Canada is quietly pulling out of a United Nations agreement set up to fight droughts in Africa and other parts of the world.
According to the Canadian Press, the federal cabinet made the decision last week, on the recommendation from Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. But nothing was announced publicly.
This would make Canada the only country not to be part of the agreement.
Apparently, the move caught UN officials "off-guard," who only heard about it through a call from CP.
"We cannot comment on something that is not communicated officially to the secretariat or to the United Nations," said a spokesperson.
CP says Baird's office referred questions to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which said no to an interview.
A spokesperson for International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino did email a statement saying "membership in this convention was costly for Canadians and showed few results, if any for the environment."
But CP says Fantino's office wouldn't say how much money Canada is saving by pulling out, or when the government plans to notify the UN.
Government documents show Canada provided a $283,000 grant to support the convention from 2010 to 2012, according to CP.
Under the agreement, the UN has a research committee that works to prevent widespread droughts - particularly in Africa - which are devastating to farmers, the food supply and the economy.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar told CP "... that the government is clearly outside of what is international norms here. We're increasing our isolation by doing this."
He also questioned why the government didn't announce the decision. "Was this something they were hoping no one would notice?" Dewar said.
Canada signed the agreement in 1994 and ratified it in '95. Every UN nation - 194 countries and the European Union - has signed on to it.
Traditionally, Canada has supported the agreement particularly given "the existence of drylands in the Canadian prairies," as noted in a CIDA report.
CP points out that the same CIDA report said it's in Canada's "national interest" to be part of the agreement because it will "benefit our own vision... of how we address our own, and the world's drylands."
Kelly McParland has a piece on this in the National Post entitled Ottawa Gives UN The Silent Treatment, Just Like It Treats Canadians. Check it out here.
All of this comes as Ottawa makes big changes to Canada's international aid agency, as CIDA is being merged into Foreign Affairs.
That's raising concerns for aid groups, who worry CIDA's mandate of fighting global poverty will take a back seat to business and trade.
As Kevin McCourt of CARE told CBC News, "the worry is that there might be more compelling interests to support economic growth in places like Peru or Vietnam that doesn't in fact trickle down to the poor."
"It's promoted as that, but in the end it may not do that because we've seen lots of opportunities, lots of places where economic growth has not benefited the poor," he said.
Here are few different perspectives on the issue that you might want to read.
The Globe & Mail by Geoffrey York - Canada's African Aid Marred By Organizational Turmoil, Changing Priorities
York opens his piece with this line: "You couldn't blame Africans if they are starting to get puzzled by Canada's foreign-aid policies."
He goes on to say "It has been a confusing time for Canadian aid policy, and Africa has borne the brunt of the confusion." Then, he lays out several examples. Check it out right here.
Maclean's by Scott Gilmore - Why Merging CIDA into Foreign Affairs Strengthens Canada's Aid Program
Gimore writes, "this particular change is a good one, and marks a strengthening of our aid program, not its destruction."
Critics he says "mistake the aid industry for a sacrosanct priesthood. While the bureaucrats in CIDA do good work, it's not holy altruism. Their developmental goals can still be reached while also supporting Canadian foreign policy and trade objectives. It is not a zero-sum game."
His full piece is right here.
Rabble.ca by Nadia Dauphin - Dropping CIDA Reveals Truth About Canadian 'Aid'
In this piece, Dauphin talks about a certain type of aid - economic development "aid," the growth "aid," the money "aid."
The "aid" she writes "that translates into lucrative contracts for Canadian multinationals in countries of the South; the "aid" that is not meant to phase out; the "aid" that becomes intertwined with the economic culture of the countries of the Global South..."
Government-dependent "aid," she says, "is not at all about charity, but serves first and foremost the aim of bolstering the interests of the donor country."
Read her full op-ed here.