CIDA, Barrick Gold, new partners in development?

 

 

Bev Oda, CIDA minister

When she shut down the 35-year relationship between the ecumenical group KAIROS and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in 2009, it seemed that Conservative minister Bev Oda had lost her tongue. It was left to a faceless bureaucrat to call KAIROS and tell them their human rights projects in some of the world’s most troubled countries no longer fit CIDA’s criteria. When Oda was questioned about this in the House of Commons, she had nothing to say and sat there mutely while other (male) cabinet ministers tried to parry the blows. But Oda has plenty to say these days, including a recent lengthy interview with the Ottawa Citizen, in which she speaks with great enthusiasm about CIDA’s new support for pilot projects abroad with Canadian mining companies and select NGOs. 

What was not clear in 2009 is becoming much more obvious today. The Conservatives have pulled CIDA out of a number of the world’s poorest countries, particularly in Africa, and have refocused on other countries where Canada has more robust trading relationships. It would seem that aid is all about trade, although Oda sees no distinction. Asked by The Citizen how she separates Canada’s trade and foreign policy interests from development goals, she said, “I really don’t separate them.” 

CIDA changes partners  

CIDA will soon abandon a number of its long-standing development partners among Canadian NGOs, including a number of church-based organizations. Reliable sources say that a number of those groups will see their funding ended or curtailed this year. CIDA is replacing them in its affections with Canadian based multinationals, including Barrick Gold, IAMGOLD, and Rio Tinto Alcan. Oda has been speaking enthusiastically about overseas projects with these three companies and others in the agri-business sector.   

CIDA wants to ensure that foreign aid also supports trade and economic growth in Canada. Oda announced $26 million in projects last fall.  and more projects are in the pipeline. In Burkina Faso, for example, the project with IAMGOLD is said to offer skills training to young people to work in the mining industry.  The budget is $7.6 million over five years. CIDA will provide $5.7 million of that amount; the company will provide $1.0 million; and an NGO called Plan Canada will provide the remaining $900,000.  

The Canadian mining industry thinks it is a great idea. “There is a policy shift under way, and it is one we are encouraged by,” says Pierre Gratton, president of the Canadian Mining Association. “These projects help improve the image of the industry … because they are meaningful and have value,” he adds. “This is not just PR.”  

Positive spin 

Some would say that it is more than image that needs improving for the mining industry. The Canadian group MiningWatch has been blowing the whistle for years on the questionable environmental, human rights and labour relations practices of Canadian mining companies in a number of poor countries. MiningWatch is not on the Prime Minister’s Christmas card list. Jamie Keen of MiningWatch says joint ventures abroad involving CIDA and the industry will help to put a positive spin on the operations, whether deserved or not. He also says, “These companies are sitting on piles of cash, so why are taxpayers paying for their development projects?” 

Hoarding cash 

Research conducted for the Canadian Labour Congress indicates that Barrick Gold saw its short and long term assets increase dramatically between the years 2000 and 2010 – from $642 million to $4.5 billion. Presumably much of this cash hoarding had to do with the federal government’s dramatic reduction in corporate income taxes during that period. Barrick’s CEO took home $9.9 million in pay in 2010. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I have a day job with the CLC).   

Negatives outweigh positives 

Very Rev. Bill Phipps, a former Moderator of the United Church of Canada, is concerned by what he hears about CIDA’s three new pilot projects in Burkina Faso, Peru and Ghana. “I think the negatives outweigh the positives, he says.” Phipps returned recently from a fact-finding visit to areas in the Philippines that are being targeted for exploration by mining companies, some of them Canadian. “The Aboriginal people in the area I visited have a good subsistence life, where they grow healthy food and have clean rivers. There are seven or eight exploration applications on the books and the people oppose them for environmental, cultural and spiritual reasons. As the mining applications increase, the military follows and it is right in the face of these people. The army is operating hand-in-glove with development.” 

CIDA’s pilot projects are also causing a rift within the Canadian NGO community. Each of the three projects has an NGO partner. Others in the sector worry that these agencies will “whitewash” the practices of the mining industry – a claim that is denied aggressively. In the case of the Barrick Gold project in Peru, the partner is World Vision. The Globe and Mail quotes World Vision Canada’s president Dave Toycen on January 30, 2012 as saying: “We have to be realistic here, there is self interest on the part of every party here. Anything we can do to encourage and advocate for better mining practices, and support the communities that they are displacing or affecting, we’re contributing to a better lifestyle and environment for them.”       

Rev. Phipps, who has not visited the proposed pilot projects, says: “No matter how responsible a corporation tries to be, there are inevitable differences of opinion and conflicts on ecological, human rights, labour, cultural, and other issues. So sometimes an NGO needs to become an advocate for the communities on these conflicts. The company and NGO have different roles, and NGOs should not provide a cover or fig leaf for corporate actions. Too close a relationship is fraught with conflicts of interest.” 

Partisan considerations

One can also look for the partisan considerations at play. KAIROS not only lost its funding in 2009, but was accused by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney of being anti-Semitic. The group had also challenged the government on its commitment to rapid development of the oil sands in Western Canada. The KAIROS member agencies are drawn mainly from the mainline Protestant and Catholic churches. World Vision, on the other hand, is mainly identified with evangelical Christians, a group that is generally friendly to the Conservatives and tends to vote for them.  

When news comes out, as it soon will, about whom CIDA will fund and whom it discards, this religious lens is one to watch. 

      

 

7 Responses to “CIDA, Barrick Gold, new partners in development?”

  1. Thank you for looking into this and staying on top of it. I hope this is published in the Prairie Messenger.

     
    • Marcella Pedersen
  2. Thank you for this EXCELLENT article!

    Please do consider getting “twitter” and “facebook” buttons to make it easier for people to share online.

    Dennis replies: Thanks for your kind comment. Re Twitter and Facebook buttons: I do have them on my website home page (http://www.dennisgruending.ca/), and the blog is embedded on the home page too. So by clicking on the buttons on the home page, you should be able to distribute the blog entries — I hope!

     
    • Freya Keddie
  3. As has been documented by Mining Watch and others, the history of Canadian mining companies in the Third World is one long, tragic litany of trampling on the human rights of indigenous peoples, environmental devastation that destroys the very source of life for the poor, and looking the other way as local militaries kill or displace the poor who object. The notion that Canadian mining companies have any interest in helping poor people is, at best, a delusion and, at worst, a vicious lie.

    CIDA’s decision to pursue international development by dumping the Christian church coalition KAIROS in favor of mining companies driven by insatiable greed is comparable to putting pedophiles in charge of day cares. Given the sorry record of Canadian mining companies in poor countries, CIDA’s decision is yet more confirmation that the Harper government values the profit of Canadian companies more than the lives of the poor elsewhere.

    Those who care about the poor well remember the odious decision to discontinue funding KAIROS in 2009. While the original recommendation from federal civil servants was to continue working with KAIROS, Bev Oda and the others of her ilk in the federal cabinet opted to overturn CIDA’s policy of helping the poor in favor of helping already profitable companies exploit the poor in other countries.

    The truly repulsive aspect of this policy is that, contrary to Scripture, it perverts the course of justice due to the poor (Exodus 23:6). Indeed, it perverts the very idea of equitable development by using double-speak, and jettisons concepts like justice in favor of greed and avarice. It is a wicked policy because it entails giving Canadian tax dollars to already profitable companies to help them increase their profit at the expense of the poor elsewhere. Anyone who checks into mining in the global south knows full-well that that the so-called benefits do not flow to the people, and the environmental and cultural damage that results more than outweighs those so-called benefits.

    Despite the fact that Jesus repeatedly warned us ‘you cannot serve God and wealth’ (Matthew 6:24), the Harper government has once again chosen to pitch its tent among the powers and principalities of this world who worship wealth and despise the poor. In itself, this is not unusual as governments around the world routinely put profit before life. Nor have Canadian mining companies ever shown any hesitation about joint ventures with vicious tyrants quite prepared to slaughter the innocents in their own country for fast buck. What is particularly galling about the Harper government is that this group of men and women who so joyfully worship profit, encourage greed, and trample on the poor both at home and abroad love to proclaim their Christianity.

    Jesus puts the same question to all professing Christians: ‘Why do call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you’ (Luke 6:46). Jesus’ entire ministry was characterized by a loving concern and compassion for the poor, oppressed and marginalized. He put the poor first, and gave his live to liberate them from sin and oppression in all its forms. And he said that ‘just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:40).

    In casting its lot with those wealthy corporations who have demonstrated a proclivity for riding roughshod over the poor, the Harper government has once again chosen the darkness rather than the light. It is yet another example of Jesus being crucified in our time by our leaders. Nor can any of us escape responsibility by saying such vile actions do not represent us as a people. Unlike King Herod, Harper has been elected by his people.

    If nothing else, this decision proves the old adage that the love of money is the root of all evil. It also puts the lie to the claim that Canada is a Christian nation or even simply a ‘good guy’ on the international stage. The Bible says ‘you shall not follow a majority in wrong-doing’ (Exodus 23:2). Sadly, our federal government has chosen to follow such a path. It is a path that is wide and traveled by many. And, of course, there are those who applaud such decisions just as others chanted ‘give us Barabbas’ when the time came to decide for or against Jesus so long ago.

     
    • Dallas McQuarrie
  4. So our Conservative Government will partner with the environment and human rights destroying companies of the world to “assist” the third world. We may as well partner with organized crime as well.There is no depth of depravity that Harper and his crew of corporate pirates will not descend to. Every Canadian with a conscience has only one choice, we must rid Canada of this evil Government. The only purpose of this Harper Canada is to serve the wealthy at the expense of the poor and the environment. It tells the world we are a country that values greed and exploitation above all else.

     
    • Bob Borreson
  5. Thanks, Dennis, for covering this issue. It’s evident to me that a watershed has been crossed here. There are many issues in this development that should alarm all Canadians. For me, one of the more interesting and revealing is that it was CIDA which sought out the NGO and mining company “partners”. This speaks volumes about the policy direction being pursued by this Government. Both the NGOs which are “playing ball” and those which are not will have cause to regret this day.

    Lawrence

     
    • Lawrence S. Cumming
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