cultivating a healthy vibrant society

Last weekend, the orchards of Okanagan Centre coloured the hillsides. A local told me that seeing all the varied shades of pink and white blossoms on the fruit trees all at once was unusual.

Last weekend, the orchards of Okanagan Centre coloured the hillsides. A local told me that seeing all the varied shades of pink and white blossoms on the fruit trees all at once was unusual.

Normally the peach, cherry and apple trees came into bloom at different times, marking the progress of the spring season. This year, however, erratic weather had knocked everything off schedule. What does this mean for the orchardists there and this year’s Okanagan tree-fruit crop?

Orchards require not only weather’s compliance but also careful tending to yield optimum results. Caring stewardship was also on the minds of Development and Peace representatives from across British Columbia and the Yukon who gathered a week ago at Camp Winfield on Lake Okanagan.

Our conversation focused on the sudden federal government cutbacks, which had dealt a major blow to the 44-year-old organization’s efforts. The total impact on long-term development programs in a score of countries in the Global South has yet to be fully comprehended. Sharply pruning back the organization created by Canada’s Catholic bishops as the church’s response to glaring global inequity seems essential for its survival both in Canada and abroad .

In a Catholic Register article last month examining this issue Wilson Pritchart, a Political Science professor at the University of Toronto, noted that, “what the government in fact is doing is cutting funding to organizations that are critical of it … in favour of using NGOs as conduits for service delivery.” Professor Pritchart argued that “good development outcomes are essentially grounded in politics,” which seek “to create sustainable capacity, sustainable political leadership in developing countries.”

A competitive bid system has been put in place under the current Harper government through the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA). This arguably devalues long-term relationships and pits NGOs in expensive, non-productive proposal-writing competitions against one another.

The projects CIDA wants NGOs to bid on seem to be largely in support of Canadian business and mining ventures overseas. Have poverty reduction and human rights been pushed aside as priorities in favour solely of commercial interests?

Professor Stephanie Baker Collins from the McMaster University School Of Social Work has presented a broader view of what she sees as happening. Last week Ms. Baker Collins wrote in the Hamilton Spectator that “While the public bemoans raucous question periods in Parliament and hyper-partisan debate, a federal government plan for much more lasting damage to public debate is unfolding in Canada.”

The first part of the plan Professor Baker Collins cites necessitates limiting or abolishing information sources such as the long-form census or the National Council of Welfare “that might inform the debate and document poverty and inequality” and “enable us to understand ourselves as a society.”

The second piece of the plan sees “silencing the voices of those who speak against poverty, inequality and human rights violations.” The cutbacks to Kairos, the Mennonite Central Committee or Development and Peace fit in here. These cuts “and increased surveillance by Canada Revenue Agency on the advocacy work of registered charities announced in the recent budget add to the atmosphere of fear and reprisal.” The third piece of the plan seeks to foster “a political climate that is disdainful of public debate and of those who seek to stimulate it.”

Demanding government transparency, developing alternative information sources and increasing the capacity of civil society and its organizations to actively engage in the debate on vital issues like global development and poverty counter this plan. These provide the basic, essential elements in cultivating a healthy, vibrant society.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

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