Development Aid, Canadian Pragmatism and the Ukrainian Context

Follow-Up to PolicyTalks Episode 8: Development Cooperation: A Closer Look at the new Development Agenda and Canada’s International Assistance Review

Ukrainian Canadian Friendship
Ukrainian Canadian Friendship

What countries do we provide development aid to and why? Is it human rights considerations and criterion for programmatic standards, a deep sense of altruism, a historic diaspora connection, or out of a desire for strategic global advantage?

No matter how you dice it, and like any other political issue, the answer is, in truth, a resounding yes to all. However, we can refrain from being too cynical- the multifaceted approach doesn’t undue good work or condone bad behavior, but is rather emblematic of our current international system. Self interest and cooperation need not be mutually exclusive or obvious to the untrained eye.

When we look at Canadian Development Aid, we encounter all of these facets. ‘Countries of Focus’ such as Ukraine has maintained a consistent, strong relationship with Canada and exemplifies the diplomatic groundwork that must be laid to ensure successful development aid and trade. Where some may see this list as Canada approaching low hanging fruit in the sense that these countries share a strong diplomatic relationship with Canada and are not in fact among the ‘neediest’ of development assistance by standard metrics, it is firmly a display of deep pragmatism.

The pragmatic approach can be best summarized as thus: effective bilateral development aid strategies better meet benchmarks and measures of success when they are entrenched in a context of strong diplomatic and trade ties. Arguably, the most important of this trinity is a consistent history of diplomatic relations, a relationship that successfully navigates changing positions and shifts in the international system over time.

Consolidated Pragmatism in Development
Consolidated Pragmatism in Development

Out of the countries of focus, Ukraine is an epitomizing example of how strong, consistent and enduring diplomatic relations lead to greater provision of development aid assistance and the willingness to test new approaches to development assistance. Canada was one of the first countries to recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty on the international stage in December of 1991. Canada is also home to 1.3 Ukrainian-Canadians, (a migration movement that began in 1890), who maintain strong cross-cultural ties through community organizations, independent think tanks, and human rights organizations. In the wake of crisis in November 2013, Canada “imposed sanctions against more than 270 Russian and Ukrainian individuals and entities.” While an estimated 1.8 million Ukrainians remain as internally displaced people (IDPs), a figure increased as a result of Russian annexation of Crimea, over 3 million have been displaced since Ukraine’s independence in August of 1991. Many of this diaspora became Ukrainian-Canadians and remain politically active, attempting to promote the economic reform and democratization, the lack of which forced them abroad in the first place. While not having cultivated such a relationship with other independent states of the former USSR, Canada remains one of the largest bilateral donors in Ukraine, providing for $505.93 Million Dollars in international assistance disbursements, $400 Million of which came in the form of a one-time loan in 2015.


Ukrainian Canadians Stamp of Ukraine 1993
Ukrainian Canadians Stamp of Ukraine 1993

Prime Minister Harper’s disdain for the Russian leadership was well known and reflective of the Ukrainian animosity towards Russia following the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych. Displays in Maidan for the desired ‘pivot-West’ as a contender for space in the European Union further solidified an ease of relationships between Ukraine and the West, but amplified the Russian-backed separatist movement in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea that has internally displaced millions. Canada’s outward defiance of Russian strong-arm tactics in Eastern Europe, from Ukraine to Georgia, has remained consistent across Prime Ministers since Brian Mulroney’s time. Canadian Foreign Minister, Stéphane Dion, has expressed ambitions to reopen many diplomatic ties that had been weakened or severed during the Harper administration, one of which is with Russia. But this does not seem to be taken as a slight to the long-standing friendship, but rather a political will to use diplomacy to curtail division within Ukraine.


“We cannot stop Canada from talking to Russia,” said Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, Andriy Shevchenko, who argues that the Trudeau trip to Kiev is about strengthening a “very special connection”. – BBC News


The Euromaidan movement was also instrumental in moving Ukraine forward as an EU candidate. Many of the benchmarks Ukraine must achieve to gain EU membership include stricter human rights mandates, greater strides towards environmental sustainability and improved regulatory reform for increased trade and foreign investment. Unsurprisingly, these benchmarks reflect Canadian values, the development aid agenda between Canada and Ukraine and bilateral trade agreements such as the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA). Canada’s ability to assist Ukraine in achieving EU membership strengthens international assurance and hopes to bolster Ukraine’s involvement on the international stage following a politically tumultuous period. The Euromaidan social movement ensured other countries that these values were reciprocated on a large scale, though not evenly from East to West.


The Canadian-Ukrainian diplomatic relationship relies on a strong and shared history, which is actually pivotal for the administration of development aid. It has also allowed Canada to operate on loan schemes rather than direct assistance in a scheme where, out of $700 million in total direct assistance, $400 million will be provided in the form of low-interest loans to help stabilize the Ukrainian economy. Loan development assistance schemes should be of particular interest in this context because they rely on mutually established trust that the loans will be paid back at an agreeable rate. Failure to do so can cause havoc in bilateral relations, which is why multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF have been charged with the task of leveraging loans but also dealing with defaulters or worse, those who falsify their books [this issue was of particular light with Argentina under Kirchner’s leadership]. Development assistance in the form of this large loan, if performed successfully, also carries great signaling of Ukraine to the international system, proving it has the managerial and financial capacity to accept and pay back loans. This is an important measure of central financial institutions and the assurance attracting foreign direct investment.


Canada’s process of further entrenching the pragmatism principle shows great promise and its expansion relies on the promise to increase international diplomacy. In contrast to the Canadian-Ukrainian relationship stands the Canadian relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean. In the review Engagement and Pragmatism: Towards an Enduring Canadian Strategy in Latin America, The Canadian Global Affairs Institute highlights that the major “lack of consistent and constructive Canadian engagement in the hemisphere proved injurious to the translation of Mr. Harper’s strategy into enduring influence” (Page 1), highlighting that pragmatism has a crucial time element to the development of relationships that streamline initiatives.


Towards a More Neighborly, More Handshake-Oriented Development Assistance Culture

The show of Canadian pragmatism has deep implications for development. It is like being a scientist, if environmental conditions are favorable, the chemical reaction will occur. If temperatures, like relationships, are too heated or put on ice, the same outcome is not predictable.

The pragmatism principle also may be helpful in much-needed streamlining in development administration, namely the system of results-based management and the Humanitarian Funding Application Guidelines – what former US Agency for International Development Director Andrew Natsios refers to as Canada’s “obsessive measurement disorder”. Overbearing administrative tasks and obsessive benchmark assessments can lead a development target off course, greatly increase costs and make the development goal as a whole, ineffective. Greater relationships and trust in bilateral agreements may cut back on obsessive metric-centered approaches and add much-needed flexibility to development initiatives.


The show of Canadian pragmatism has deep implications for development. It is like being a scientist, if environmental conditions are favorable, the chemical reaction will occur. If temperatures, like relationships, are too heated or put on ice, the same outcome is not predictable. Diplomacy is arguably the most important pillar, providing most favorable conditions for development aid can be effective as determined by a benchmark system. The assessment that follows determining success must be thorough but not so burdensome that it takes away from development procedures. We must trust that the relationship is one of open dialogue with diverse stakeholders which makes the context for development sound and the process more flexible- an ideal we hope is made possible through pragmatism.


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Image Courtesy of Wixmedia.


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