Canada’s Peruvian conflict of interest

In the midst of a Senate scandal at home, Prime Minister Stephen Harper landed in Peru this week to announce, among other things, that Canada would commit $16 million to help the resource-rich country improve and speed up its environmental assessment process. That might raise some eyebrows among those at home who are critical of recent changes to Canada’s environmental assessment laws that came wrapped in an omnibus budget bill last year. But reform seems to be needed in Peru. Its environmental assessment regime is apparently a mess. Peruvian media have reported that billions of dollars of mining projects are in limbo, waiting to work their way through the clogged environmental assessment process. That may be true, but Canada is probably the last country that should be helping Peru fix the mess. It’s not that Canada doesn’t have the expertise. It does and, what’s more, helping to strengthen institutions and improve governance is a longstanding, and effective, use of Canada’s foreign aid budget. But Canada’s close links with Canadian mining operations overseas – both as a means to deliver foreign aid and as a highly valued sector of the Canadian economy – put the Canadian International Development Agency in a conflict of interest on the issue. Canada is not simply a neutral player whose sole interests are in helping Peru work better to benefit its poorest people, but a country that has tied its foreign policy to the success of Canadian mining and other companies abroad. That has resulted in billions of dollars of Canadian investment in Peru, which has been welcomed by the government there. But it has also compromised Canada’s ability to deliver certain forms of aid. Or, at least, it should. Canada’s interests in Peru are resource companies interests, but what happens when those interests conflict with the best interests of Peruvians? Mining is a major source of social unrest in parts of Peru where Canadian mining companies have a large presence. Much of that concern has been around pollution resulting from mining. Against this backdrop, Canada offers to help improve the process by which large mining projects are assessed for their impact on the environment. It is in the best interests of businesses for those regulations to be less onerous in order to get work going with as few extra costs and barriers as possible. That, therefore, is also in Canada’s interest, which could compromise its ability to advise on or help Peru build an environmental protection regime that protects the environment and serves the interests of ordinary Peruvians. Which is a shame. That is what foreign aid should be doing. Read More...


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