International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino says Canada must change its approach on funding overseas development. He said needy countries must be enabled to help themselves. Register file photo

Fantino confirms what NGOs had long suspected

By 
  • December 6, 2012

OTTAWA - Non-governmental organizations and charities are finding themselves starved for funds as Canada shifts to a trade–oriented approach to overseas development.

The new focus on free enterprise is “sparking quite a fight,” said Robert Joustra, who teaches international relations at Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ont., and is public policy editor with think tank Cardus.

Joustra criticized the fact that the policy seems to have been in effect for some time though it is only being clarified now. That has left many NGOs and Church-run charities finding their proposals cut without explanation. The government needs to make its policy much clearer and invite NGOs to respond, Joustra said.

International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino signalled the new approach in a Nov. 23 speech and a teleconference from Haiti with journalists Nov. 28.

“This is trying to help the needy countries to enable them to help themselves, to develop sustainable economies such as we’ve seen can be done with countries so that we don’t have to continually bail them out with their food issues, their education, their health issues and on it goes,” Fantino told journalists.

Fantino also said some think CIDA exists to “keep NGOs afloat, keep them working and fund them for life,” and that’s just not the case.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, which lost 65 per cent of its expected CIDA funding earlier this year, is not the only private NGO or Church-run charity that’s hurting as a result of the shift, says Citizens for Public Justice executive director Joe Gunn. From the United Church, to the Quakers, to the Mennonites, a range of projects are seeing their CIDA funding cut back substantially and projects turned down.

“It’s a tough time for international NGOs,” he said. “It’s clear it’s much bigger than (Development and Peace).”

Gunn says the new policy is “totally the wrong way to go.” NGO staff are losing their jobs and good projects overseas can no longer go ahead.

“I do not understand that. Enlightened government policy would be to support and encourage that work, not cut it off at the knees.”

Canada is “putting trade first” and “leveraging private partnerships” in international trade, following the “economic incrementalism which has made the prime minister famous in an era of economic austerity,” said Joustra.

“This is not a shocking new paradigm, or radical new kind of market-driven approach. He’s already had this kind of paradigms at work in domestic policy.”

Fantino’s speech and a recently leaked foreign policy document are putting “on paper what they’ve already been doing,” Joustra said. The problem for the NGOs and Church-run charities is the policy shift has never been clearly explained.
Yet Joustra remains optimistic the role for NGOs and Church-based overseas agencies can remain strong.

“The platform is agnostic on how those outcomes are delivered,” he said. There could be many new opportunities for faith-based communities who will be able to “lean on the strength of their outcomes.”

The Canadian government will also be focusing on ways the mining and extractive industries can contribute to international development, though many NGOs, including Development and Peace, have been critical of this sector, noting human rights abuses and environmental concerns. CIDA has directed $25 million for the Vancouver-based Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development.

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