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Julian Fantino's kiss of death to NGOs

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CIDA Minister Fantino wants Canadian NGO to partner with mining companies.

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The Conservative government has in the past two or three years forced the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to shift funding away from long-established development partners such as the Mennonite Central Committee and the Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. CIDA money has instead began to flow to Canadian corporations, particularly to mining companies active in the global South. Julian Fantino, the minister in charge of CIDA, thinks that’s a great idea but his agenda may actually be a kiss of death for those non-government organizations (NGOs) who have become involved in joint projects with the mining industry. The Toronto Star reports that many loyal donors to those NGOs are upset and they are keeping their wallets in their pockets.

Abandoning ship?

A story in The Star says that Plan Canada, one of several organizations involved in projects that link CIDA, NGOs and mining companies may abandon its partnership with Iamgold in Burkina Faso. CIDA is providing Plan Canada $5.6 million to operate an educational program in the West African country. Iamgold, which operates a gold mine there, is committed to spending another $1 million per year to the project and Plan has also committed $1 million. The project is to offer job-skills training for 6,400 children.

Rosemary McCarney is Plan's president. In an interview with The Star, she was quoted as saying: “Would we try it again? Probably not. It’s upsetting to donors.”

The Star writes, “Some Plan donors have complained the mining companies have enough money to fund their own social programs and that Plan shouldn’t be partnering with them.”

In fact, research conducted by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives indicates that the CEOs of mining companies are among the highest paid of Canadian corporate executives, who in 2011 pocketed an average of $ 7.6 million, which was 235 times the average Canadian wage of $45,488. Those optics are not good.

An unidentified CIDA spokesperson quoted in The Star story claimed the projects “are rolling out as planned” and said that “CIDA is pleased that these projects mobilized additional support from private sector companies.”

No comment

 A spokesperson for World University Service of Canada, told The Star that he would not discuss his organizations’ partership with CIDA and Rio Tinto Alcan in Ghana. The Star also reports that a former executive with the Canadian Hunger Foundation told a conference in Ottawa last year that his NGO’s partnership with gold company Placer Dome died because Placer had unrealistic expectations about how quickly the program in Papua, New Guinea would produce results.

The Star indicates that Canadian mining companies operating overseas “make headlines for leaky tailings ponds, cyanide spills, and other environmental debacles.” The newspaper goes on to say that according to a report commissioned in 2009 by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, Canadian mining companies had been involved in 171 incidents since 1999 involving human rights abuses, unethical practices, or environmental degradation in a developing country.

CIDA’s chopping block

CIDA’s shift away from working with long-time and often church-based development partners to financing private sector projects such as those of the mining companies has been in the works for several years.

In November 2009, CIDA cut off funding to the ecumenical social justice group KAIROS, which had been a long-time partner in development. Neither CIDA nor its minister Bev Oda would provide any explanation beyond saying that CIDA’s priorities had changed and KAIROS did not meet them.

Then in February 2012, CIDA turned down a proposal by the well-respected Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) for $2.9 million for each of three years to provide food, water and income generation assistance for people in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Haiti, Bolivia, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

In March 2012, it became apparent that CIDA had also cut off the Catholic organization Development and Peace (D&P). CIDA, which had provided the organization with $44.6 million in the years 2006-11, chopped that amount by two-thirds, to a total of $14.5 million over the next five years.

Seismic shift

KAIROS, MCC and Development and Peace are just three of the better-known organizations to lose CIDA funding. Prior to informing them of its plans, CIDA kept them in anxious suspense for months. While CIDA dithered, many organizations had to suspend programs and to lay off field and office staff.

By early 2012 it had become apparent that a seismic shift was underway. While long-term CIDA partners were anxiously awaiting their fate, Bev Oda was signing contracts worth $26 million with Canadian mining companies and select NGOs to undertake a number of “corporate responsibility” projects.

A reporter for The Ottawa Citizen newspaper asked CIDA Minister Bev Oda how she separates Canada’s trade and foreign policy interests from development goals in these cases. Her response: “I really don’t separate them.”That is probably all one needs to know about the government’s new priorities as they relate to development.

Fantino's folly

In July 2012, Oda left politics just ahead of a likely demotion from cabinet. The new minister in charge of CIDA, the gaff-prone Julian Fantino, has chosen to justify the new policy by taking an unprovoked swipe at CIDA’s long term partners.

While on a trip to Haiti in December 2012, Fantino was quoted as telling journalists in a teleconference call: “I think some people believe that [the Canadian International Development Agency] only exists to keep NGOs afloat and to keep them working and that we will fund them for life. It’s not going to be the case.”

That gratuitous put down came less than a week after Fantino had delivered a speech to the Economic Club of Canada outlining CIDA’s plans to align itself more closely with the private sector to promote Canadian interests abroad. Fantino also announced $25-million in CIDA funding for a new extractive industry institute, to be hosted by the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. The institute is expected to provide policy advice to developing countries with mining industries.

Fantino told the Economic Club that CIDA’s work with mining companies would, at once, help them compete internationally while contributing to sustainable development in poor countries.

Unfortunately for some of NGOs co-operating with the mining industry, it would appear that Fantino’s punch line is hurting their bottom line.


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