Julian Fantino, Canada's Minister of International Cooperation, has indicated that Canada should pursue more collaboration with the country's private sector in implementing aid programs. The Association of Consulting Engineering Companies (ACEC) has expressed its support for such a move.
For several years CIDA has been focusing on working with non-governmental organizations, but during a speech made at the Economic Club of Canada and later in an interview with the Globe and Mail, Fantino said that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) should start to align itself more closely with private business in its aid projects. Fantino indicated it would become more open to funding projects that involve Canadian corporations as long as the work helps alleviate poverty in the developing world.
While critics are averse to Canada mixing business export opportunities with aid programs, others think the two initiatives are a natural fit.
ACEC issued a press release on December 6. In it, John Gamble, president of ACEC, said, "We support the creation of an environment where the private sector and NGOs can work side-by-side, leveraging their respective strengths and expertise." He added: "We need not apologize if Canada's foreign aid also leads to greater opportunities for Canadian businesses."
ACEC's International Committee headed by Chris Newcomb has long been advocating that CIDA should be funding more "bricks and mortar" hard infrastructure projects. Currently CIDA focuses on "softer" initiatives such as education.
Gamble noted: "Aid can take many forms, all of which can provide value. We are looking forward to an approach that puts more emphasis on community and economic infrastructure that helps create long-term self-reliance. This is an area where engineering companies can make a meaningful contribution. Infrastructure connects and strengthens communities, enables economic activity and protects the environment."
Fantino's idea that private business should be engaged in aid projects follows the recent release of an 118-page report by a Parliamentary standing committee on foreign affairs and international development. The report recommended more private sector involvement in aid projects, although there were some dissenters.
A Globe and Mail editorial said that "partnering with the private sector, including enterprises, foundations and individuals, is a good idea, and can improve the flexibility, transparency and effectiveness of aid projects."
CIDA is already working with some Canadian mining companies, but critics have said such arrangements amount to a public subsidy. However, other western countries such as the U.S. and U.K. do work with the private sector on aid projects, and some Canadian companies are already working on projects with USAID.