The hammer that had earlier landed on faith-based organizations such as KAIROS and the Mennonite Central Committee has now fallen on the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (D&P). Michael Casey, D&P’s executive director, has just written an emergency letter to the organization’s local volunteer leaders in Catholic dioceses throughout the country. He informs them that D&P has just heard from CIDA on a funding proposal made back in July 2010. “We have finally received the government’s response,” Casey writes. “It is not exactly what we were hoping for.” That is a considerable understatement. Casey writes that CIDA, which had provided D&P with $44.6 million in the years 2006-11, has chopped that amount by two-thirds, to a total of $14.5 million over the next five years.
Out of Africa
CIDA also says that the money has to be designated for seven countries. Only one of them is in Africa, where D&P has always had a significant presence. This hues to the government’s intention to refocus its aid budget on trade, rather than aid to the poorest of the poor.
Casey reminds local volunteers that D&P has 186 projects in 30 of the world’s poorest countries and that somehow the organization will have to replace the lost government money. He says that March 25 is Solidarity Sunday, when in dioceses across the country Catholics are asked to make their annual contribution to the Share Lent collection, which supports D&P projects. “I encourage you,” he writes, “to ask people to increase their annual contribution to our sisters and brothers in the Global South.” The theme this year is Help a Just World Take Root.
In 2011, CIDA contributed $8.2 million to D&P programs but the agency raised another $12.6 million on its own.
D&P is just the latest church-based organization to get the back of the hand from the Conservative government. CIDA cut off the inter-church development group KAIROS in late 2009. KAIROS had a good international reputation for its work in human rights and ecological justice in some of the world’s most troubled countries. Minister Jason Kenney, for good measure, accused the organization of being anti-Semitic, an allegation that was hotly denied by both KAIROS and its church partners.
Then in February 2012 CIDA turned down a proposal by the well-respected Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) of $2.9 million for each of the next three years to provide food, water and income generation assistance for people in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Haiti, Bolivia, Mozambique and Ethiopia.
Kept in suspense
Prior to informing organizations such as MCC and D&P about its funding plans, CIDA had kept them in anxious suspense for months. While CIDA dithered, many organizations have had to suspend programs and to lay off field and office staff.
In a fact sheet provided to D&P’s volunteers, Casey writes, “This lack of CIDA funding has had a number of consequences, most specifically a reduction in our financial support to 32 partners (a 57% average reduction) and an inability to renew funding agreements with 48 other partners. In addition, Development and Peace has had to significantly reduce its in-Canada program and operating expenses (support for members, hiring staff, etc.).”
Government spokespersons, including the Prime Minister, are fond of saying that no agency “deserves” a government grant for international development, nor should they assume that they will receive one. That’s fair enough on one level. But politics and budgets are all about choices. You can choose to spend money on war or prisons, for example, or you can invest it in pursuit of development and human rights. And it’s not as if there is no money remaining in the development envelope – it’s just that the government is seeking new partners.
CIDA’s new partners
Last fall, while D&P and other agencies were anxiously awaiting their fate, CIDA Minister Bev Oda was signing contracts worth $26 million with Canadian mining companies and select NGOs to undertake a number of “corporate responsibility” projects. The companies involved include Canadian-based multinationals Barrick Gold, IAMGOLD, and Rio Tinto Alcan (a company which on January 12 locked out 800 workers at its smelter in Alma, Quebec). In Burkina Faso, for example, IAMGOLD’s project is said to offer skills training to young people to work in the mining industry. One wonders why mining companies need money from the Canadian government to provide job training. The CEO for Barrick Gold, which will receive CIDA money for a project in Peru, took home $9.9 million in pay in 2010.
A reporter for The Ottawa Citizen newspaper asked CIDA Minister Bev Oda how she separates Canada’s trade and foreign policy interests from development goals in these cases. Her response: “I really don’t separate them.” The NGO’s involved with mining companies in three of the pilot projects announced to date include Plan Canada, World Vision and World University Service of Canada.
Whither the bishops?
The case of Development and Peace also pulls in Canada’s Catholic bishops. It was they who created D&P as the preferred international development agency for Catholics, and bishops continue to occupy two seats on the board of directors. Some of the church’s more conservative members in the pew have never accepted D&P’s preference for justice over charity. They also accuse the organization of supporting international development partners who do not always adhere to the church’s line on family planning.
For their part, Canada’s Catholic bishops, who used to make prophetic statements about a variety of social and economic issues, have grown increasingly timid. They declined, for example, to support a document created and signed by move than 60 church leaders in October 2011 calling for the federal government to take real action on climate change.
Catholics, and partners in the development community, may well be asking what, if anything, the bishops will do now to defend the organization that they created. As of late evening on March 18, neither the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops nor Development and Peace had made mention on their websites of the CIDA cutbacks.
Michael Casey, in his letter, limited his strategic advice to urging D&P volunteers to ask Catholics to increase their contribution to the Share Lent collection in order to replace the shortfall from CIDA.
But word of CIDA’s action is spreading quickly and Catholic activists have created a Facebook site to communicate on further actions. One is a day-long fast in parishes throughout the country on Friday, April 6 combined with letter writing to the Prime Minister asking that the decision be overturned, and an invitation to bishops to attend the fasting events.
Others are saying (on Facebook) that fasting is not enough and that something more political must be done: “name, shame and remove this gang from power.”