Another aid group fears CIDA cuts

  • June 24, 2010
CCIC logoThe umbrella group for 90 religious and secular development aid groups has laid off all but eight of its employees, put its building up for sale and emptied its $500,000 reserve fund for severance packages as it waits for final word on a funding decision from CIDA that’s now three months overdue.

The Canadian Council for International Co-operation is assuming it won’t get the $1.7 million the federal government normally contributes to its $2.4-million budget, said executive director Gerry Barr.

Barr hasn’t heard anything from CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency) since he got a call at 8 p.m. on the last day of the Ottawa-based CCIC’s previous funding agreement informing him CCIC would receive bridge funding until July 15 while its funding proposal remains under review.

“I would say the silence is ominous and eloquent,” said Barr.

The government is trying to silence the voices of organizations critical of how it runs aid policy, Liberal MP Ken Dryden told The Catholic Register. Though advocacy groups may sometimes be annoying to governments, they are necessary, said Dryden.

“These groups, they drive you nuts. They drive you nuts because at times they say things that are inconveniently true,” he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told The Canadian Press his government’s priority is to fund programs directly involved in helping poor countries.

“We want to make sure that those aid dollars are spent as effectively as possible,” he said.

Barr makes no apology for criticisms his organization has made of Conservative aid priorities.

“When the government of Canada freezes aid spending, they hear from us. When they drift away from applying the legislation, they hear from us. When they eliminate seven of the poorest countries in Africa from their priority list and substitute other countries around the world that are less poor but where there are geopolitical reasons that underpin that, they hear from us,” Barr said.

“What we have seen is a sea change in the political management of CIDA at the Prime Minister’s office,” said Barr. “Now what is being applied as the test is not whether you have competencies to bring to bear and effective ways in which to collaborate... The question now is, are you politically aligned.”

KAIROS, which had its CIDA funding cut last year, calls the cuts a disaster for Canadian development aid. Executive director Mary Corkery believes the government is punishing its critics, and defunding KAIROS was the first indication of the new funding priorities.

“KAIROS was, you could say, the canary in the coal mine.”

KAIROS has submitted a new application to CIDA which conforms to funding priorities that weren’t part of CIDA policy when its original application was submitted. The new application omits KAIROS funding for Palestinian groups, a point of contention when Immigration and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenny accused KAIROS of anti-Semitism last year.

A CIDA spokesperson said CIDA won’t comment on funding while an application is under review.

CCIC provides peer reviews of aid organizations’ work and policies and helps Canadian NGOs deal both with government in Canada and with the international scene. Members of CCIC will make sure it survives in its scaled down version, said Canada Foodgrains Bank executive director Jim Cornelius.

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