Why did Canada begin giving aid?

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Geopolitical considerations were the primary motivation for disbursing foreign assistance. With Mao’s triumph in China in 1949, Canada began its first significant (non-European) allocation of foreign aid through the Colombo Plan. The Colombo Plan’s primary aim was to keep the formerBritish Asian colonies, especially India, within the Western fold.

External Affairs Minister Lester Pearson told the 1950 Colombo conference that “Communist expansionism may now spill over into south East Asia as well as into the Middle East…. If South East and South Asia are not to be conquered by Communism, we of the free democratic world must demonstrate that it is we and not the Russians who stand for national liberation and economic and social progress.” Two years later Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent was even more explicit about the carrot and stick approach to defeating “Communism.” In September 1952 St. Laurent explained “in South East Asia through the establishment of the Colombo plan not only are we trying to provide wider commercial relations but we are also fighting another Asiatic war against Communism in the interests of peace, this time with economic rather than military weapons. We Canadians know that in the struggle against Communism there are two useful weapons, the economic and the military. While we much prefer to use the economic weapons as we are in the Colombo plan, we know that we may have no choice but to use the military weapons as we have been forced to do in Korea.” In other words, if some of India’s post-colonial population had not set their sights on a Communist solution to their troubles — with the possibility of Soviet or Chinese assistance — Canada probably would not have provided aid.

The Colombo plan was later extended to Africa and the Caribbean amidst fears the British Empire’s former territories would follow wholly independent paths or fall under the influence of the Communist bloc. Once newly independent countries joined the Commonwealth, such as Ghana in 1958, they also began to receive Canadian aid.

The broad rationale for extending foreign aid was laid out at a 1968 seminar for the newly established Canadian International Development Agency. This day-long event was devoted to discussing a paper titled “Canada’s Purpose in Extending Foreign Assistance” written by Professor Steven Triantas of the University of Toronto. Foreign aid, Triantas argued, “may be used to induce the underdeveloped countries to accept the international status quo or change it in our favour.” Aid provided an opportunity “to lead them to rational political and economic developments and a better understanding of our interests and problems of mutual concern.” Triantis discussed the appeal of a “‘Sunday School mentality’ which ‘appears’ noble and unselfish and can serve in pushing into the background other motives … [that] might be difficult to discuss publicly.”

A 1969 CIDA background paper, expanding on Triantas views, summarized the rationale for Canadian aid: “To establish within recipient countries those political attitudes or commitments, military alliances or military bases that would assist Canada or Canada’s western allies to maintain a reasonably stable and secure international political system. Through this objective, Canada’s aid programs would serve not only to help increase Canada’s influence within the developing world, but also within the western alliance.”

Aid has also been used to turn taxes into corporate profits. Both directly and indirectly a central aim of Canadian aid has always been to help Canadian companies expand abroad.