Summer is typically a time for rest and relaxation in Ottawa. Parliamentarians head home to their ridings, and civil servants can, at least in theory, breathe a little easier.
Not this summer.
The government’s wheels have been turning madly these past few months. With public consultations launched on defence, immigration, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, electoral reform, climate change, prison farms, Canada Post, innovation, accessible transportation, and the list goes on (check out the “Consulting with Canadians” website for the whole kit and caboodle), it’s been hard to keep it all straight!
All of this busy activity is, of course, very welcome. Particularly welcome for MCC and our civil society colleagues is the (rather historic) International Assistance Review, launched by Minister Bibeau on May 18th with the aim of creating an international assistance policy and funding framework that will “help the poorest and most vulnerable, and support fragile states, while advancing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.”
Civil society has long been chomping at the bit for an opportunity like this.
As the most comprehensive examination of Canadian development policy in 20 years, this public review—launched with an accompanying Discussion Paper—provides the government with the opportunity to chart out new priorities, directions, and approaches for responding creatively to the full array of challenges facing our world today.
From mid-May until July’s end, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) hosted a flurry of in-person consultations featuring dynamic break-out sessions on the discussion paper’s six themes. As part of the review, MCC—like partners such as Mines Action Canada, KAIROS, Canadian Council for International Cooperation, Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Food Security Policy Group, Coalition on Climate Change & Development, etc.—not only participated in various consultations, but provided a more substantive written submission to Global Affairs.
In this submission, MCC made recommendations relating to humanitarian response; peace and security; funding and partnerships; and policy coherence across Canada’s development, trade, and foreign affairs agendas.
More specifically, we encouraged GAC to:
- Integrate disaster risk reduction more effectively into programming and funding mechanisms across all branches in order to reduce risk of disaster and promote poverty alleviation (pages 2-3);
- Increase investments in conflict prevention initiatives, strengthen support for peacebuilding and psychosocial interventions, and champion the women, peace, and security agenda (pages 3-6);
- Provide long-term, predictable, and flexible funding suitable to Canadian INGOs working with local grassroots organizations, and commit to growing Canada’s international assistance envelope with a clear timetable for reaching 0.7% of GNI (page 6);
- Ensure policy coherence across development, trade, and foreign affairs agendas serves to strengthen—rather than temper—Canada’s commitment to the interests of developing countries (pages 6-8);
- Generate a white paper that clearly articulates Canada’s priorities for the next five years as well as corresponding strategies, policies, and action plans it will develop to implement that framework (page 8).
Given MCC’s experience working in conflict zones around the world, peacebuilding was a particularly important priority (recommendation 2, pages 3-6). We strongly affirmed Global Affairs’ prioritization of peace as a stand-alone, strategic orientation for Canada’s international assistance programming, and urged the government to integrate a conflict sensitivity lens across all of Canada’s development strategies, regardless of the sector.
More specifically, first we strongly encouraged the government to invest in conflict prevention initiatives that seek to resolve, manage, or contain disputes before they become violent. In the same way that a long-term commitment to strengthening disaster risk reduction can build resilience and strengthen peoples’ capacity to deal with unexpected shocks, early intervention is the most effective way to prevent violent conflict from erupting.
Second, MCC called for greater support for civil society groups and religious and community leaders seeking to address ethnic and religious divisions through innovative peacebuilding and conflict transformation programs. In regions of ongoing violence, it is critical that local communities have strategies to resolve and prevent identity-based conflicts before they lead to sectarian violence.
Third, MCC encouraged greater investment in initiatives that provide access to safe education and psychosocial support for children and families traumatized by violence, displacement, and social upheaval.
Finally, MCC called on Global Affairs to champion the women, peace, and security agenda. Understanding the gender dimensions of armed conflict and peacebuilding is essential because of the demonstrable impacts that women’s meaningful participation in peace processes has on the successful implementation of agreements at the community level.
We’re certainly mindful of the hefty task before Global Affairs to take careful consideration of ideas put forward across the country and to translate them into (what will hopefully be) concrete policies, tools, and programs.
As Parliament resumes next week and kicks House business back into high gear, the consultation wheels will continue to turn. Word around Ottawa is that the outcomes of this review (rumoured to be completed before the end of 2016) will inform Budget 2017.
As they say, the proof will be in the pudding. And we will eagerly be waiting to see how it tastes.
Click here to read MCC’s full submission.
Jenn Wiebe is MCC Ottawa Office director