The recent closure announcement of the internationally recognized Canadian development organization, The North-South Institute, is sadly just the latest in a series of civil society organizations that have been hurt or wiped out by funding cuts of the Harper government.
My thesis details some of the previous actions that had the effect of narrowing Canada’s national and even international conversations:
- Upon coming to power, the current government walked away from the national childcare plan, decades in the making and then eliminated funding for women’s organizations that advocated for it, as well as women’s groups working on a range of issues, and on literacy, First Nations and immigrant issues;
- The international development sector has also been particularly hard-hit by defunding, including the Canadian Council for International Cooperation losing 70 percent of its federal funding in 2006 despite a 40-year partnership with government. It has survived as a shadow of what it once was and recently asked for a meeting with CRA to discuss the taxman’s relationship with their members;
- International development and human rights charities and non-profit organizations have seen their federal grants slashed and are forced to become virtual concierges to Canadian resource companies that operate internationally in order to survive. Meanwhile, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), once internationally acclaimed, has been restructured until almost unrecognizable;
- The Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD) lost all funding despite its national leadership for 90 years on social policy. It survives in a reduced form.
One of the experts that I interviewed, commenting on the long list of civil-society organizations defunded by the government, said, “Etcetera, and a long list of etcetera, and I don’t think that by any means it has ended. … So, I’d argue that for many charities the emphasis on political activities and CRA audits is missing the far more dangerous tool the government is using in defunding charities.”
My thesis draws on the research of Rachel Laforest of Queen’s University, who found that the cuts to organizations engaging in advocacy have also hut associational networks, “thereby restricting available routes citizens can use for mobilizing claims” and, through this means, wield sufficient power to influence governmental outcomes.
My thesis found that charities were being muffled and distracted by the extreme rhetoric of government ministers (treating these expert organizations as enemies of the State as well as of the Conservative Party) and by the prospect and reality of “political activity” audits by Canada Revenue Agency. Muffling and distracting charities.
But the government went beyond that, to successfully silence some the organizations in the list above, and force others to focus resources on finding funds to continue operating and thus divert them from their missions. Silencing voices. Silencing the expression of important ideas, expert points of view, that happened to point to different public policy choices than those favoured by the current cabinet.
And let’s not forget the muffling of science by eliminating awkward research findings by laying off 2,000 federal scientists, shuffling other scientists out of their expert area, “handling” scientists to keep them away from media, destroying science libraries, closing research projects and facilities, gutting Statistics Canada research, etc.
Especially those doing environmental research, and most especially climate-change related research, as so well examined by Chris Tuner in his very readable The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper’s Canada.
Will the North-South Institute be the last? Just how many internationally celebrated Canadian institutes (or nationally treasured, for that matter) are there remaining, anyway?
Meanwhile, please check out my Master’s thesis and feel free to forward and tweet it. Check out media coverage of my thesis findings and the national conversation it triggered. And you can follow me on Twitter: @garethkirkby
I am a former journalist and media manager who recently completed my Master’s thesis for Royal Roads University and now work as a communication professional. I have been awarded the Jack Webster Award of Distinction, among others, for my reporting and editing.