Mike Flynn is a frustrated man. He is a former English sector director of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP). He has more than 25 years of experience with voluntary organizations in the field of international development, social justice and public education. He lives in Montreal. He has responded to my recent blog posting about a decision by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to cut CCODP off at the knees. The organization waited anxiously for months, only to learn recently that its funding from CIDA will be chopped by two-thirds in the coming five years. CIDA had provided $44.6 million in the years 2006-11 for CCODP projects with partners in 30 of the world’s poorest countries. CIDA has decided to shave that amount to a much-reduced $14.5 million over the next five years, a catastrophic loss of $30 million.
This has thrown the organization – and its many partners in the Global South — into turmoil. Will CCODP and its local partners be able to help refugees resettle in Burundi after years of violent ethnic tensions and violence? Will CCODP and its partners continue to promote the rights of women in Bolivia and defend the rights of indigenous groups to land ownership?
I aalso described in my posting how CIDA has begun to provide grants to Canadian mining companies (along with select NGOs) to undertake “corporate responsibility” projects in poor countries. This is occurring while the organization either cuts back or ends funding to faith-based NGOs, including KAIROS and the Mennonite Central Committee. Why are CIDA and its political masters treating successful organizations and long trusted with an enviable record of performance in this way?
Mike responded to my blog posting of March 19th by writing an insightful analysis of what CIDA is doing and why. I invited him to revise it slightly in the form of a guest column and he generously agreed. Here is what he has to say:
Mike Flynn’s analysis
This is the end product of a series of Conservative government policy and process changes intended to refocus Canada’s international development efforts away from peoples’ needs to the benefit of commercial interests. The intention is to redirect Canadian assistance away from needy nations to those more likely to turn a profit for Canada. It aims to abandon Canada’s traditional role of promoting democracy and citizen participation in the South to one that champions the creation of capital friendly mechanisms of compliance and control.
The recently announced Canadian NGO/mining sector partnerships are a stark example of this shift. To add insult to injury, the policy shift effectively serves to hijack publicly contributed counterpart funds (money that people donate to NGOs) into government service. At the same time our government is binding the participating agencies to foreign policy objectives that are not compatible with the best interests of the poor that the original donors set out to support.
CIDA’s process ideological
Premised on the oxymoronic notion that competition is the new path to international cooperation, the Harper government’s recent overhaul of CIDA’s application process is unabashedly ideological. The process is ripe for political manipulation, and incompatible with the objective of building an informed and capable civil society able to defend the interests of the poor in the South. There was a time when CIDA’s NGO division encouraged citizen involvement in international development, fostered and strengthened links between people and civil society organizations internationally, and helped Canadian NGOs increase their capacity and impact in the South.
The Harper government’s strategy is now designed to corral voluntary sector energy into the service of government by subverting it to trade and commercial interests that serve the rich.
This dismantling of the traditional fairness, professionalism and predictability of Canada’s international assistance program has been accomplished with little public knowledge, fanfare, or debate. The development community fought the good fight against tied aid some twenty years ago. It, along with the Canadian public, lowered its guard and allowed private corporate interests, their apologists and ideologues to reassert control over the miniscule budget set aside to assist the poor, and to effectively redirect it to their own ends.
What is more, the new process pits agency against agency in competition for declining CIDA dollars. This is a strategy that threatens to dismantle irreplaceable networks and partnerships built up over decades, as agencies are forced to prioritize and retool in an effort to win coveted CIDA contracts.
The competitive character, exaggerated confidentiality, and overall lack of transparency attached to these measures do double duty by silencing agency criticism of government policies. This occurs out of fear of retribution at the hands of an increasingly arbitrary and unabashedly vindictive government in a context where the rules of the game are anything but clear.
As it now stands, the track record of development NGOs, their partnership networks and development expertise are all relegated to a second-tier in an increasingly politicized CIDA decision-making process presided over by Minister Bev Oda. With the Conservative government’s refusal to fund traditional clients like KAIROS, and in light of CIDA’s decision to cut back Development and Peace, even the most progressive and critical elements within the NGO community now find themselves engaging in self-censorship as funding agreements come up for renewal.
Those of you who have contributed as little as a dollar to an international development agency this past year have every reason to be concerned.
Even as Mike Flynn was writing this analysis, a group of CCODP’s members and supporters were creating a FACEBOOK site and are organizing to protest against CIDA’s cutbacks. But social media is a tool, not a campaign in itself. Activists are organizing fast throughout the day on Good Friday in the Christian calendar (April 6th). They are asking supporters to collect the money their households might have spent on food that day and to donate it to CCODP.
Organizers are asking supporters take other actions as well:
— Writing to Prime Minister Harper at email@example.com, protesting against the cuts to CCODP, which will hurt development efforts in the Global South, and asking that this CIDA decision be reversed
— Informing Catholics in the pew about the fast to protest against the cuts
— Donating generously on Solidarity Sunday (March 25th) when CCODP has its annual Share Lent collection
— Requesting that local Catholic bishops participate in the Good Friday fast, and also release public letters protesting against the government’s action (by writing to the PM) and encouraging Catholics to support CCODP.
Harper just gets worse and worse.
Mike’s analysis is trenchant. I hope he also turns his pen to the question of why Development and Peace has remained silent. CIDA has even demanded to vet press releases from the agency, so they must be expecting readers of the blog and development supporters to react!
Dennis/Mick, thanks for this and for your analysis Mick. Having been a past chair of KAIROS I know and have seen this unfolding for a while now. There must be a push back. A lot of my work now concerns the international community. Canada’s image abroad is rapidly changing and not for the good. The biblical story is a political story. It is one of empowerment of the folks on the margins, the poor and those left on the sidelines. NGOs who work for the betterment of the human family must be supported and governments who have greed and only economic interests must be challenged
It was so good to hear from Mike Flynn, who I got to know while I was a diector on the national board. What our present government is doing to D&P through CIDA is sickening. Mike’s observations are right on the money. The cuts to D&P would would pay only a fraction of the cost of one fighter jet, or one naval destroyer! The Harper government should be ashamed of itself. These cuts need to be reversed.
Dennis/Mike Thank you so much for the information you have provided regarding the extremely nasty turn that CIDA has taken because of the anti-humanitarian attitude of the Harper government. The ordinary citizen would have no knowledge of this situation if it weren’t for what the likes of you are doing. I congratulate you for the actions you have taken through your church. I am now in the process of writing a strong letter to the office of the Prime Minister to protest their despicable actions. It is to be hoped that people with a humanitarian sense will be enraged enough to take action following your example.
As a National Council member representing Quebec, Chicoutimi and Baie-Comeau dioceses, the best comment I can do is: That deep cut to Development and Peace is a result of a convergence of two ultraconservative and libertarian neo-liberal ideologies, in both political and religious domains in North America, and Canada as well. The process has been long run planned and very carefully managed for a general social acceptance.
The worse news is not even the cut. It is the shift in the goals of CIDA’s interventions in the Global South, mainly to be profitable, not for the poorest and the excluded communities, but for the Canadian based transnational corps exploiting local resources for the benefit of their shareholders. That is what “efficiency of aid” means, in our majori-tory elected federal government’s mouth.
That tendency is materializing in new players scavenging around CIDA as bumble bees around a sweets platter: Private foundations owned by those same corps and pretty integrist religious groups playing the “mitigation game” of the harshest attempts against Climate, Water, Living Soils, Natural mineral and Energy Resources, Biodiversity, Food Sovereignty and Cultural Integrity of the impoverished societies in the Global South.
Every Canadian NGO involved in traditional ways of genuine egalitarian and solidarian North-South cooperation is jeopardized, by linked-to-more-profits-for-us bilateral aid schemes. No more intelligent continental 5 year strategic planning is feasible. Therefore, the “aid” is linked directly to business as usual. Movements like ours cannot compete with business linked foundations as long as those new rules of the game apply. Harper’s government knows that really well. It may take a decade or so until the wisdom comes back in Canadian international cooperation policies. Our organization will still be there when the good days come back?… Frankly it take lots of faith to say yes!! Even CIDA’s existence may be precarious.
Canadian NGOs are being asked to act as “mitigators”, more or less middlemen in some so-called eco-social acceptance between oppressed local populations and foreign corporate oppressors. Commerce is already militarized in many regions and many sectors in the Global South, especially among where Canadian extractive industries are active.
For instance Marketa Evans Social Responsibility Counselor’s Office has no customers to serve: a hilarious waste of money; an inappropriate answer to the 2005-2006 Roundtables. In a sense we pay for our almost success, since the C-300 Bill has been beaten by so few voices in Ottawa Parliament. Canadians extractive corps lobby costs have been too high. The Conservative government could not leave but minimal financial resources to those who represent a menace to the corporate interests. They vote every day with the diligent work of their lobbyists while the people vote every 4 years. And the weak popular participation in elections shows clearly that Canadians do not trust our democratic system. That serves the corps and bankers interests. Money talks more than people. See the new Canadian federal Budget: The less State is the best State. Harper is introducing Canadians in a era of free for all, as long as “all” is the financially powerful.
Development and Peace is not the only one in that case. The legitimate reaction to this inhumane and morally outrageous shift of the rules of the game must be concerted and collective through our coalitions: The CICC/CCCI (in Canada) and the AQOCI (in Quebec). Speaking out for ourselves only as a single NGO is not a good strategy. Religious authorities have to speak up. I am proud and grateful to tell you that our Archbishop, here in Quebec, Mgr Gerald Cyprien Lacroix engaged himself March 25th to write a letter to Minister Bev Oda in the defence of Development and Peace and other organizations who defend the most needy populations in the Global South.
From a volunteer at Development and Peace’s National Council point of view, I confess that we have been placed by our managers in front of an accomplished fact: The agreement with CIDA is actually signed. In the short and middle term, we are done. We have to make a living out of it. From 30 countries, we are boiling down to 7 countries funded by CIDA. The choice of those countries is mesmerizing also: Haïti, Colombia, Congo DR, Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia and… Afghanistan. Our yearly fundraising campaign should be $5M higher than our $10M goal for this year and then for the four upcoming years to maintain our partnerships in some 27 countries. We are already engaged in a conservative and hierarchic submission shift that discouraged already our most progressive fundraisers, such as unions and the scholars-based ” Fonds Solidarité Sud”.
The “charity pie” in the Canadian civil society is not expanding by magic. We are not the only one Canadian international cooperation NGO seeking for more money. Our members are not accustomed to work as fundraisers; we and our animation staff are more used to collect action cards and petitions.
A very severe structural impact is occurring also. With this severe funding shortage from CIDA, we, as National Council members, accepted a premature leave program for our most experienced staff. That program is not aligned with our collective convention with the Union. So we will lose our most precious expertise in our international programs and our popular education and advocacy programs in Canada as well. No doubt our own organization will be weakened for a long while. We must inspire ourselves from the harsh times strategies our own partners in the South can implement to pursue their struggle, even when a more dictatorial or repressive regime comes into power.
That’s actually the case, here and now in Canada. In Quebec as well. Canadians and Quebecers will wake up from their libertarian conservative and selfish hyper consumers’ dream some day. Will it be too late? As Christians we have to nurture better Mother-Earth Stewardship, better Justice and Peace building, one conscience at a time, and above all: Hope Faith and Love; Preferential Option for the Poor and for the Planet; I would say: Love in truth!
I applaud Mike Flynn for his insightful analysis of this appalling (but not unexpected) shift in the federal government’s approach to international affairs. Our role on the world stage as a thoughtful, peace-building, supportive country has been severely diminished.
As someone who as worked with the international development community in various capacities since 1976, I feel angry and disgusted by how the Harper government has politicized and commercialized the humanitarian and socially responsible work of Canadian NGOs and CIDA. We must fight hard to expose the Harper agenda and regain our ground.
But I also feel sad. As others have noted, this has all happened not only without public debate; it has also happened with little public outcry or comment. Why is that? I think that much of the responsibility falls right at the feet of NGOs themselves. Over the past 30 years, the once vibrant Canadian ‘movement’ of international NGOs fighting for progressive social change has slowly backed away from controversial stands that might negatively affect government funding, radically decreased expenditures on education and organizing activities within Canada, and morphed from a social justice-seeking model to a charity model. When supporters only know how to write a cheque, but have not developed a salient political analysis or a sense that they are part of a larger struggle for justice and dignity, it isn’t surprising that there is precious little push back to the ideologically motivated ‘savings’ and ‘re-alignment’ that is represented by this government’s recent budget.
Why are we surprised by this shift in the Canadian approach to international development? This has always been the Harper government’s agenda. We knew it when they united right to form the Conservative Party of Canada. We knew it when they were elected to successive minority governments. And we knew it when we elected them to a majority government.
In the face of that, we neglected to build/maintain the critical perspective of our own community and members. No public outcry about the CIDA cuts? We reap what we sow (or don’t sow).
Bravo to all who have written here, especially Charles-Eugène Bergeron. I share the general analysis, and also the deep sadness expressed by Susan. When one considers the brutal and deadly approach taken with Rights and Democracy, for example, one is not surprised that an organization such as D&P, trying to exist within the determinedly a-political and culturally silent official Catholic ethos, would be a very easy target.
The tragedy is that D&Ps early emphasis on Canadian social analysis and action, so vital to the ability of Catholics to feel competent and confident to address their government on unjust socio-economic and political policies and structures, either at home or abroad, was the victim of the organization’s own “cuts”, driven by the forces Charles-Eugène describes so well …
Gee, it is so good to read all you people because what we need now is to unite in our anger; we are Jesus’ followers in the temple; money is not our goal in life but it helps. This government is unjust, selfish and greedy. I am a religious and I am proud of all the anger felt and chanelled with our congregations against HARPER AND HIS POLICIES; dare he not be seen in prayer cause I will challenge his faith!!!!