Christian Paradis: ‘It’s about getting results’

| September 26, 2014 | 0 Comments

Christian Paradis has been Canada’s development minister since July 2013. Diplomat_9-22-2014_0014He is also the minister responsible for the Francophonie. He was first elected to the House of Commons as an MP from Mégantic-L’Erable in Quebec. He has served as secretary of state for agriculture (2007), minister of public works (2008), minister of natural resources (2010), and minister of industry (2011) until he began his current job). He has a graduate degree in corporate law from Université Laval. He sat down with Diplomat’s editor, Jennifer Campbell, to discuss his current job.

DM: What’s a typical day in your job?
CP: My days are never the same. You never know and especially in this portfolio. It’s international stuff, so things evolve. I have to do my best to keep connected with the issues and make sure I accomplish what I am tasked to do. My priority is always to be optimal with transparency, accountability and providing results. So basically, in terms of development, this is what I keep in mind.

DM: You would have days when you’re sitting in the House of Commons, or at your office in Hull. You’d have days when you’re in your riding and then days when you’re travelling around the world.
CP: When we’re sitting, there’s more of a routine. We have regular hours with Question Period and cabinet committees. When we’re not sitting, I take the opportunity to spend my working days in the riding or to travel internationally. I use those days to accomplish both. I always begin the summer with a tour of my riding. My riding is 6,000 square kilometres, 49 municipalities, three counties. This is a lot of people. I always say to my colleagues from Montreal and Toronto, ‘I have to walk more than a block to cover my riding.’ I have to drive more than three hours by car and this region, compared to other ridings, is populated everywhere. So it’s a lot of road to travel.
After the riding tour, there are some holidays and after that, I do some round tables. I love to consult. I do round tables not only here in Ottawa, but also when I’m abroad. When I was in Mexico at the Global Partnership for Development, I held a round table. Same thing in Nigeria. It’s a good opportunity because there are a lot of stakeholders at those meetings.

DM: You’ve been minister for about a year now. Were you in the portfolio when they folded CIDA into DFATD?
CP: I wasn’t. The Budget Implementation Act was adopted in June 2013. I took the job right after that.

DM: You’ve been overseeing the change, then?
CP: Yes. We’re in the middle of the implementation process. There have been some changes but we need to continue. We announced some changes in the ‘countries of focus,’ so this is part of the new direction. We’re trying to have a more comprehensive and integrated approach.

DM: How has the change gone from a bureaucratic standpoint?
CP: I think it’s been good so far. Last year, in Montreal, at the Chamber of Commerce, I talked about seeking more partnerships, more involvement from the private sector, more innovation, new ways to do things. And frankly, I would say the officials were enthusiastic about supporting me. After that, we needed to make some changes. We went ahead with the new countries of focus. I think that’s been well received.
We have to look beyond the aid and ask how it will be translated at some point into trade. I’m talking about the development side. Humanitarian aid is humanitarian and we have to be there regardless, but in terms of development, [we need to ask:] How can we translate it? This is why I hold round tables. I had an interesting one in Mexico because the civil society groups had some criticism in the past and now, more and more, they’re saying ‘Hey, we aren’t against the private sector. We can be complementary.’ Having consultations and being part of summits like the Global Partnership for Development — in Durban, South Africa — you can see that there is an enthusiasm there and I would say, so far so good.
When we look at the official development assistance (ODA), we have to take into account that remittances from the diaspora are worth four times more than we [spend] in ODA. And the foreign direct investments are five times more. This is a lot of money coming out of Canada. We need to be creative and see how we can seek more opportunities and be more strategic. Officials seem to be very happy with this direction and how it connects with economic diplomacy and the global market action plan.
With our countries of focus, we look at need, but we also have to be strategic. There is a connection now, more and more, between development, foreign affairs and trade and you can see that my colleague John Baird is very vocal on things like early forced marriage [girls forced to get married against their will.] That is in line with what we try to do with development, child protection, education, keeping girls at school and then giving women opportunities to go into business for themselves, for example.

DM: What are your priorities from today, leading up to the election next year?
CP: I have to be in line with what I am tasked to do, so it’s about getting results, and there’s accountability, transparency. I think we can also do more in Canada in terms of branding and recognition and I think what the prime minister did with maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) is a great example. This is a flagship project. We are recognised all over the world for it and we need to push this. This is a priority of the government so we’ll be active on this and support the prime minister. I also pay a lot of attention to the whole lost-generation initiative — what’s going on in central Africa, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. I work closely with UNICEF and other stakeholders to make sure Canada is very supportive. The last announcement we had was in Jordan for Syria. [This donation of $50 million was to help mitigate the threat of chemical weapons; help Jordanian security forces manage the non-humanitarian aspects of the influx of Syrian refugees, and contribute to Jordan’s counter-terrorism capacity.]

DM: How important are the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG)? [These range from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015.]
CP: I have to keep [the MDGs] in mind, but I go right along with what the prime minister said about keeping the focus on a small number of goals instead of being spread out everywhere. We have to be focused to get results. With official development assistance, there will be a gap if I recall correctly, of about $2 trillion in terms of development projects yet to be financed. We have to think outside the box.
I was happy to be nominated as chair of a committee that will redesign financial tools for the post-2015 goals. [It’s a committee made up of representatives from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and World Economic Forum and it will promote a more systematic approach to testing and scaling financial innovations. It will work with capital from philanthropists, private and commercial investors and development institutions.]

DM: What about Ban Ki-moon’s recent comment that Canada needs to get closer to giving 0.7 percent of GDP to developing countries?
CP: I always remind people that we are in the poorest countries. I don’t want to create a debate of such indicators per se, but we are where the needs are highest and I think we do make a difference. Instead of relying on macro-statistics, we go by getting results and I think the difference we can make with MNCH, being in the 10 poorest countries in the world, I think it makes a difference and I think this is what Canadian taxpayers want. After that, what can we do to leverage post-2015? We need to go beyond traditional ODA. Instead of having a one-track mind, we have to look wider than this. I remind Canadians that I understand the indicator is there, but I think we have to go with getting results and doing more with less.

DM: Proponents of the 0.7 indicator would say ‘yes, we want to maximize our investments, doing more with less, but we still want that dollar figure.’ Is this something you don’t see happening?
CP: I don’t see it happening because we can do more in a more effective way by doing it differently. I think we have to rely on the innovative financial tools. Some countries are way ahead of us so we need to rethink it. Instead of going on a project-by-project basis, we can have these tools and have the major global players around the table with us. As chair [of this new WEF/OCED committee], it’s a great opportunity for Canada to put things in good shape.

DM: Why did you recently add five countries to your countries-of-focus list?
CP: We used to have 20 countries of focus [receiving] 80 percent of the resources in our bilateral program. We looked at the needs, but things have evolved over the last five years. Given some pressure in some regions of the world, given the needs, what we are already doing with the MNCH initiative, it was wise for us to come back and say ‘Let’s have 25 countries of focus with 90 percent of the resources.’ We were already kind of doing this and I think this is good in terms of recognition. Once again, we think we can make a difference in these countries and we are among their largest donors. I think it was important for us to send the signal there is a focus there, because we want to make a difference and we can make a difference.

DM: Is it right to choose aid recipients based on their ‘alignment with Canada’s foreign policy priorities?’ And what does that mean, exactly?
CP: I come back to this: On the foreign affairs side, with diplomacy, we want to make sure we’re enabling a good environment in a particular country, so human rights, doing business, predictability. After that, it goes to the trade side. We have our double-market action plan and then, of course, from the development side, the top indicator is the need. This is a series of criteria that we combine and then we ended up with these 25 countries of focus. The alignment is crucial. One might say we want to make a difference, so we expect these countries to have the same kind of values. If we want to make a difference, we have to be [on the same wavelength.]

DM: Can you name a country that hasn’t received funding because of a misalignment?
CP: I always remind our people that we’re talking about development and people can confuse humanitarian aid and development. We put a lot of money in Afghanistan in terms of humanitarian aid, because there was a lot of need. The question is appropriate and this is why we review it every five years. We hope we’ll have the same countries of focus in five years, but some countries have had to be dropped. Pakistan, it’s a matter of security, for example. [Pakistan had been a country of focus and was dropped recently from the new list of 25.]

DM: What is the difference between a country of focus and a development partner country?
CP: Our countries of focus are places where we are among the largest donors. We’re there because we think we can make a difference. It sends a signal of predictability. The developing partner countries: There are some countries in which we have a lot of big programs, but the difference is more modest.
I will require each country of focus to sign a mutual accountability framework agreement. We have one now with Sénégal. There are 24 more to be signed — some are in the negotiation process. They include [agreement on] governance, accountability and transparency.
A lot of questions are being asked about Haiti. It’s a fragile state, the needs are tremendous, but we will have to have this framework.

DM: I noticed there are several emerging economies on the list of 25, namely Ghana and Sénégal. Will they stay on the list if they continue to thrive economically?
CP: The needs are still there. We don’t know if they’ll be there in five years, but if their economies thrive and the needs are less, well, mission accomplished. An interesting country now is Myanmar. They’ve been insulated for decades and now you have a major switch there. This is interesting.

DM: How does Canada decide when to respond to international humanitarian crises and once it decides to respond, how does it decide how much to give?
CP: We go with an assessment by a trusted partner, like the Red Cross and other players like that. The Red Cross is the one with whom we worked for the typhoon in the Philippines.
We attend donor conferences to get the macro picture and we watch for appeals and monitor the UN response. This is how we will make up our minds and say ‘OK, we will go.’ When we have the whole picture, then in the department, we will look at where and with whom we will invest. We consider how we can ensure the money will go where the needs are. So, of course, we will work with trusted partners. It’s a serious issue in Syria, so we use trusted partners like the Aga Khan Foundation. This will have an impact because then they will submit their project.

DM: Canada is ranked 8th in the world for transparency in aid. How do you improve that number?
CP: I’m proud to be 8th, but I think we can do better and we will explore the ways. Sometimes there are legal requirements that you can’t disclose information because a partner won’t give consent. So I asked my department to review the process.
I’m trying to find a balance to ensure we’re as transparent as we can be without jeopardising a contribution for these partners. So what is the fine line? It’s always a challenge, but I intend to address this issue as much as I can, for sure.

DM: It’s often said that aid helps stabilise developing countries. What country on the list of 25 is top-of-mind in that context?
CP: That’s a good question. I think they are all critical. It’s so subjective. It depends what angle you take. Haiti and Afghanistan are fragile states now and then you go after that to Jordan. Some say Jordan is a low-to-middle-income country, but the pressure they have now is terrifying. This is why we decided to put Jordan in the countries of focus. This is a matter of subjectivity. When you go to Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the mortality rates are very high in terms of MNCH, so once again it’s another angle. They all have their issues that we consider it’s crucial for us to support. It’s where we think we can make a difference and get results.

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