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Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird gives an interview in Ottawa office on Dec. 20, 2011. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird gives an interview in Ottawa office on Dec. 20, 2011. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

Seeking 'clean slate,' Baird pulls plug on Rights & Democracy Add to ...

The Conservative government is scrapping the beleaguered Rights & Democracy, citing the need to find savings and turn the page on the problems at the Montreal-based agency.

Legislation will soon be introduced to transfer the non-partisan organization’s functions to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, John Baird said on Tuesday.

“For some time, the many challenges of [Rights & Democracy]have been well publicized,” the Foreign Affairs Minister said in a statement. “It is time to put these past challenges behind us and move forward.”

Rights & Democracy, which Brian Mulroney's government created in 1988 to encourage democracy abroad and monitor human rights, faced accusations of partisanship on its board over Tory appointments.

President Remy Beauregard had a heart attack and died after a meeting of the group's board in 2010. When the agency took a new direction, private investigators, lawyers and auditors were brought in to do an overhaul, which included firing some managers.

Mr. Baird said the proposed change would create a “clean slate.” He said it’s “part of our efforts to find efficiencies and savings.”

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said in the House of Commons that the Conservatives were continuing an “ideological assault on anyone who does not share its narrow views.”

She said it’s only the latest example of such cuts, pointing to the Canadian Council for International Cooperation and KAIROS.

“Having spent six years destabilizing and poisoning this once proud organization, the Conservatives have taken yet another step diminishing Canada's role on the international stage,” Ms. Bennett said.

Former board chairman Aurel Braun said he supports the decision because the agency has had problems for years. “Rights & Democracy has been a troubled organization from almost the get go... this was an organization that had structural problems,” said Mr. Braun, who was on the board until earlier this year, when he chose not to seek another term.

Board member David Matas said he received a letter and call from Mr. Baird’s office on Tuesday informing him a replacement board would be put in place until the organization is dismantled.

Mr. Matas, who was appointed by the Tories, said problems included staff not communicating with the board and attempts by the government-funded body to function separate from government. He said the agency and other government groups working towards the same goals should be coordinated.

“There’s all the budget cuts and they’re looking for money to cut and this is, as far as I’m concerned, a very cuttable place,” he said.

The agency received more than $9-million from the government in 2011, making up 81 per cent of its budget. It wasn’t mentioned in last week’s federal budget, which called for $72.4-million in cuts from Foreign Affairs during 2012-13.

The agency issued a statement saying staff are aware of the government’s intention. “We will not comment on the decision. We will respect it,” Rights & Democracy said. “If so directed by the board, we will proceed with a timely and organized wind-down of our operations. Our staff will be treated fairly and respectfully.”

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