The government has appointed a mining industry executive who is a former Conservative minister’s staffer to the board of a Crown corporation that works on international development research.
International Development Minister Christian Paradis recommended the appointment of Barrick Gold Corp. vice president of government affairs Alanna Heath to the board of governors of the International Development Research Centre.
Ms. Heath worked as a policy adviser to Jim Flaherty from 2007 to 2009 when he was finance minister. She joined Barrick as director of government relations in early 2010, according to a Bloomberg report.
The government also appointed Scott Gilmore, Maclean’s magazine columnist and president of Anchor Chain, a business that helps connect small businesses in developing countries to investment and international supply chains. Mr. Gilmore is a former Canadian diplomat and was also appointed to the government’s external advisory group on the merger of the foreign affairs and trade department with the Canadian International Development Agency in 2013, creating the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.
Some foreign-aid policy watchers say the appointments show the government wants to fill the board with “allies,” not independent researchers. They decry the lack of non-Canadians on the board and say Ms. Heath’s appointment is further evidence of the Harper government’s close ties with the extractive industry.
The appointments let the IDRC board of governors meet again. With eight of 14 board seats empty, it didn’t have enough members, according to its governing legislation, to hold a formal meeting since Feb. 10.
A board meeting scheduled for March 24 and 25 was pushed to March 30 and 31. The appointments of Ms. Heath and Mr. Gilmore were made on March 26. Their terms are meant to last three years.
Quorum problems cleared up, barely
It was the third time in as many years that the IDRC board of governors had been left without enough members to meet to oversee the organization’s finances and governance. It approved the organization’s 2015-16 budget at that March meeting, just as a new fiscal year was about to begin.
While observers say they’re happy the board can meet again, they point out that it’s at the bare minimum. There are still six vacancies, including that of the chair.
The appointments, wrote University of Ottawa professor Stephen Brown in an email, “reflect the Canadian government’s decision to fill the board with allies—people who have worked closely with DFATD—rather than independent researchers, especially those from developing countries, as has been the case in the past.”
All eight board members either work for a Canadian-government affiliated institution or used to—two in a political role, and the rest as civil servants.
While Mr. Gilmore worked for the Canadian government once, his appointment could be valuable because he brings other experience as a social entrepreneur, said Liam Swiss, an assistant professor in the sociology department at Memorial University who studies foreign aid.
When the IDRC started in 1970 to fund research in the developing world on the problems poor countries face, just over half of its board was meant to be filled by Canadians, and the remaining spots “ensured that the perspective and experience from developing and other countries were represented,” according to an internal history document.
Members from Egypt, the United States, Jamaica and China have had their terms expire in the last couple years, leaving the board with only Canadian representatives (one member is a high commissioner posted to India).
“I think the intent of the board, having that international composition was such that the IDRC, even though it is a Canadian Crown corporation, was meant to serve broad development research interests and not just a specific Canadian agenda,” said Mr. Swiss in a phone interview. “So having a board of governors that is purely Canadian and one that is very closely linked to our trade and diplomatic interests I think really goes against the spirit of that legislation establishing the centre as a body.”
In response, a spokesperson for the international development minister said the same thing a departmental spokesperson said before the two Canadians’ appointments.
“DFATD appreciates the importance of an international perspective on operations and will keep this consideration in mind when considering future appointments,” wrote Louis Longchamps in an email.
Patronage, or public-private partnership?
Mr. Swiss said Ms. Heath’s appointment is “in keeping with this government’s use of the IDRC board as a patronage appointment piece.” He referred to former Harper government minister Monte Solberg’s board job as acting chair.
Ms. Heath met with lawmakers in 2010 as part of Barrick’s work to kill a bill requiring the government to investigate any alleged human rights violations by Canadian mining companies abroad, Bloomberg reported.
Aid watchers have criticized the government’s foreign-aid work in recent years for being too closely linked to the private sector, and especially mining companies, which they see as muddying corporate interests with those of the poor.
Former foreign minister John Baird recently joined the international advisory board of Barrick, one of the world’s biggest gold miners. Mr. Brown noted that DFATD under Mr. Baird has committed millions of dollars for a project led by the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. The school’s financial backers include, and namesake is, Barrick founder Peter Munk. The company also partnered with the government and World Vision Canada on an aid project in Peru.
But Ms. Heath’s experience in both the Canadian private and public sector makes her the “ideal candidate” for the IDRC board job, said Barrick spokesperson Andy Lloyd in an emailed response to questions.
“She has first-hand experience with many of the social, economic and environmental challenges facing communities in the developing world today, and she understands how the public and private sectors can work together to achieve better development outcomes,” he wrote.
When she worked in the government. Ms. Heath was an international policy adviser. She is on the board of the Canada Pakistan Business Council and the Canadian Council on Africa.
The IDRC released its 2015-20 strategic plan on April 1, which makes working with the private sector a priority. Public-private partnerships in development “often produce more sustainable outcomes than any one group working in isolation,” said Mr. Lloyd.
Meanwhile, the 2015-16 main estimates, planned government spending, project a drop in IDRC funding from $202 million in 2013-14 to $183 million in the coming year.