This week, the Prime Minister’s Office issued supplementary mandate letters, addressing the heightened expectations Canada’s Ministers face during the global pandemic. Responsibilities listed in these supplementary mandate letters do not replace commitments listed in the 2019 letters – which Coperation Canada (CCIC at the time) analyzed.
Cooperation Canada is proposing below an analysis of the new supplementary letters and what they might signal to the international cooperation sector. The below is a summary analysis by Cooperation Canada from the perspective of the international cooperation sector and should by no means be understood as a comprehensive summary of policy priorities of the current Government.
The mandate letters issued to the newly reshuffled cabinet are aligned with the federal government’s positions so far. The four areas of focus remain, as already announced, those of (i) public health, (ii) strong economic recovery, (iii) cleaner environment, and (iv) fairness and equality. While responding to the direct (public health) and indirect (in this case primarily economic) repercussions of COVID-19, Ministers are advised to scale up the ambition of programs aimed at COVID response and early recovery while refraining from budgetary moves that would have long-lasting fiscal effects long after the pandemic. On a positive note, the Government does not seem to have abandoned the non-COVID priorities of environmental sustainability nor that of equitable societies.
Economy and ODA repercussions
With the economic recovery (predictably) being on top of the Government’s list, Finance Minister Freeland’s role is more important than ever. Her supplementary letter instructs her to “preserve Canada’s fiscal advantage” and “use whatever fiscal firepower is needed in the short term” but also to “avoid creating new permanent spending”. This sends a clear message that budgetary increases obtained during COVID should not be considered permanent. With the Government increasing Canada’s fiscal deficit as a result of the global crises, no budgetary increases in this period can be reasonably expected to expand the fiscal space for specific budget items in the long run.
However, perhaps not all social justice lessons will be forgotten after the recovery. The supplementary letter encourages Freeland to tax the wealthy and multinational corporations while working within the broader community of the Organisation for Economic and Co-Operation and Development (OECD) to strike down on tax evasion and avoidance.
Canada’s global engagement
The current government’s emphasis on a sustainable economic recovery is not limited to domestic policy. Supplementary letters to Ministers Freeland, Garneau, and Gould call for reinforced efforts to ensure “vaccines, therapeutics, and strengthened health systems” at home and abroad. The newly appointed Minister Garneau is particularly called upon to strengthen multilateral approaches to crises such as the current pandemic. What this means exactly, however, remains unclear in the present context of a fragmented geopolitical system and competing foreign policy visions between multiple “donor country” blocks.
Minister Gould’s supplementary mandate letter is interesting for the international cooperation sector considering the encouragement to: “increase investments in international development to support developing countries on their economic recoveries and resilience”. This is an echo of a similar commitment in the Fall Throne Speech. Given that Canada’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) levels are below the OECD donor average and at the country’s historical low in half a century, this objective emerges as a rather complex one. Canada’s ODA levels, which in the last fiscal year represented mere 0.27% of the country’s gross national income (GNI) are a far cry from the international commitment of 0.7% as well as any credible expectations of Canada’s contribution to solving key global challenges that affect us everywhere.
The Government’s commitments to green economy domestically do not seem to reference Canada’s commitments to global finance, which as the recent C4D report shows, are almost entirely allocated to multilateral organizations on a loan basis. Hopefully, the recent approval of Bill C-12: the Net Zero Emissions Accountability Act is a signal that Canada takes its responsibility to mitigate climate change effects seriously so it would be logical for the same ambition and drive will be applied on the global stage.
Similar efforts to take responsibility for the safety and well-being of current and future generations are evident in mandate letters that, for example, call for a climate lens to all government decision-making (Treasury Board letter), planting 2 billion trees, reduction of emissions within Canada’s farming sector (Agriculture and Agri-Food letter), and support Canada’s clean energy transitions including through tax breaks (of 50%) to companies developing and manufacturing zero-emission technology (Finance letter).
Fair and equal societies
The current government seems to be reacting to the uprisings in Canada and elsewhere on the continent, calling on deliberate efforts to address and dismantle systemic racism. Many ministerial priorities focus on expanding the gender equality considerations to include identity factors such as race, (dis)ability etc.
Part of this agenda is aligned with previously announced efforts to further enable transformative efforts towards gender equality. The present government is reacting to the fact that women are bearing the brunt of the current pandemic response, which is why numerous letters focus on improving Canada’s education system, child care structures, and women’s access to gainful employment and services. The Deputy Prime-Minister is expected to develop an Action Plan for Women in the Economy (which should, like always be intersectional and holistic). Other agenda items, across various ministerial letters in this area, include providing shelter and transition housing to marginalized and vulnerable groups, such as women victims of violence, improving country-wide early learning and childcare systems, and supporting progress towards gender equality in Canadian companies. The pandemic, however, is clearly not being used as an excuse to hinder ongoing policy processes such as that of the consultations for the development of Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy, which started in November 2020, and re-appears in the letter to the newly appointed Minister Garneau.
Racial justice appears more prominently as a policy objective in the latest round of ministerial mandate letters. This is particularly evident in the supplementary letters to Ministers of the Treasury Board, Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development, Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Crown – Indigenous Relations, International Development, and Finance. Each of these Ministers has been asked to integrate diversity and inclusion in their work and/or elaborate sector-specific strategies that integrate these considerations. Letters also explicitly name the problem, referring to, as it is the case of Minister Chagger’s letter “systemic discrimination and unconscious bias in our country, including anti-Black racism”.
The most notable agenda item related to the Government’s heightened focus on diversity and inclusion is perhaps that of revising Canada’s gender-based analysis (GBA+), which all ministries have already been mandated to integrate. GBA+ should be reassessed as an analytical tool that allows for (i) greater data disaggregation to account for other identity factors such as race, (dis)ability, genders, indigeneity etc. Such an approach signals readiness to build on the progress made towards more gender-equal policy approaches and expand the definition of “equitable” to include other identity factors. This commitment is further substantiated by specific calls to advance reforms addressing “systemic inequities in the criminal justice system” as well as updated the Employment Equity Act requires. Diversity and inclusion are also agenda items for Canada’s Public Service, with the Treasury Board expected to form a Centre for Diversity to support public service bodies in their work in this area.
The supplementary mandate letters rightly highlight the importance of the reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, particularly prominent in the calls to accelerate the implementation of the National Action Plan in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Call for Justice, as well as accelerate the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action. Lastly, Canada’s global commitments are put to test in this area, as Ministers Benett and the Lametti are expected to pass legislation that would enable the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Overall, the Government seems to clearly recognize its limitations vis a vis fair and equitable policies and services and has articulated clear policy priorities for each of the newly confirmed and/or appointed Ministers in advancing this work.
Overall, the latest policy priorities listed in the Government’s supplementary mandate letters gives limited clarity to the Canadian international cooperation sector, with mixed messages of fiscal conservativism and the need to strengthen Canada’s global engagement on a historically low official development assistance budget.
Encouraging news are almost entirely in the area of green economy, although the international agenda remains to be significantly strengthened, and diversity and inclusion, which is finally addressed with the intentionality it requires. With uncertain and likely short-term fiscal plans the Government is likely to offer the sector and Canada as a whole in the next few months, Cooperation Canada invites colleagues and allies of the sector to consider the uneven impact the current crisis has had on most historically disadvantaged countries, especially given the mounting debt crisis and argue for Canada’s global engagement that reflects its national commitments to environmental protection and more fair and just societies.
The Government of Canada has completed the first round of consultations to inform Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy. The goal is to help inform a white paper that will guide Canada’s feminist policy as a whole, in line with the already existing commitments and principles, such as those outlined in Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP).
The Feminist Foreign Policy Working Group has collected sector-wide inputs here. Below is Cooperation Canada’s submission in English and French, which has been informed through sector-wide consultations and member feedback. Below are key messages outlining Cooperation Canada’s position in this important process of devising an future oriented, rights-based, and coherent feminist foreign policy.
Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy must adopt a human-rights based approach that amplifies the voices of feminist actors and marginalized groups in multilateral and bilateral decision-making arenas. Canada should aim for transformative change, which addresses deeply rooted norms and core causes, as informed by local contexts.
Canada’s feminist approach to its global engagement should define leadership through collaboration. Working alongside like-minded peer countries, acting as an enabler and accelerator of local feminist actors is needed for integrated and sustainable approaches.
Canada’s Feminist Foreign policy should entail processes of institutional transformation. This calls for a shift in focus away from prescriptive outcomes and towards more flexible and context—specific structures and processes of Canada’s institutions including Global Affairs Canada, relevant ministries, and Canada’s missions abroad.
Coherence must be a key pillar of Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy, linking structures and agendas of international trade, diplomacy, defense, and international assistance. Mutually reinforcing strategies must be developed across these areas of intervention to allow for future-oriented and equitable solutions.
Measuring the success of Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy is needed for a continuously evolving policy that leverages policy learning and builds on the expertise of Canadian civil servants, partners, and communities the policy aims to support. Quantitative benchmarks should be accompanied by qualitative reporting processes that allow for the identification of innovative solutions.
Click here to read Cooperation Canada’s submission.
COVID-19 containment measures, including the interruption of international travel and physical distancing, have impacted the international cooperation sector, especially activities encompassing research and consultative missions to the countries of operation. International non-government organizations (INGOs) have found themselves even more reliant on national staff and partners, shouldering the burden of minimizing operational interruptions in an already chronically underfunded environment.
Faced with these apparent barriers – everyone from Global Affairs Canada to larger INGOs and development scholars has begun taking a closer look at a global priority that has remained elusive for over 25 years – the localization agenda. Defined as a “transformational process to recognise, respect, and invest in local and national humanitarian and leadership capacities, to better meet the needs of crisis-affected communities,” localization calls for an effective transformation of our sector – one with normative and operational repercussions. To trace potential ways forward, Cooperation Canada has gathered a diverse panel for a critical discussion on October 14. Didn’t attend? Here’s what you missed.
Localization as a key global governance objective
Localization, as a global objective, is not new. At the turn of the century, global discussions on the future of international cooperation, led by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Bank and the United Nations (UN) have recognized the importance of abandoning the ethnocentric and imperialist practices whereby donors and experts from the Global North impose questionable solutions to historically disadvantaged and donor-dependent countries and communities. Strengthened local capacity, context-informed solutions and the national and local ownership of international cooperation projects all call for power shifts towards the communities we strive to serve. This entails equitable collaboration along the entire program cycle, from agenda setting to assessments, program design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
Localization was prominently featured in OECD’s 1996 “sustainable partnership model” suggested in the “Shaping the 21st century” report, as well as the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Agenda and the World Bank’s 1999 Comprehensive Development Framework. In Canada, the 2002 policy statement of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) “Canada making a difference in the World” centred localization as a key objective for effective international assistance. More recently, localization has remained prominent in contemporary global frameworks, including the Grand Bargain of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Agenda 2030).
Localization as an elusive objective
Despite the overwhelming policy relevance within the global governance parameters, localization as a process of shifting power dynamics from global to local actors and partners, remains largely elusive.
Agenda 2030 and its principles have intensified the UN reform with the establishment of Resident Coordinator Offices (RCOs) and the transition to national Cooperation Frameworks, expected to build on national development agendas and further integrate the work of individual UN agencies. Some of those agencies with large portions of headquarters-based staff, such as the United Nations Development Programme, are further challenged to transfer staff and expertise to regional and local duty stations. Overall, the UN agencies are increasingly judged based on their ability to “strengthen national capacity” – mostly that of national governments – although it remains unclear what that entails.
INGOs, on their end, are expected to strengthen the capacity of local civil society actors and these investments are even less common, given the international cooperation frameworks that include a ceiling of a maximum of 12% (7% in most humanitarian settings) allocated to overhead and institutional strengthening. Following this direction, however, organizations such as Action Aid and Oxfam have moved their headquarters from London, the UK, to Nairobi, Kenya, and others (such as World Vision and Plan International) have made the shift from project to program planning, with theories of change that reflect sustainability and localization.
Localization as a transformative shift of international cooperation
The strategy of moving secretariat and decision-making bodies to the Global South and the focus on capacity strengthening are certainly positive. However, as Audre Lorde warns, “the old patterns, no matter how cleverly rearranged to imitate progress, still condemn us to cosmetically altered repetitions of the same old exchanges.”1
As this collaborative report suggests, based on the insight from over 350 NGOs, UN agencies, donors, Red Cross/Crescent Societies, localization requires effective shifts in power structures and partnership modalities, access to decision-making processes, and the effective reconceptualization of international cooperation based on community-driven initiatives. This Disaster and Emergencies Preparedness Programme report defines seven dimensions of localization: funding, partnership, capacity, participation, coordination, visibility and policy.
The COVID-induced push to localization should push international cooperation actors to re-examine the way they work, including a self-reflection of androcentric, racist and ethnocentric biases that influence the way our work is structured. Localization must include interrogations of the colonial legacy of the international assistance sector that has long suffered from the “White Saviour” complex. This is when the discussion gets constructive.
Key considerations on localization
Significant steps have been made to operationalize the policy objective of localization. Recent From Poverty to Power blog posts offer solution-oriented reflections and represent localization as a spectrum, and not a binary characteristic of international assistance. This blog post speaks about the influential Overseas Development Institute report “From the Ground Up” before proposing recommendations—strengthening civil society structures (in addition to investing in organizations themselves), leaving room for local agency by ensuring flexibility of programming and financial mechanisms, while avoiding the trap of glorifying local partners and stripping them of resources international staff would likely receive. The Equality Fund, Canada’s collaborative hub for the strengthening and the support of feminist movements, has gathered good practices for feminist funding that reflect principles of localization including trust, decolonial approaches and the empowerment of local actors.
Various reports on the topic all boil down to:
- the co-construction from the agenda-setting stage and throughout the program cycle,
- transparency and accountability to the communities themselves,
- long-term and flexible funding for local actors, and
- a clearly communicated exit strategy of international partners.
Unsurprisingly, many requisites for localization are in the hands of donor agencies. Dr. Duncan Green’s latest post on localization in advocacy more clearly articulates that localization must stem from the very identification of priorities, assessments and program design – which is not something one always has the luxury to do while drafting a grant proposal. More on that is explained in this Gates Institute brief.
The usefulness of these tools lies in their representation of localization as a continuous and participatory process, often transitioning from co-ownership to ownership to minimize risks and close the gap of perceived or effective capacity of donor and local actors. Initiatives that allow for participatory agenda setting are, however, not new. For example, Mama Cash, a feminist organization, has been a vocal champion of participatory grant-making, long before the current pandemic.
A useful Canadian example of initiatives that enable localization is the now–completed project of the International Development Research Centre of Canada’s (IDRC) Think Tank Initiative. Their resources report on good practices for sustainably investing in organizational structures and civil society environments more broadly.
Larger INGOs have also produced valuable guidance. Oxfam has a feminist approach to localization, Care has shared some good practices. In general, localization has been a focus of organizations working in the humanitarian sector, including the Inter-Agency Standing Committee. The Grand Bargain Localisation Workstream and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies both offer invaluable resources for the work in this area.
Localization is increasingly mentioned as a requisite for the implementation of development frameworks, especially those related to governance and devolution.2 Localization was deemed one of the biggest implementation challenges for the MDGs, which is why it emerges as a critical piece of SDG implementation. Increasingly, localization is perceived as a non-linear and non-hierarchical process, resulting in a more inclusive process for the design of localization shifts themselves.
Overall, localization, in its full meaning, entails fundamental transformation of international cooperation mechanisms. While its complexity cannot be overstated, one of the key ingredients is that of flexible and predictable funding directly oriented towards local actors, while ensuring flexibility of program design and collaborative agenda–setting. On the donor side, it means focusing on strengthening local actors and the processes, and not just the outcomes of service provision handled by local partners. Trust-based and inclusive relationships between donors and local partners are needed – and this is where the push to transition from compliance to accountability becomes important. Replacing outdated regulations, such as Canada’s direction and control rules, which ban charities from allowing the agency of their partners, would be a key step in this direction.
Allowing for a continuous and equitable dialogue and repositioning the focus on the contribution, as opposed to attribution, of donor funding, is needed for locally led agendas. While INGOs can and should be leading such efforts, a more universal adoption of these principles calls for clear donor structures that enable and require localization from its partners, especially those based in the global North.
1 Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Differences,” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Freedom: Crossing Press, 1984), 114-123, 123.
2 Decentralization projects where central authorities delegate powers, especially those of social safety nets, to regional and local authorities in an effort to strengthen accountability, civic participation, and people-centred social welfare policies. A good country case is that of Kenya.