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International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on June 1, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on June 1, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ottawa ignored CIDA green light when it halted aid group's funding Add to ...

The Harper government ignored advice from its own civil servants when it ended funding to a church-based aid group last year, documents show.

Kairos, representing 11 churches and religious groups, had received Canadian International Development Agency funding for its overseas projects for 35 years.

In November last year, an agency official told Kairos the group's funding would not be renewed because its most recent proposal did not match CIDA priorities.

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But a memo prepared two months earlier by CIDA for International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda shows public servants recommended giving the group more than $7-million over four years.

The amount included a 4 per cent increase in funding over previous years "to recognize Kairos' strategic alignment with CIDA's objectives," the document says.

The memo, obtained through the Access to Information Act, includes endorsements from 20 CIDA specialists and Canadian officials posted abroad.

A representative from the Foreign Affairs Department in the Sudan said Kairos' proposed work could help ensure that country's oil wealth contributes to peace and equitable development.

"This work, actively supported, can be very useful," diplomat Louis Guay wrote.

"Their activities stand a high chance of success: full support," officials from the Canadian embassy in Colombia wrote.

Some officials requested changes and clarifications to the proposal, but none indicated they didn't support the projects.

The memo, approved by CIDA president Margaret Biggs, concludes with a recommendation "that [the minister]sign below to indicate you approve a contribution of $7,098,758 over four years for the above program."

The document was signed by Ms. Oda on Nov. 27, 2009, three days before Kairos learned its proposal was declined. But the word "NOT," hand-written and in capital letters, was inserted so the statement reads in the negative.

No explanation for the change is provided on the memo.

Stephen Brown, who teaches international development at the University of Ottawa, said the memo reveals the politics behind the Conservative government's decisions on foreign aid.

"All the development experts approved it, then the politician reversed it. It shows it's a political decision and not one based on the merits of the proposal," Prof. Brown said.

Ms. Oda's spokeswoman, Jessica Fletcher, said in an email the minister would not comment on the memo. She added CIDA doesn't have the money to fund every eligible proposal and must choose the best projects on a competitive basis.

"Of the many eligible projects recommended by the department we have funded those that most closely align with our aid effectiveness strategy," Ms. Fletcher wrote.

Kairos executive director Mary Corkery said the organization is now getting by on money raised from its member churches and individual donors, who contributed about 16 per cent of the requested CIDA funds for the year. Kairos submitted another, scaled-back request to CIDA in March this year but hasn't received a decision yet.

Ms. Corkery said she's never had a clear explanation of why the first proposal was denied.

In December 2009, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told an Israeli audience the Kairos cuts were part of his government's efforts to crack down on anti-Semitic groups. He said the organization lost its CIDA funding because it took a leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

Aid groups expressed shock at the assertion, prompting Mr. Kenney to state that, in fact, Ms. Oda ended Kairos' funding because it didn't meet CIDA priorities.

"There has been all kinds of speculation about why the funding was cut," Ms. Corkery said.

"Rather than speculate ... we want to make the case that, from our point of view, it needs to be re-instated. There's an opportunity now to correct that."

 

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