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CUPE National President Paul Moist has joined representatives of labour and social justice organizations from across Canada in signing an open letter to Bev Oda, the Minister of International Cooperation, asking for clarity and transparency around the process of CIDA’s funding for international programs.

March 2, 2010

The Honourable Beverley J. Oda
Minister of International Cooperation
200 Promenade du Portage
Gatineau, Quebec
K1A 0G4

Dear Minister Oda:

We are writing to invite you to provide greater clarity on a number of issues and policy considerations affecting continued CIDA partnerships with Canadian NGOs involved in relationships with Canadian Partnership Branch and CIDA’s responsive programming.

We appreciate that, as CIDA Minister, you are rightly preoccupied with the Branch’s direction and priorities. We are also confident that you believe that the processes used (and the factors weighed) in assessing partnership proposals must, to ensure accountability, be marked by clarity and full transparency.

At the International Forum on Aid Effectiveness, you accurately described the contribution of civil society groups as one which “provides Canada with a vital partner in our efforts to promote human rights, freedom, democracy, the rule of law and accountable public institutions.”

Organizations of civil society play key roles in development efforts to link a wide range of Canadians to international efforts for peace, poverty reduction and respect for human rights. For more than four decades, Canadian CSOs have worked hard to strengthen credible long-standing relationships with citizens’ organizations in the developing world, based on trust and mutual respect. These relationships provide the knowledge and confidence necessary to work together in uniquely valuable ways.

In doing so, Canadian CSOs have not only engaged a diversity of Canadian constituencies in Canada’s aid efforts. They have also enriched Canada’s official development programs by contributing their diverse development experience, creating a strong, credible Canadian reputation in many developing countries, and through their specific knowledge, which informs CIDA’s current and future priorities.

Over these years, Canadian civil society groups have also taken care to ensure that their own program priorities are directed by the expressed needs and priorities of their Southern partners. Both flexibility and steady partnership are key to building stable capacities that respond to local conditions and produce sustainable results.

CIDA acknowledged the importance of civil society actors when it established its “NGO Support Program,” later to become Canadian Partnership Branch (CPB). Partnership Branch has always required that CSO partners demonstrate consistency in their programming with CIDA’s overarching development mandate. But, at the same time, the purpose of CIDA’s main responsive program was to respond to CSO-determined development needs and directions. These programs amounted to a mere 5% of Canadian ODA in 2006/07.

The ability of Canadian CSOs to achieve effective development results - and the purpose of Partnership Branch - depend upon a sensitive application of CIDA guidelines for country and sector focus that respect need for CSOs to be true to their partnerships in developing countries. If these policies were to be too narrowly applied in the context of CPB’s uniquely responsive program, we fear such decisions could seriously undermine the contributions and the effectiveness of Canadian CSOs.

Greater overall strategic focus and clarity for Canada’s development efforts, including those by CSOs, is welcome and necessary. In this respect most CSOs would associate themselves with the concerns recently expressed by the Auditor General that CIDA’s often changing priorities have hindered the development effectiveness of the Agency. Canadian CSOs have also readily accepted the idea of focus in their own planning. Indeed, when it comes to sectoral focus, Canadian CSOs in 2006/07 were more closely concentrated than CIDA’s own bilateral programs in key social sectors such as education, health and agriculture.

Many Canadian CSOs will make contributions within the three thematic areas and in the countries of focus. But the purpose of focus - and of effective management in development - is to make things work and achieve outcomes. In this respect, a limitation of the scope for CPB responsive funding exclusively to three thematic priorities may be counter-productive. With a small investment by CPB in Canadian CSOs (relative to total Canadian ODA), CIDA and the Government of Canada has a window on many countries that are not now among the 20 priority countries, but may be in the future. Achieving results in development is challenging. Through CPB, you are making an investment in Canadian development knowledge that may not be directly applicable today, but we are certain will contribute to effective implementation of future CIDA sectoral strategies.

For example, in the past CPB supported Canadian CSOs working in a number of different countries in support of agricultural development, at a time when this was not a priority for the Agency or for other donors, but is highly relevant now to CIDA’s current themes. We are hopeful therefore, that you would not want to limit the effective contributions of CSOs, who are judged today not to “fit” within a narrow application of these newly emerged priorities.

The right focus for Canadian Partnership Branch is CIDA’s overarching strategic goal whereby Partnership Branch programs strengthen a diversity of civil society organizations, both in Canada and in developing countries, which are effectively contributing to poverty reduction, democratic governance and human rights.

Canadian civil society is looking forward, Minister, to your consideration and reaffirmation of the purpose and mandate of Canadian Partnership Branch as a focal point for CIDA’s relationship with the ideas, energy, innovation and resources of Canadian partners. In doing so, we think it important you clarify CIDA’s commitment to responsive programming generally and to clearly set out the processes and standards used when program proposals and contributions agreements with civil society partners are assessed.

We are enclosing copy of a background document entitled “Partners in Progress”, which we hope may provide some context for discussion of some of those issues addressed in this letter.
We are also providing copy of this correspondence to the parliamentary critics and the CIDA President.

We remain committed to assist and contribute in this discussion.