Skip to main content

International Trade Minister Ed Fast takes part in a interview in his office in East Block of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, February 5, 2015.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Foreign-aid projects that involve Canadian mining companies and non-governmental organizations have shown enough promise that the idea should be refined and then scaled up, International Development Minister Christian Paradis says.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Saturday, Mr. Paradis said he is still waiting for detailed evaluations on several projects, launched in 2011, that saw Ottawa partner with mining companies and non-governmental organizations.

But he said he's encouraged by what he's heard so far and believes the positive aspects of the programming can be replicated.

"I think we can take the best from [the projects]," Mr. Paradis said.

"We will just put aside what we don't want or what is not effective, and then I think we will have the levers to go after [mining co-operation] on a broader scale."

The Conservative government has made mining a prominent part of its foreign-aid strategy in recent years, including by launching new aid programs in mineral-rich countries and establishing an institute on global mining policy. In total, Ottawa has 55 projects listed under its "extractives and sustainable development approach," with a total value of close to $310-million, a spokeswoman for the department of foreign affairs said.

Former international co-operation minister Bev Oda announced in 2011 that the government would contribute funding to a small number of "pilot projects" in communities where Canadian mining companies do business. Those projects also received funding from the mining company and a non-governmental organization, and were run by the NGO.

The concept was controversial, with critics arguing that the government funding amounted to an indirect subsidy for corporate social responsibility work the companies should have been doing themselves.

Julia Sanchez, president of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, said it makes sense for the government to work with mining companies because of the industry's significant impact in low-income countries. "But I don't think we've got it right yet," she said, adding that Ottawa should focus on development outcomes first, and then determine if partnering with a mining company is a good idea.

A new civil society partnership policy, announced by Mr. Paradis earlier this year, should help make development projects more effective, he said, because non-governmental organizations can help bridge the gap between government and the private sector. "I think [the projects] can be replicated, but now we have a better framework to work in, because we have our civil society partnership policy, so things have been clarified on this. So I think that in the future this is a good way to try to implement what we're trying to accomplish," he said.

Mr. Paradis made the comments during a conference in Toronto that was hosted by the foreign affairs department and the World Economic Forum. The one-day conference was tacked onto the beginning of an annual convention held by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada.

Ottawa has reduced overall aid in recent years and is dropping further behind on an international target of spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on official development assistance. In 2013, Canada spent just 0.27 per cent of its GNI on aid, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Mr. Paradis suggested there could be a re-evalutaion of the OECD's targets, saying it would be impossible to meet the world's development goals using official development assistance alone. He said that re-evaluation could include what counts as official development assistance and what doesn't.

Last fall, the federal government announced a new policy on corporate social responsibility for the so-called extractive sector, which includes mining, oil and gas. The new policy allows the government to punish rule-breakers by withdrawing support from agencies such as Export Development Canada and embassies abroad.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast announced on Sunday that a new counsellor for corporate social responsibility would be appointed, filling the post for the first time in more than a year. Jeffrey Davidson, a former mining engineer who teaches at Queen's University, will begin the job later this year.

Interact with The Globe