Canadian Perspectives on Hemispheric Issues: Governance and Diplomacy

By Meghan Pierce, Undergraduate Research Assistant  

On Tuesday, January 15th, the Latin American and Hemispheric Studies Program of the Elliott School of International Affairs, in collaboration with the Embassy of Canada, hosted the final session of a four-part speaker series entitled “Canadian Perspectives on Hemispheric Issues.” The closing program centered on Governance and Diplomacy issues, with Christian Ranger of the Embassy of Canada and Stephen Baranyi of the University of Ottawa as the featured speakers.

The event commenced with a description of the differentiation between US and Canadian diplomatic backgrounds, with Secretary Ranger pointing to such factors as geographic proximity, economic scale, and global notoriety as indicators of policy effectiveness. He also introduced Canada’s foreign affairs and international trade priorities of 2012, which include an emphasis on economic prosperity and job creation, contribution to effective global governance and international security, and most significantly, the expansion Canada’s engagement in the hemisphere.

Such expansion of engagement raises questions about Canada’s contact with Haiti, which Secretary Ranger described as an “exceptional relationship.” He indicated several fundamental connections that bolster the relationship, the most obvious being French as a shared national language (although the most widely-spoken language in Haiti is Kreyol). He also mentioned the importance of the Haitian immigration to Canada, especially the population of Montreal, one of the most politically significant diasporas in the country. Indeed, the 27th Governor General of Canada, Michaelle Jean, was herself a Haitian refugee in the late 1960s.

The question of Canadian aid to Haiti was also raised, given the recent decision by International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino to temporarily discontinue all new aid projects to the Caribbean nation. The Canadian International Development Agency released a statement relaying that “while the results of specific projects have largely met expectations, progress towards a self-sustaining Haitian society has been limited. Our government has a responsibility to maximize the value of Canadian taxpayer dollars… We remain concerned with the slow progress of development in Haiti, in large part due to weaknesses in their governing institutions…We expect accountability, we expect transparency, and we expect tangible results for those most in need.”

Secretary Ranger pointed to recent belt-tightening in Canada, combined with the new economic policy emphasis, as rationale behind the aid freeze. However, like Fantino, he emphasized that certain pre-existing programs will continue, and that Canada will continue its commitment to Haiti through future projects. However, disputes surrounding the international community’s responsibility to Haiti continue to arise. With regard to his own country’s response, Mr. Fantino decried the fact that Canada has already contributed $1 billion in aid. “Are we going to take care of their problems forever? They also have to take charge of themselves.” (Source: The Globe and Mail)

This frustrated perspective appears to be echoed by other major donors, including the United States. What is more, the influx of ineffective or poorly distributed funds raises concerns of aid dependency. Theoretically, Haiti should be a promising zone for long-term development, given its geographic proximity to US and Canadian markets. However, the aid problem, combined with international perceptions of disarray and political instability in Haiti, means that is an unlikely candidate for significant international investment.

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