Julian Fantino has been named as Canada’s Minister of International Co-operation

Julian Fantino must be an advocate for the poor

  • July 10, 2012

At first glance, the appointment of Julian Fantino to replace Bev Oda as Canada’s Minister of International Co-operation seems an odd choice.

Fantino inherits responsibility for overseeing a $5-billion aid budget co-ordinated through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Becoming the public face of Canadian charity is a big leap for someone best known as a hard-nosed cop who, if he has a soft side, keeps it well hidden.

Then again, Fantino may be exactly what CIDA needs.

One thing is clear: the best-by date on Oda’s tenure had expired and she was right to step down. Oda managed the portfolio for five years but her accomplishments were ultimately overshadowed by her narcissistic spending. Checking into London’s posh Savoy Hotel last year and booking expensive limos were the last straws. It was embarrassing for Canada to have a spendthrift as its voice for the poor.

Fantino’s appointment was a surprise. A career cop, Fantino has been chief of the Ontario Provincial Police and has led police forces in Toronto, York and London, Ont. He was associate Minister of Defence in Stephen Harper’s cabinet until Oda retired. But delivering comfort to the poor is an entirely different role.

So is Fantino the right man for the job? If he can parlay his leadership experience into becoming a strong voice to rebuild Canada’s lagging foreign aid programs, then the answer is yes.

Canada, to its discredit, has become increasingly less charitable in recent years. Despite being a signatory to the UN’s ambitious Millennium development project to greatly ease world poverty by 2015, Canada’s foreign aid budget is in the midst of a three-year plan to cut spending by 7.5%. Meantime, there is more political meddling than ever which means the curtailed aid dollars aren’t necessarily going to where they are needed most.

If Canada is to reverse this worrisome trend and pay more than lip service to its foreign aid obligations, CIDA needs an office general who is strong, organized and decisive. Fantino has his detractors but there seems little dispute about his leadership capabilities. His resume suggests he knows how to get a job done.

An important part of that job is raising awareness among Canadians of our moral obligation to care for the world’s poor. That obligation doesn’t diminish in difficult economic times; indeed it becomes more acute.

But perhaps even more important is becoming a relentless advocate in cabinet on behalf of CIDA and the world’s poor, even in the face of opposition that could include the Prime Minister himself. That takes a type of doggedness and self-confidence that has never been lacking in Fantino.

Fantino has what it takes to be an effective voice for the poor. The question is will he speak out?

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