Affairs. It’s all about ideas. It’s not so much about delivery; that’s what CIDA is about. It’s about ideas. I think getting all those ideas in one place: development, trade, and foreign policy are absolutely vital to…. You need members of Parliament, and particularly members of this committee, to act as stewards of the Canadian people, in a sense, to ensure that foreign policy reflects the values and interests of the Canadian people.
Mr. Colin Robertson:
Yes, but it’s based on experience and talking with people in the private sector, particularly in the field, going into our offices. I’ll use Africa as an example and to a degree Latin America, where companies were going in and trying to seek assistance from CIDA to help them get a better sense of the projects and also tell them what they’re doing. CIDA felt constrained, for whatever reason, not really working with Canadian companies. The trade commissioners thought this was an opportunity where we could actually bring together development and trade. I think Lucien has seen this often.
This is one thing I hope the integration does, because you had a philosophical difference, which did not serve Canadian interests. Again I come back to long-term development. It depends on sustainable jobs, which then create the conditions by which we can eventually move development on to other things. Canadians win as well because we trade with these countries. That’s part of what the Prime Minister is doing.
So that part of the mindset needs to change. That’s why I favour the development side. I can give you specific examples, but I think you’ve got the general sense.
I will say that Export Development Canada should not be ignored in this, because it plays a very constructive role in helping Canadian companies work abroad. I think that also has to fit into the development mix, because that’s a big chunk of money, more than $4 billion, and it’s also helping the Canadian presence abroad in a major way. It’s looking at Canadian interests as a whole and the whole Canadian side.
That’s why I don’t want to handicap the foreign affairs department with moving boxes around. We should be thinking of broad policy at this critical time.
Thank you. I’m going to share my time with Madame Péclet.
I just wanted to nail something down. Mr. Robertson, I think I’ll put it to you.
We had witness testimony at the last committee hearing about the concerns right now of the concentration of power within the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ office, and we’ve certainly seen that in announcements, etc.
The concern you’ve mentioned around making sure we still have that voice for international development is certainly aligned, and we all get that with our foreign policy. But in the legislation as you see it, we have “the minister”, and that’s the foreign affairs minister, and then “additional duties”. I certainly get and agree with this idea of putting people together and thrashing things out, but my concern is right now what we have is a very concentrated office, and we have a structure that’s going to bring in another office.
You were underlining the concern around development dollars and where are they going to go. How do you see managing…we’ll call it creative tension? Some others might have other words for it, but how do you ensure that things aren’t going to be swallowed up by one minister? I think that’s a fair concern, and certainly when you see the legislation structured the way it is, how is this going to happen? Who’s wagging the dog, so to speak?
We had someone else who said trade could learn a lot from those in CIDA who are doing good CSR work.
The Kofi Annan report just on Africa, which I’m sure gained a lot of attention for you, is something that is a lesson. You can’t just look at GDP and exports; look at results. And that usually comes from a sensibility of those who are in international development. How do we make sure we’re not, within the structure, losing that important voice?
Mr. Colin Robertson:
Leaving personalities aside, the legislation as I read it now makes this a significant part of the portfolio of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has overall responsibility, which I think is a good thing. You do need a single point of contact.
I think in adding that to the minister’s portfolio, that minister, by definition, with responsibility to cabinet and to you as members of Parliament, has to take that into account. That becomes an additional part. In the past, when I go back to the eighties and the nineties, when we jiggled the chair slightly and added to the Minister of Foreign Affairs…there was no question in the early eighties, for example, when we did this that the then Minister of External Affairs, Allan MacEachen, spoke with greater authority because that was part of his portfolio.
I have no doubt that the current minister, Mr. Baird, should take…. He has, not entirely elaborated as yet, a dignity agenda, which goes into a lot of the things that are absolutely vital to development—women, girls, the disadvantaged groups.
I think the CIDA addition should play a major role, because it needs to be remembered—and I go back to Lloyd Axworthy, who also had things changed when he was there, and his whole sort of soft power. He took into account all of the facets of foreign affairs. In a sense you’re arming the foreign minister. Again, to use the example of other countries, the foreign minister in Britain, the foreign minister in many of the European countries, Hillary Clinton, what she did—you added aid to Hillary Clinton and she significantly increased what she was able to do and with devotion to a couple of areas, in particular women, as you know, as a key piece of it.
So my argument would be that the foreign minister will have this because it is now part of their responsibility, and in a sense we’re going to get a better—
Actually, in your three presentations, you said explicitly that the policies of these three departments worked perfectly together. We agree, however, that the role of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is to promote Canada’s interests abroad, while the role of international development is not quite the same. It is not to promote Canada’s interests abroad but, rather, to promote respect for human rights and to reduce poverty, indeed to eliminate it. There are some subtle differences. One wonders how these policies are actually going to work together. In your eyes, everything is fine, it is a done deal and working perfectly, but that remains to be seen.
Mr. Robertson, you talked about corporate social responsibility. It is important to know that corporate social responsibility is necessary in the eyes of the Department of International Trade, but it is not mandatory. In fact, we are committed to international standards, but they are not mandatory in Canada. When it comes to international development, though, respect for human rights is key to CIDA.
How can we make sure that corporate social responsibility will be observed and promoted as a Canadian international development policy?
Mr. Robertson, very quickly, please. We’re over time.
If I could use the phrase “corporate social responsibility”, companies now realize that’s how you do business. Corporate responsibility covers things like women and girls. This is good business practice. This is now becoming part of the culture of companies. They do this, not because they have to do it, but because they see it as good for their business.
I’d like to go back to you, Mr. Robertson. We were speaking earlier about what other international countries have done. Can you share with us any insights you may have on the experience of those other countries in the way they’ve integrated foreign policy and development policy, and anything that Canada can learn from those experiences?
Mr. Colin Robertson:
There’s a whole series of best practices. I know the departments are going to be looking at this. They should provide you with this information as to what are the best practices. I talked about the who, what, when, where, why. These are all questions you have to ask. We have a department—
Can you think of anything that wasn’t done well in one of those other countries, a pitfall we could avoid?
Mr. Colin Robertson:
There have been a lot of bad experiences that we can talk about, but I would look to the more positive. It’s what you learn in these things. Every case is a little bit different, but I do think the road we’re going down is the right one. After all, we talk about trade and development. What we should be saying is trade is development.
Should anybody in the NGO community in Canada be surprised by this?
Mr. Colin Robertson:
I think this has been talked about for a long time. I go back. The external aid office was part of Foreign Affairs. We did the Colombo Plan under the old external affairs department. It’s not as though this wasn’t a piece of it and then it was taken out. Again, we’re talking about the boxes.
From the time I joined as well, this has always been a continuing debate, including within the development community itself. It’s just asking, how do we get, bluntly, the best bang for our buck, and how do we ensure that foreign policy integrates all the various strands?
This is overdue and highly sensible, as long as we get through the integration quickly and then get onto the policy side.