When the Conservative party won a majority government in Canada in 2011, several trends concerning foreign aid began to surface in the implementation of government policy. One striking note surfaced when the government effectively vetoed the decisions of its own development agency—the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which is responsible for guiding aid dollars to the poor and needy in impoverished lands—in awarding grants for certain projects. Two of the most notable groups that lost funding for their work were the Mennonite Central Committee, with a superb record of helping some of the most abandoned people on the planet, and Kairos, an ecumenical organization of mainline churches with a number of programs particularly designed for impoverished and oppressed women and children. The International Cooperation Minister, Bev Oda, literally reneged on grants that had been approved by CIDA in accord with its aid criteria.
Kairos has a history of criticizing the government over such things as oil sands pollution, poverty among First Nations’ communities, and abandonment of the effort to ensure that no children live in poverty. The Mennonite Central Committee is much quieter in its profoundly Gospel-centered witness to social involvement for the poor. Explanations for the de-funding of the projects sponsored by these organizations were quite lame.
Shortly after the withdrawal of funding for Kairos and MCC, Bev Oda announced funding for three NGOs to run aid projects in Burkina Faso, Peru, and Ghana where Canadian mining companies are active. This spring, the government announced a newly dedicated pathway for CIDA’s foreign aid: to accompany the Canadian mining companies that run some of the largest mines in the world. The Canadian press often reports (50 stories in the last 10 years) on the environmental degradation around these mines, exploitation of workers, and human rights abuses. The new (Conservative party) International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino is now actively soliciting grant proposals from mining companies, who will also have to make contributions, on such things as skills training and small-business development for their international neighbours. This is our 21st century aid.
From The Globe and Mail, (Saturday, March 2, 2013, p. A5) Fantino is quoted as stating: “Yes, there is a business component to this, obviously we can’t ignore that. But I want to highlight that there’s an altruistic reason, certainly for Canada to be doing what we’re doing, and that the purpose, (the) intent, is to help the industry succeed in an ethical way.” This funding path is not necessarily wrong; however, notice that there is no mention of the needs or response to complaints of local communities.
Meanwhile, as crime rates drop in Canada, the Conservative government is investing huge amounts in building new prisons, increasing sentences for some crimes, removing judicial sentencing flexibility, and reducing funds for rehabilitation programs for inmates. Justice Anne Malloy made the news in the Toronto Star when she refused to impose a mandatory three-year sentence on Leroy Smickle, “…convicted of possessing an illegal firearm after his ill-timed posing for a webcam holding his cousin’s gun just as Toronto police officers crashed through an apartment door” (Feb 18, 2013).
I could be mistaken, but I detect a dualist theological foundation to these and numerous other policies of our government. The world is divided into good and bad; industry is good and the government’s responsibility is to support the (ethical?) success of, e.g., its mining and prison industries; criminals are bad and deserve nothing but punishment. And the poor, well, not fitting this paradigm, a trickle-down economic and development philosophy is all the government is willing to do for them. (And I will not pursue other quotes from government ministers that suggest that the poor are poor because they haven’t pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.)
Perhaps, though, the lesson here is for Christians who take Jesus’ concern for the poor and oppressed seriously. We can pressure the government to do the right thing here and abroad, but we have to be prepared to do (and to fund) the caring ourselves.