Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
August 30, 2010
Furor over gov't charity dollars
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA - An open debate on the role of government funding for the charitable sector and non-governmental agencies is needed in the wake of government cutbacks.
"I'm arguing for honesty," Joe Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), said in an interview.
If the government is de-funding groups because they are advocating against Conservative policies, or, in the case of women's groups, because they are not pro-life or pro-family, they should say so, he said.
But REAL Women of Canada national vice president Gwen Landolt laughs at the notion the Conservatives are secretly pro-life or pro-family. "I wish it were so," she said. "They're cut because these groups are not accountable," she said.
The most recent agency to receive the axe is the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), an umbrella for 90 NGOs and aid agencies, including the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.
CCIC head Gerry Barr has called the end to 40 years of funding "punishment politics" for CCIC's criticism of Conservative policies.
CCIC received about two-thirds of its $2.6 million funding through CIDA. Barr has had to lay off 16 staff members, leaving only eight.
But the federal government says ideology has nothing to do with the cuts.
"There is no entitlement to Canadian taxpayer dollars," Jessica Fletcher, a spokeswoman for International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda, said in an email. "CIDA funding will go towards programs that directly affect poverty alleviation in the developing world."
Though the CPJ receives no government money, Gunn says he is concerned by cutbacks not only to CCIC but to women's groups, and social justice groups like KAIROS, an ecumenical initiative funded by national Church organizations such as the Catholic bishops' conference.
Groups doing development work have opinions on how money to alleviate poverty should best be spent, and how services will be delivered. "The public space is enriched by hearing those sorts of things," he said.
OUT IN THE OPEN
Gunn said if governments tend to fund or defund groups that are ideologically in synch with them, the reasons have to be out in the open.
Landolt, however, worries about the impact on democracy when government funds only one side of a debate, or if the groups it funds have no genuine grassroots representation.
Gunn, however, points out the charities and NGOs, what he describes as the third sector, are performing activities churches can no longer afford to do.
Governments can get far more value for taxpayer dollars through funding this third sector than through running the programs itself.
Gunn, who formerly was director of social affairs for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said social change and economic change is "absolutely necessary."
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