Honored Bodies Dead or Gasping Along Harper’s Defunding Highway


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;

You can see some of what else has been cut on the Cana­dian Coun­cil for Pol­icy Alter­na­tives web­site and on Voices/Voix website.

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.

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