Money for real things like fake lakes, but not poverty

TheGlobeandMail.com – Politics/Ottawa Notebook
Wednesday, June 9, 2010.   Gloria Galloway

A coalition of anti-poverty groups including the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) will tell G8 and G20 countries on Wednesday that they have fallen short of the goals set 10 years ago to address the problems facing the world’s poor.

“Anybody who thinks about Canada’s overall performance so far as the Millennium Development goals are concerned will not be able to avoid noticing that, while it has aspirations – for example, on the side of mother-child health, the slowest-moving Millennium Development goal on the list – and while it’s important that Canada has made a commitment on mother-child health, it is a plain and obvious example of one-step forward, two steps back,” said CCIC chair Gerry Barr.

Canada is one of the most financially robust countries in the world and yet it is freezing its aid spending, said Mr. Barr. “If you are one of the most robust nations in the world and you are freezing your aid spending, what the heck do you think it says to others?” he asked.

It’s not the first time that Mr. Barr or the CCIC, the umbrella group for Canadian aid agencies, has been critical of the Conservative government. The group was also critical of Liberal governments of the past.

But Mr. Barr said there is a price to be paid for speaking out against the Conservatives. The CCIC’s funding has not been renewed.

“We’re into overtime with it. They have extended us financially until July 15, but there is an ominous and eloquent silence at the other end of the line,” said Mr. Barr. “I am pretty persuaded that this going to be a billboard message to the entire sector.”

It’s not about money, he said. If the government can afford to spend $2-million to build a pavilion with a fake lake lake for reporters attending the G20 summit, “it can certainly afford $1.5-million for the central body for the country’s aid agencies,” he said.

Other governments have gritted their teeth in the face of the CCIC’s criticism but have not decided to cut off that voice, Mr. Barr said. “Here we have a uniquely different moment and the government has decided to send a message to the entire sector and it is ‘watch out what you say. It will cost you a very great deal.’”

The irony, said Mr. Barr, is that the strategy won’t work. The CCIC will continue to exist and the sector, he said, will be even more convinced “that the government needs a critical analysis.”

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