John McKay’s Speech to the Primate’s World Relief & Development Fund Ottawa


John McKay’s Speech to the Primate’s World Relief & Development Fund Ottawa

St. John the Evangelist Church, Ottawa – February 23rd, 2011


I am going to try to connect 3 things this evening:

1.  The Kairos Grant “NOT;”
2. The Better Aid Bill; and
3. The Legitimacy of faith-based aid.

The fiasco that the famous “NOT” has come to symbolize points to a much deeper issue at CIDA.  There has always been some element of politization of aid but possibly never as crude and as heavy handed as under this Conservative Government, a.k.a., the “Harper” Government, as it prefers to be known.

 It’s a reasonable speculation that Bev Oda approved the Kairos grant.  Certainly the President and Vice President of CIDA approved the grant and it may well be that for a time Bev Oda did as well. 

Then persons unknown on instruction from someone unknown reversed the decision leaving Kairos and Canadians befuddled and more than just a little bit irritated. 

Canadians have every right to expect that Ministers make decisions.  Equally they have every right to expect that a Minister will stand behind his/her decision; not duck behind the proverbial skirts of “officials” and pass it off as public policy.  They also have every right to expect that a Minister be present for the decision, the execution of the document, and the presentation of the document so that it is clear, unambiguous, appropriately signed and initialed and where there is dissent that it be noted.

 If you find this process confusing and bewildering you’re not alone.  Apparently there is a difference between CIDA policy and government policy.  Clearly Margaret Biggs and Naresh Singh didn’t understand the difference.  They foolishly thought that Kairos was doing a good job and deserved the funding.  Apparently the President and Vice President of CIDA understood what was required to qualify for CIDA funding but were left in the dark about government policy.
So what have we learned so far?

1.  There’s a destinction between government policy and CIDA policy.
2. The Minister may or may not make decisions.
3. A less than courageous Minister may blame others.

But it gets worse.  I like you have understood that aid gets bounced around to suit the government of the day.  No less a personage that the Auditor General and no less an august body than the Senate have criticized Canada’s aid as “unfocused.”  Both the Auditor General and the Senate show a talent for understatement.  In 2008 we tried to do something about it and got Royal Assent to a Bill called C-293, the Better Aid Bill (now the Aid Accountability Act).

It was a simple concept.  Focus Canada’s ODA (pun intended) on:

  1.  poverty alleviation,
  2.  take into account the perspective of the poor, and
  3.  be consistent with Canada’s human rights obligations.

Now let’s look at Kairos.  After 35 years their application was 4 square within those 3 mandates of the Aid Accountability Act.  If you read the body of the grant decision it reads like a model C-293 application.

It’s focused on poverty alleviation; the perspectives of the poor are incorporated by virtue of all their local partners; and they are clearly consistent with and cognizant of Canada’s human rights obligations.  In response to an Order Paper inquiry submitted by my friend Glen Pearson the CIDA officials even quote from C-293.  So it’s not as if the Officials aren’t aware of the Aid Accountability Act or not trying to apply it.  Rather it is a Minister either on her own or more likely at the direction of the Prime Minister’s office ignoring the law.  If there is no adherence to law there is chaos.  If anyone in this room made an application tonight, would any of you be confident that your application was subject to accountability, transparency and the rules of law? 

Aid has been used for all kinds of reasons, trade, diplomacy, and national interests.  It’s supposed to be used however for one thing and one thing only, poverty alleviation.  Anything else is diversionary and destructive.  Trying to make applications based upon government policies and priorities is as my friend Gerry Barr likes to say “trying to plant next year’s crop based on today’s weather.”

So what have we learned?

1. The government ignores the law when it suits itself - a little ironic for a law and order government, and
2. CIDA applications are a crap shoot.

Finally I’d like to talk about faith groups and their role in civil society.  Recently the Bloc questioned evangelical’s relationship to this government.  I thought that John Baird answered quite well when he talked about a plurality of views.  The following day a group of Mennonite students brought up the subject with me.  They had witnessed the exchange between Baird and the Bloc.  These were a bunch of kids coming right out of the best of Mennonite Central Committee traditions.  Bright, articulate, committed, deeply motivated by their faith and willing to go where no one else wanted to go.  Yet the Bloc and by extension many non or anti faith persons were challenging the very right of persons of faith to participate in the formation and execution of public policy. 

We can see many examples of those who would love to scrub faith out of the public domain. People of faith may not always agree – see previous discussion about Millennium Development Goal’s and maternal health – but they have every right as a citizens to say and do what their faith demands of them in the public domain. 

And this is one of the collateral tragedies of Kairos.  A growing chorus of citizens are questioning the legitimacy of using public funds by churches and other faith based NGOs.  Ironically the clumsiness of this government has given voice to those who think that Churches shouldn’t have access to public funds.

As the T-Shirt says, Kairos is “NOT” going away.  Nor should it.  Kairos is a challenge to the very legitimacy of faith groups in the market square; a challenge to the obligation to respect the law; and a challenge to those who merely wish to be good stewards with God’s gifts.

Hon. John McKay P.C., M.P.