OTTAWA – The past week in Ottawa has proved to be very illuminating one, and in particular about the inner workings of our federal government. We’ve learned so much this week and all because of a simple three-letter word: “not.”
Some of you may remember the story of the defunding of KAIROS, a Canadian aide group composed of several religious organizations including the Anglican Church of Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Mennonite Central Committee, and more than a dozen other moderate groups. KAIROS has done amazing aid and development work in partnership with the Government of Canada and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Last year for some reason federal funding for KAIROS was abruptly cut off after 40 years. Many in Ottawa, including myself, believed that this was due to political considerations – helping churches help the poor in Africa simply isn’t a priority for the Conservatives. However, when questioned at the time, the Minister of International Co-operation, Bev Oda, stated that she was in fact following her own department’s recommendations to reject KAIROS’ application on public policy grounds because the group did not meet the objectives of the program. Open and shut case right?
Not so fast. This week the story given by Minister Oda and her Conservative colleagues fully unraveled. The Speaker of the House of Commons ruled that the document from Minister Oda’s department, the one that supposedly advised her to reject KAIROS’ funding application, had been “doctored” in his words. It seems that after investigating the affair, the Speaker found that CIDA officials had actually recommended the group receive their funding allotment because they met all of the objectives and regulations associated with the program. In the departmental recommendation, signed by the President of CIDA, the words; “that you do sign below to indicate you approve,” funding. However, someone hastily and sloppily inserted the handwritten word “not” in the sentence so that it read “…to indicate you NOT approve funding…” Changing the meaning of a document after someone has signed it could constitute forgery in the opinion of some legal experts.
When this whole issue came up in the Foreign Affairs Committee last fall Minister Oda forcefully declared that she did not know who inserted the famous “not” in the draft she recommendation she signed. Her assistant Jim Abbott, the Parliamentary Secretary for International Cooperation and a fellow Conservative MP, even went to so far as to say it was the bureaucrats at CIDA who inserted the words. Both it seems we “mistaken,” as Abbot recently apologized to the House for his error and Oda admitted that it was she in fact ordered the altering of this official government document and apologized for any “confusion.” I have no idea why she could not remember in November that it was she who asked the word “not” be inserted, but suddenly could three months later. I suppose she could have forgotten that she rejected the funding for no apparent reason, but less kind people than I say it is because she never thought she would not be caught misleading the House.
At this moment, not only do we not know who the minister gave this instruction to and when she gave the order, but we still do not officially know why KAIROS was denied the same funding they had been receiving for some 40 years. This example illuminates the problem with the way this government functions. Decisions are shrouded in secrecy and expert opinions from people working on the ground as professionals (be they statisticians, international development officers, or environmental researchers) are ignored. No one knows why this government does what it does – like scrapping the long form census for privacy reasons when only about 30 people complained 20 years, or building $9 billion worth of new prisons as our crime rates continues to fall, or denying funding to an established, effective, and accountable religious aid and development group that has partnered with the government for the past 40 years.
Deception and mystery reign supreme in this government to be sure, and Ms. Oda’s recent adventure is but another example on a growing list.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River