Catholics protest CCODP cuts by CIDA

Development and Peace

It’s taken awhile but Catholics and their leaders are beginning to protest against draconian cuts made by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. The organization, created in the 1960s by Canada’s Catholic bishops, has been a long-time partner in development in development with CIDA – but much less so now. As I reported on March 19, CIDA, which had provided Development and Peace with $44.6 million in the years 2006-11, has slashed that amount by two-thirds, to a total of $14.5 million over the next five years. The organization had been waiting anxiously for 18 months while CIDA Minister Bev Oda came to her conclusions. The bad news finally arrived in February 2012.

Shedding partners

CCODP had 186 projects in 30 of the world’s poorest countries but that is already changing. Many of those partners will lose funding and Development and Peace is also preparing to lay off staff in Canada. The Catholic Register reported on March 22 that Development and Peace “has already had to cut funding to 32 partners by an average of 57 per cent while it waited for CIDA’s decision. Another 48 partners have been on hold waiting to renew funding agreements with D&P.”

Last year, the organization received $8.2 million in government funds, which was more than matched by $12.6 million in contributions from Catholics across Canada. This year the government’s contribution will be $2.9 million.

Funding mining companies

Last fall, while Development and Peace and other NGOs were anxiously awaiting their fate, CIDA Minister Bev Oda signed contracts worth $26 million with Canadian mining companies and select NGOs to undertake a number of “corporate responsibility” projects in countries such as Burkina Faso and Peru. In Burkina Faso, 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.

It is perhaps noteworthy that Development and Peace was among those NGOs who publicly questioned the corporate practices of some Canadian mining countries in poor countries. CCODP may now be paying the price for its witness.

Public silence

I referred in my March 19 posting to an internal letter sent by Michael Casey, Development and Peace’s executive director, volunteers across the country. He broke the bad news and asked them to redouble efforts to encourage Catholics to dig deeply to replace the lost government funding. Other than that internal letter, Development and Peace has essentially maintained a public silence on the matter of lost funds, choosing not to criticize CIDA or the Conservative government.

“I don’t know whether it’s appropriate for the institution to engage in that kind of thing,” Casey told the Catholic Register on March 22. “We have signed a funding agreement with the government. Even though the results may be disappointing to us based on what we had originally requested, we still have received the support of the government.”

Other NGOs, including the Mennonite Central Committee have, after a long wait, had their CIDA funding drastically reduced as well. They, too, have chosen to remain silent, and to plead their case before CIDA bureaucrats and any MPs they can reach. Likely these organizations have made no public response because they fear reprisals down the road from CIDA and the Conservatives.

Soviet style

Ian Smillie of Ottawa, a former development worker in the field, and now a respected international development consultant, told Radio Canada on March 22 that the atmosphere in the NGO community is “almost a Soviet kind of situation where NGOs are afraid that they are going to lose all of their funding,”

Standing up

Who, then, will stand up for the good work that has been done for so many years by Development and Peace and other organizations? The answer is just beginning to arrive – at least from the Catholics. Here are some of their responses:

Mgr Gérald C. Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec, March 22 (my translation):

“The Catholic Archdiocese of Quebec deplores the reduction in funding by CIDA to Development and Peace. To make up for these lost revenues, the Archdiocese invites its parishioners to give generously to the special annual Development and Peace collection on Palm Sunday, March 25.

“This reduction of almost 65% in funds to Development and Peace is deplorable at a time when the needs of the international community are more and more glaring. We live in a country with great resources… For Catholics there is an obligation to act for justice and solidarity with our human brothers and sisters. I will take the time to write to Madam Bev Oda, the minister responsible for CIDA, to let her know of my disappointment and that of thousands of Catholics in the Diocese of Quebec who participate each year in the activities and financing of Development and Peace.”

The Archbishop even Tweeted on this: @gclacroix

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), March 22:

The CCCB is extremely disappointed with this decision which will greatly curtail CCODP’s good work. 

“Tragically, with a smaller annual budget, CCODP will have to decrease (and possibly even eliminate) the amount of funding for a number of projects supported in the South and reduce their programs in the North.

“[We] will continue discussing this matter with government officials in order to develop a better mutual understanding of the many effects of such a decision. At a time when the fabric of society and of our world is torn apart by the collapse of economic systems, the growing divide between the rich and the poor, senseless war and violence, the need for … the mission of Development and Peace to promote integral human development is more important than ever.”

Sister Joan Stafford, General Superior, Ursuline Sisters [Chatham Union], March 22, 2012 (Letter to Prime Minister):

“We were most disturbed to hear recently of the drastic and sudden cut in CIDA grants to this stellar international development organization.

“At a time when Canada’s historic commitment to aid and development is more critical than ever, this unexpected and totally inappropriate reduction in support to one of Canada’s best and most efficient international aid and development organizations must be re-examined, and as soon as possible, reversed. We Catholic Canadians – over 13 million of us — in parishes and organizations across the country … are appalled that such a cut has been made and are questioning the basis on which this ill-advised decision was taken. We know that we Ursulines speak for many people when we bring this matter to your attention, and ask for your personal intervention to have this totally unacceptable cut reversed.”

Saskatchewan’s Catholic bishops also wrote to the Prime Minister on March 22 to tell him they were “most disturbed” to learn of CIDA’s cuts to Development and Peace.

Facebook and fasting

A group of Catholic activists has created a FACEBOOK site and are organizing to protest against CIDA’s cutbacks. They are organizing a 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.

They ask that people write to the Prime Minister at pm@pm.gc.ca, protesting against the cuts asking that the CIDA decision be reversed. The activists say they are planning other activities as well.

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament

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