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Unjustified Delay in Canada’s Civil Society Partnerships Policy

Unjustified Delay in Canada’s Civil Society Partnerships Policy

Blog by Stéphanie Bacher, November 29, 2017

At the 2017 Canadian Council for International Co-operation’s Annual Conference, Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau unveiled Canada’s new Policy for Civil Society Partnerships for International Assistance (also called the Civil Society Partnerships Policy). To justify the updating of the policy, which replaces the one adopted by the Conservative government in 2015, Minister Bibeau cited the need to incorporate inputs from civil society organizations (CSOs) and to redefine the relationship between the Canadian government and CSOs according to the government’s “new priorities, objectives and approach”. But how different is the Liberal policy from its Conservative predecessor?

Two consultations, same result?

Minister Bibeau’s first justification for revising the Civil Society Partnerships Policy was the need to incorporate CSOs’ inputs.

However, this argument ignores the fact that the former policy was adopted after a broad consultation launched in the summer of 2014 by Christian Paradis, the then Minister of International Development. During the consultation, civil society organizations were able to express their views through online submissions or round tables organized by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, as it was known at the time. The final version of the 2014 Civil Society Partnerships Policy actually received a generally positive response from members of CSOs, who were waiting to see the Policy implemented.

By way of contrast, civil society organizations expressed their concerns about the first version of the Liberal government’s revised Civil Society Partnerships Policy, which they saw as a significant step backwards. The commitment to provide a variety of funding modalities tailored to the different realities of CSOs, references to dialogue in the section on multi-stakeholder approaches and the support for transformational public engagement – all essential elements for an effective partnership with civil society – were completely absent from the initial version that Global Affairs Canada sent to civil society organizations.

In the end, the final version launched by Minister Bibeau at the CCIC Annual Conference took into account the criticisms made by civil society organizations during the consultation phase. But did we really need a new consultation only to repeat the recommendations made a couple of years earlier? Probably not.

The Liberal government’s “new” approach to international assistance: nice discourse, few changes?

The second reason given by Minister Bibeau to justify updating the CSO Policy was the need to redefine the policy according to the government’s “new priorities, objectives and approach”, mainly to align it with Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, launched last June.

Despite the absence of a “feminist approach”, Canada’s former CSO Policy also emphasized the role of women and girls, even though it was not one of its guiding principles, as in the updated policy. The principles and objectives at the heart of the new policy remain virtually unchanged. Some interesting content has been added, notably the need for a public engagement strategy focused on the promotion of global citizenship. Some sections also provide more detailed information, including examples of action areas with relevant details on how the government will achieve each of the stated objectives. That seems to be the new policy’s most interesting contribution.

Does this new policy ultimately represent a substantive shift from the Civil Society Partnerships Policy adopted under the Conservative government? While it can be considered a step forward, it is certainly not the turning point suggested by Minister Bibeau when she presented it. The government took two-and-a-half years to adopt the new CSO Policy, time that the government could have used to implement the previous policy and improve its relationship with civil society organizations. Canada does not need a new policy every time a new government comes to power. What matters most is to put this long-awaited policy into practice. In the months and years to come, it will be important to monitor the implementation of this policy and hold the government accountable for any failure to do so.

The original French version of this article appeared in the Blogue Un seul monde, Huffington Post Québec, November 26, 2017.

Photo credit: US mission to the United Nations agencies in Rome.