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April 1, 2013

One key test of any nation's spiritual and moral well-being is what it does for the poor of other nations. A nation that focuses on itself and its own interests is spiritually impoverished no matter how much material wealth it accumulates.

By that criterion, federal government's decisions in recent years to make the Canadian International Development Agency a tool of its economic and foreign policy witnesses to a deep spiritual malaise. The latest decision to fold CIDA completely into the Foreign Affairs department is likely to worsen the problem.

For years, CIDA represented much of what was best about Canada. It built partnerships with people in struggling nations to foster self-reliance. It funded projects in education, agriculture and infrastructure that would strengthen local economies. It also helped non-governmental organizations, such as Development and Peace, that had grassroots contacts in developing nations.

At times, public expectations were unrealistic. Despite large amounts of money spent on development aid,

CIDA's efforts could barely dent the deep poverty in poorer nations. Media attention sometimes focused on failures rather than successes.

Moreover, not all CIDA programs aligned with Catholic moral teaching. Although we disagree with programs that treat contraception as a solution to poverty, CIDA's original thrust aligned with the moral responsibilities of wealthy nations enumerated by the last several popes.

In recent years, the federal government has increasingly aligned CIDA with its foreign policy and international trade agendas. It redesigned CIDA to serve Canadian interests rather than to foster true development.

CIDA has become but one piece of Canada's efforts at the World Trade Organization and other international bodies to oppose the efforts of developing nations to protect their own producers and their environment. In fact, if Canada were actually concerned about poverty reduction, it would require a vast reorientation of its approach on the international stage. The disembowelling of CIDA is but one piece of a large puzzle.

No one who attended the 1984 papal Mass north of Edmonton will ever forget Blessed John Paul II's passionate denunciation of wealthy nations that "amass to themselves the imperialistic monopoly of economic and political supremacy at the expense of others."

It is shameful that today Canada's foreign and commercial policy is based on greed, not generosity and justice. Those policies openly support "the imperialistic monopoly" that Blessed John Paul denounced.

The move to make CIDA part of Foreign Affairs again draws attention to Canada's hard-edged, self-serving policies. Our nation has fallen far from grace.