Harper responds to CIDA controversy, explains agency's role
Vaughan Citizen (via YorkRegion.com)
Over the past few months, the office of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), run by Vaughan MP and International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino, has come under fire.
Mr. Fantino was named to this post by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last July to replace the outgoing and controversial Bev Oda.
Ms Oda came under scrutiny for running up expenses during her time in office.
But Mr. Fantino himself has had to face criticism over remarks he made in a November speech over CIDA becoming more involved with Canadian mining firms overseas.
After an interview in a Quebec newspaper in which Mr. Fantino suggested CIDA funding to earthquake-devastated Haiti would be “frozen”, he was roundly criticized.
But he explained in a January interview with The Citizen that the problem with the story was an inaccurate headline and he reassured those worried about Canada’s future place in Haiti’s reconstruction and development.
“We are a good neighbour and we are not walking away. We should be proud, we have always risen to help the needy,” he said.
The minister had the chance to visit the Caribbean nation in late November and received a first-hand look at the destruction wrought by the earthquake and by Hurricane Sandy. He admitted to being “devastated” by what he saw.
“I can understand and appreciate full well the calamity of the earthquake and the number of people that have died. But everyone rose to help out. Three years along we should have been making more progress,” he said.
But problems with CIDA continued to persist. Mr. Fantino was again blasted when a pair of partisan letters appeared on the official government CIDA website ripping the Liberals and NDP in contravention of government rules.
The letters, which had first appeared in newspapers in November and December, were signed by Mr. Fantino. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said putting the letters on the website was a “clear violation of the rules”.
The letters were promptly removed from the website.
The latest flareup comes after Crossroads Christian Communications, a non-profit group that condemns homosexuality, was given more than $500,000 over three years in CIDA funding for a project in Uganda, a country considering the death penalty for homosexuality.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has spoken out strongly against the Ugandan policy on homosexuality and said it doesn’t square with Canadian values.
That would appear to put CIDA funding of Crossroads at odds with the values of the Canadian government.
With the recent controversy swirling around CIDA, The Citizen was given a rare opportunity to ask Prime Minister Stephen Harper just what CIDA’s role is, when he was in Vaughan Tuesday to announce the creation of the Office of Religious Freedom at the Ahmadiyya Muslim community centre and mosque.
The Citizen’s question:
There’s been a lot of confusion among Canadians for the last three or four months about exactly what CIDA does. For instance, there was talk in the fall about investing with mining companies overseas, then there was more recent talk about being involved with religious freedom in Uganda, and other religious groups. Can you explain exactly what it is that CIDA does.
Prime Minister Harper’s answer:
Look, very, very broadly, probably you should ask your MP sometime (Julian Fantino) because he is the minister for CIDA. The Canadian International Development Agency is the government of Canada’s foreign aid organization. Broadly speaking, foreign aid fits into several categories. There is humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, there’s also development, encouragement of development through infrastructure, clean water and, of course, the promotion of a government’s institutions, the promotion of free elections, of value systems.
Much of what CIDA does is through partnering with other organizations. It will partner with international non-governmental organizations, with conventional humanitarian and disaster assistance groups such as the Red Cross.It will partner with a wide range of non-governmental and business organizations for developmental projects, whether it be the World Bank or independent organizations or in some cases in certain development projects in the private sector.
And, of course, it will work with the government through our office to promote our values, so it’s a very, very broad mixture of activities and organizations.
But I think probably the most important thing for you to understand, in terms of recent discussions, is that when CIDA partners with other organizations, it rarely funds an organization.
It funds particular projects and all those projects are valued and rated according to criteria and effectiveness, also, to ensure the government of Canada’s values are respected.