Some welcome CIDA's shuffle to Foreign Affairs

There are mixed reviews after the federal budget unveiled the Conservative government's decision to fold Canada's International Development Agency into Foreign Affairs.

While NGOs, many of them local, are concerned they could lose money for aid, a former CIDA director says the develoment agency's shuffle to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade reflects a changing view of foreign aid.

"I remember one time the president of Botswana came to Ottawa – he wanted to see the Minister of Finance, he didn't want to see the Minister of Development Assistance," said Art Saper, who once helmed CIDA's industrial development branch.

Saper said that state visit was a sign of realities on the ground in developing countries, some of whose economies are growing faster than Canada's.

"A lot of developing countries are now emerging economies, whose relationship with Canada has fundamentally changed from a development assistance relationship to a foreign policy relationship," Saper said. "And CIDA could have been part of that and wasn't."

Sacks of flour and even more sophisticated local projects haven't produced any measurable change in global poverty, said Saper, but connecting to the global economy are lifting millions out of poverty every year.

The former CIDA director said Canada should invest aid dollars to help developing countries improve governance, access international markets, and exploit their own natural resources.

James Haga works for Engineers Without Borders and is optomistic about the CIDA shuffle.

"We're hopeful that the government will use this as an opportunity to understand that there's more to development than aid," said Haga. "And we're positioning with the institution now to exercise that kind of broader thinking on development."

But if Canada is to get value for its economic dollar, it isn't enough just to move CIDA around the government's bureaucratic chessboard, said Saper who thinks the agency needs to again become a source of innovative ideas.