Canada has made a sharp turn away from its tradition of multilateralism and advocating open, transparent and merit-based leadership processes for international institutions. A few weeks ago, Robert Zoellick announced he was not going to run for another term as World Bank group president. At the close of nominations for the position, there were three candidates: Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, put forward by Nigeria, Angola and South Africa; Colombia’s Jose Antonio Ocampo, and the United States’ Jim Yong Kim.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the same day that nominations closed that Canada both supported Kim for the job and expected an open, transparent and merit-based process. There was a irony in his stated support for an open and transparent process given that he had made his choice prior to the bank executive board’s assessment and interviews.

Canada’s unqualified endorsement could hardly be justified on merit. A legitimate process should assess candidates on their capacities and experience for the role regardless of nationality. The World Bank published its requirements for the position online. When we subtract his passport — which is not on the list — Kim’s merits do not compare to those of his competitors.

The World Bank is the world’s foremost multilateral economic development institution. Its work deals primarily with developing and emerging governments and helps them to plan and support their economies. Both Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala have served as finance ministers in their respective developing countries. Kim’s budget responsibilities have most recently been for a small Ivy-league university in the United States.

The World Bank’s policy area is primarily the purview of highly trained economists. Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala have economics degrees and backgrounds. Okonjo-Iweala holds a doctorate in economics from MIT. Ocampo’s PhD in economics is from Yale. Ocampo was head of the economic commission for all of Latin America and the Caribbean at the United Nations. Okonjo-Iweala was a managing director (one slot below president) at the World Bank itself.

In contrast, Kim’s Ivy League degrees are in medicine and anthropology. He has managed a university, an international medical NGO, and a division at the World Health Organization on one disease in which he is a medical expert. Health is an important part of development, but it is certainly not everything in a national economy’s development and growth. Moreover, World Bank lending on health is less than the Bill Gates Foundation’s spending on health in developing countries.

While versatility and fresh ideas are definitely benefits, it is not clear that Kim has a comparable preparation to lead an organization with the size, role and scope of the World Bank. While previous U.S. appointees did not always have development experience, for the most part they at least had run a large and significant arm of the American government. Kim has not.

Kim was a surprise candidate whom no one had mentioned precisely because he was not even in the same orbit as the others. Why would you endorse a university president, medical doctor and anthropologist to run a global economic and development institution? Would you choose an economist to research treatments for HIV/AIDS? An anthropologist to set economic policy? This choice will test the United States’ hold on the role, which was already being challenged by emerging economies that are demanding a say more proportionate to their economic weight. But even if Kim does win in spite of all that, Canada will still lose points from its international reputation for this endorsement.

Last year, in the race for International Monetary Fund head (the World Bank’s sister institution), Canada showed multilateral leadership in endorsing Mexican candidate Augustin Carstens over the standard European less merit-based, less transparent, less open pick. Canada was cited during those deliberations as a global leader whose endorsement Carstens had coveted because of our long history of taking the moral high road on international issues like this one, instead of bowing to the lowly horse-trading and catering to power that so often is the norm.

By endorsing the U.S. candidate for the World Bank, Canada risks this reputation and our ability to command future respect in the multilateral realm. To restore Canada’s integrity, we would do well to endorse all three candidates and what should be a truly open, transparent, merit-based, multilateral leadership process, as Canada has correctly supported for years.

Bessma Momani is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Xenia Menzies is a CIGI junior fellow in global governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs. You can follow Xenia Menzies on twitter @xeniamenzies.

Canada was cited during those deliberations as a global leader whose endorsement Carstens had coveted because of our long history of taking the moral high road on international issues like this one, instead of bowing to the lowly horse-trading and caterin
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  • CIGI Senior Fellow Bessma Momani has a Ph.D. in political science with a focus on international political economy and is full professor and interim assistant vice‑president of international relations at the University of Waterloo.