BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

Are We Pulling Our Weight Overseas?

BLAIR FRASER January 1 1953

BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

Are We Pulling Our Weight Overseas?

BLAIR FRASER January 1 1953

BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

BLAIR FRASER

Are We Pulling Our Weight Overseas?

MANY Canadians, including this correspondent, are addicted to glib talk about "American isolationists." A few months ago an article in Maclean's applied that term to the supporters of Senator Robert Taft, of Ohio, the defeated candidate for the Republican nomination. Cçm pared to General Eisenhower or~ to Democrat Adlai Stevenson, T~ ift certainly is an isolationist. But is he an isolationist compared to average Canadian?

Eugene Griffin, Ottawa correspondent of the Chicago Tribute had an uncomfortably good questio 4k “What right have you Canadians t » call Taft an isolationist? Taft is i favor of keeping four America! divisions in Europe. How manlN Canadian divisions are you in favo1^

of?” Ifo

Four divisions are approximately twelve times the one brigade thau,; Canada has in Europe, and noljE many Canadian voices have urgeyTn that we send more. The Unitecj Rl States is approximately twelve times as big as Canada in population. In J terms of simple arithmetic Senator Taft is just as isolationist as we are, no more and no less, on the fairly important question of how many men to send abroad.

• • •

F COURSE that is an oversimplified comparison. Canada is not a Great Power. American troops in Europe are a real deterrent to Soviet aggression; Canadian troops are not. The Canadian brigade is a valuable token of Canadian willingness to co-operate with the North Atlantic Treaty nations, but not all the troops we could possibly muster

would alter Stalin’s intentions one jot.

Prime Minister St. Laurent has pointed out that it costs fifteen times as much to keep a Canadian soldier on duty in Europe as to keep a European soldier at the same post. It’s a reasonable economic argument against a larger Canadian garrison overseas.

But the argument implies that Canada, pulling less than her weight in armed manpower, should therefore pull somewhat more than her weight in material aid. Are we doing it? What does the record show there?

At first glance the record looks fairly good. Since the end cf the war the United States has put up a grand total of thirty-five billion dollars in grants and loans to the rest of the world. Canada in the same period has put up $2.4 billions. The American total is about sixteen times the Canadian, which is fair enough considering that the American national income is at least eighteen times ours.

True, about half the Canadian total is composed of the loan to Britain in 1946. From 1948 through 1950, when the Marshall Plan was operating and Canada wasn’t doing , much of anything, we didn’t show up so well. But our present contribution of three hundred and twenty, three million dollars a year to NATO, plus the Colombo Plan and various odds and ends, bring Canada’s share f>ack to a very respecte hie figure. I n 1951 Canada provided grants of three hundred and forty-nine millions to our allies, which was one fourteenth o'f the United States’ five billions.

But the $323 millions to NATO, according to

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Backstage at Ottawa

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our own argument, is military aid to offset the small size of our expeditionary force. The rest of our economic aid to less fortunate countries begins and ends with our contribution to the Colombo Plan — twenty-five million dollars in capital assistance and three hundred thousand dollars in technical assistance in 1951. The American foreign-aid program in the same year, aside from military donations, came to about $3.5 billions, or roughly one hundred and forty times the Canadian program.

Again, the comparison isn’t entirely fair. Any country’s aid to any other country is limited by its reserve of foreign exchange i.e., of gold and U. S. dollars. Canada’s dollar reserves have grown of late because Americans are investing hundreds of millions here, but our trading account still shows a heavy dollar deficit. It would be quite impossible for Canada to match, even proportionately, the magnificent generosity of the United States. Last time we tried it, with the 1946 loan to Britain, we nearly went bankrupt and had to resort to import controls and, other unwholesome trade restrictions.

But if we can’t hope to hold up our end any higher than it is now, we might at least do two things:

1. Make fewer nasty remarks about the neighbors.

2. Maintain the modest program we

have undertaken with fairness and

good cheer.

There are some signs that we have been falling down on the second point as well as on the first.

• • •

For some reason the Liberal Government seems worried about its own

foreign-aid policy. Rightly or wrongly, ministers appear to think Canadian

voters are cool to such projects as the Colombo Plan for capital assistance to India, Pakistan and Ceylon.

If party support means public support they have nothing to worry about. John Diefenbaker for the Conservatives and dozens of spokesmen for the CCF, including party leader M. «I. Cold well, have urged that our contribution be at least doubled, to fifty millions.

But, just before parliament opened, C. D. Howe came up with a suggestion for changing Canada’s method of handling the Colombo Plan. It wouldn’t increase our share, but it would make sure that we give the whole twenty-five millions each year and not just part of it. The reaction among most of Howe’s colleagues was one of alarm.

At present the money for the Colombo Plan is voted each year as part of the External Affairs Department’s estimates. Ordinarily this would mean that every cent of it would have to be spent within the same fiscal year for which it was voted. In all departments, unspent money at the end of the fiscal year goes back to the treasury and they have to ask parliament to vote it a second time, if they get it at all.

Obviously this system won’t work in a plan for capital development of backward countries. One of the first and most useful projects of the Canadian scheme was a cement plant in Pakistan which will cost five million dollars and will take at least two years to build. The whole five millions had to be assured or the project couldn’t be started.

So far the Government has got around the difficulty by handing over the money, once it is allocated to a particular project, to a crown company,

the Canadian Commercial Corporation. The CCC holds the money until the contracts are let and the goods delivered, and then pays it out.

However, this wrinkle is of somewhat dubious legality. Auditor - General Watson Sellar doesn’t like it and has indicated that he will not approve it another year. It will be necessary to pass a special Colombo Plan statute to make the money available when it is required.

Howe’s proposed bill would have made the whole Canadian share, a grand total of one hundred and fifty millions in six years, a statutory charge that could be put into the bank each year, in instalments of twenty-five millions, and spent any time. Critics objected that Canada alone would then

be bound for the whole six years. Other contributing countries might drop out; why should Canada then go on alone?

There was also a strong feeling against wrapping up the whole $150 millions in one bill. Critics thought $25 millions would be a more palatable sum to mention to a tax-conscious parliament. And they didn’t want any objections raised in parliament at all, lest these provide a focus and a screen for hostility against the whole idea of helping underdeveloped countries.

Actually the purpose of the Howe bill has not been abandoned. Another measure almost certainly will be enacted at the current session to reach the same objective by a different method which meets the critics’ objections. But the serious question remains: Is the cabinet right in believing there is little or no popular support for the Colombo Plan?

From the beginning there has been a group here in Ottawa who regard the scheme as a useless drop in the ocean. To reverse the metaphor, they say we are trying to irrigate the Gobi Desert with a garden hose. Nothing we could do, nothing within our utmost power, could significantly raise the living standards of Asia; why then throw away our good money on a project that is doomed to frustration and failure?

The best answer to that is the record of what has already been accomplished.

In Ceylon, for example, Canada is financing a project for developing the fisheries. The Ceylonese diet is low on proteins, therefore the Ceylonese people are low on the physical strength that their heavy agriculture really needs. They have religious prejudices against eating meat, but they do eat fish.

At present the fish they have are caught by primitive methods and sold on open markets in the full heat of the tropical sun. Tons of them rot beyond all possibility of use. Tons more are eaten in a state of decay that makes them very poor food indeed.

Canada is buying a small fleet of motorboats and a trawler, to increase the catch. Canada is also installing a refrigeration plant to keep it fresh. Plans are in hand to follow this through to the market-place, providing refrig-

eration to keep the fish until it’s actually in the housewife’s hands. A refrigerated car will take it inland, bringing it to people who now live on practically nothing but polished rice.

This whole scheme with all its supplements and frills will cost only about two million dollars. It will not, of course, solve the food problem of Ceylon. But it will show the Ceylonese how to solve the problem themselves —give them that vital, initial boost toward self-help.

That’s just one example. There are already half a dozen, in the three countries, on which work has actually started, and many more on the drawing boards needing only capital assistance to be got under way. All of them together will not complete the solution

of Asia’s staggering economic problems —but each of them in its own fashion will show the way.

Another objection, often heard from some people, is “How do we know the money is properly spent?”

We don’t, of course. All we can be sure of is that it is being handled here by the most competent group of men we can find.

Nik Cavell, the former Toronto industrial executive who heads the Canadian Colombo Plan staff, spent more than twenty years in the Orient, first as a cavalry officer and later as a businessman. He knows India and Pakistan well, the countries and the people. He has as good a chance as any Canadian could have of sizing up a proposition and judging whether it is sound.

Not long ago, for example, Pakistan requested five hundred pumps for an irrigation scheme. The pumps were to be mounted on barges which would patrol five hundred miles of river, pumping up water to a dry plateau on either bank.

The plan was impeccably sponsored. There was a Canadian firm ready and eager to provide the pumps— indeed, it sent a delegation to C. D. Howe to protest against the delay, and urge immediate action.

Cavell turned it down. He didn’t know much about it, but he did know that part of the country and he didn’t think the scheme sounded practical.

After he had rejected it on a combination of old knowledge and pure hunch he learned that this request had already been made to the International Bank in Washington, had been thoroughly investigated by American engineers and had been rejected. He found also that the five hundred barges had not been built, nor any organization set up. If the pumps had been delivered without enquiry they would now be rusting on the open plain.

This is the kind of thing that is bound to happen. It is no argument against capital assistance, for it springs from the very conditions we are setting out to remedy—primitive, ineffective organization. But it certainly is an argument for allowing ample time for thorough investigation, and not stipulating that all decisions must be made before midnight on March 31. ★