Major changes in certain departments of the federal government can prompt supporters to ask us about the potential impact on MCC.
This reaction is understandable, given the events of recent years.
After all, changes at Citizenship and Immigration Canada have impacted MCC’s refugee resettlement work. Changes at Correctional Services Canada have impacted MCC’s restorative justice work. And it is hard to forget the controversial funding decisions at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) that have impacted the work of MCC’s coalition partners, and MCC itself.
In any case, the tabling of this year’s federal budget on March 21 prompted questions because of the surprise announcement that CIDA and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) are going to be amalgamated.
Perhaps because of MCC’s longstanding focus on relief and development work, CIDA has always received more than a passing amount of scrutiny from our supporters. Indeed, it may be the only Canadian government agency that most of our U.S. colleagues are able to name!
Now that agency will be no more.
This week, MCC added its voice to the chorus of commentary coming from international development practitioners, scholars, and critics. Beyond the basic message that this change will have little immediate impact on MCC, I think there are two points worth stressing.
First, MCC is very interested in the Government of Canada’s approach to development and humanitarian assistance, and not only when our own work is directly impacted. We are interested because changes in this area have the potential to impact—for good or ill—the people we are called to serve.
In other words, government policy can also touch “the neglected and forgotten in the world,” to use the words of our Executive Director, Don Peters.
This is why, throughout its history, MCC has welcomed the opportunity to share our perspective when the government has considered changes in this sector. For example, I recently re-read a submission made to a Parliamentary committee that was studying Canada’s Official Development Assistance way back in 1986. I think the title gives a pretty clear indication of the message: “Thy Neighbour’s Keeper.”
The second point to stress is that it is too early to tell what this change will really mean, given that the details and timeline have not yet been announced. We will be watching the implementation legislation very carefully.
We do know, however, that this change will not only impact CIDA. The creation of the new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD) will also mean big changes at DFAIT.
Thus MCC has encouraged all three ministers in the new department to ensure that the “policy coherence” the government has touted as a rationale for this change serves to strengthen—rather than temper—Canada’s commitment to the interests of developing countries.
Beyond hoping that the Minister of International Cooperation will push for synergies or linkages that privilege—rather than downplay—the needs of the poor, we have encouraged the Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, and the Minister of International Trade, Ed Fast, to consider ways in which their own department’s work can be enriched by Canada’s experience and expertise in development and humanitarian assistance.
Perhaps this is wishful thinking. Perhaps, like the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, we should already be mobilizing supporters to tell the government that trade and diplomacy should not trump aid at the new DFATD.
I think the actions of Ministers Baird and Fast will tell us whether this change really is an opportunity, or a cause for concern—and not just because of the impact on MCC.
By Paul Heidebrecht, MCC Ottawa Office Director