After having done more reading of transcripts, and some of the other red herrings around this issue, I have yet to be shown a fabrication on the Minister’s part. Could things have been done differently to ensure this affair never happened in the first place? Absolutely, I don’t think anyone who has commented here thus far would disagree. The best way the Minister could have prevented this affair would’ve been to wait to respond to the decision note until her return to Ottawa. Apologies for the length, but you must know I’m a wonk. 😉
This argument hinges on these facts:
1. Government, i.e. Cabinet, priorities for CIDA – food security, children and youth, and economic growth – are, in fact, CIDA’s formal (i.e. written in stone, on their website, projects funded or not based on, etc) priorities. CIDA bureaucrats may have their own ideas about what should be funded, e.g. their “country program objectives”, but only projects that conform to the formal priorities will be funded.
2. A “CIDA decision” can only be called such when the Minister has approved it. At any moment in the process before the Minister approves, CIDA bureaucrats’ and MO staff recommendations, ideas, post-it notes, etc are not CIDA decisions.
3. Both bureaucrats AND MO staff in all departments do due diligence on issues, project proposals, etc. Policy advisors in the MO work with the bureaucrats to work on the same issues and projects, but often take very different routes to arrive at conclusions. We cannot expect – nor would we want – Ministers to only receive information from the bureaucrats, who have their own biases and blind spots, and that’s why there is a political staff – to obtain advice and information from outside sources and stakeholders, and the Policy Advisors put it all together to make a recommendation to the Minister.
4. The only person who knows for sure who put the “not” on the memo is the person who actually did it. In all likelihood, this person is now, or was at the time, a member of Minister Oda’s political staff. It is possible that the Minister has never asked the question of her staff who wrote the “not” on the decision note in order to protect the person who was carrying out the boss’ orders from the hell that would ensue.
5. Ministers and their deputies (or, in this case, Presidents) and their Chiefs of Staff are in constant communication. Deputy Ministers (or Presidents) have constant access to the Minister. Minister Oda, at some point in the Fall of 2009, told President Biggs that she was not going to approve the KAIROS project. President Biggs cannot recall the date, but she was well aware prior to receiving the decision note back – this is all quite normal in the course of the constant conversations the Minister and President would have had.
NB: As I’ve said in comments, I’m not connected in any way, shape or form to this situation, other than as an opinion writer. I do have experience working in a Minister’s Office and am clear on how Minister’s Offices and Ministry folks interact daily, what the expectations are, etc. I feel that the relationship between the MOs and Ministries in Ottawa isn’t fantastic, but regardless, the Ministers get the last word. You can be upset about that, but for now, this is how it goes. We good? OK. Let’s look at actual evidence, and what is “reasonable”.
Friday, September 25 & 28 – Approval Days
Acting Vice-President Singh, followed by President Biggs, (nice handles!) approved a decision-note providing for KAIROS’ request for $7m in funding from CIDA. It is not yet a “CIDA decision” as the Minister has not approved the request. Bureaucrats sign first, followed by the Minister (otherwise it would seem like bureaucrats “approve” the Minister’s decisions). The decision note without a place for the Minister to disagree is forwarded to Minister Oda’s office, presumably to the policy advisor on the file (could be someone else, and this isn’t important), but someone in the MO received the note on that day or very shortly thereafter.
EVIDENCE: President Biggs acknowledges that she knew in advance of her signature on the decision note that the Minister was not going to approve the project, yet decision notes did not, at that time, have a place for the Minister to disagree (even though President Biggs knew that the Minister was not going to agree). See here at 1650 an onward.
Two months go by…
CIDA bureaucrats would expect a response shortly after the decision note was signed by the bureaucrats, because Ministers often sign shortly after the staff do, but they didn’t get one. This is the Minister’s prerogative. The bureaucrats cannot move ahead with funding to KAIROS on this particular request because it has not been approved by the Minister, but did continue to fund KAIROS until in the interim because no decision had been made by the Minister, and in that case, the status quo is kept (a reason why she couldn’t just return the document unsigned – interim funding would’ve continued). KAIROS is likely antsy, and communicating with bureaucrats (who are telling them it is waiting for Minister’s approval, even though President Biggs head directly from the Minister that the project would not be approved) and the MO (who are likely saying the Minister has yet to make a decision).
Friday, November 27, 2009 – Decision Day
Minister Oda was not in Ottawa. Perhaps she was in her riding, or on a trip as would be normal for the Minister of International Cooperation. Regardless, she was not in town and chose that day to finally make her decision about KAIROS funding. Ministers are often not in their offices on Fridays, but that doesn’t mean work stops. I am going to assume that President Biggs’ office was putting pressure on the Minister and her staff to make a decision in writing (despite already knowing the outcome), and quickly, because of a) $7m isn’t anything to sneeze at and the money needed to get out the door, and b) KAIROS needed a response to move ahead with their program or not. The Minister did not wish to continue to fund KAIROS, and so over the phone, directed her staff to insert “NOT”, which wouldn’t be an issue because she had already informed President Biggs that she would not approve the project verbally. Minister Oda is likely frustrated that there is not a place for her to disagree, even though she has said she would not approve the project, not to mention all decision notes should have this space to disagree anyway. So, instead of waiting to return, she has had enough and tells the staff (whom she couldn’t see because she was on the phone with them) to put the “NOT” on the note and sign by auto-pen, and return to the Ministry. They did so, but Minister Oda doesn’t know which staffer executed her direction. So far, so good.
EVIDENCE: Decision Note.
Thursday, December 3, 2009 – Informing KAIROS by letter
Minister Oda writes to KAIROS explaining the move to de-fund them. After having heard from the Ministry staff and her own staff; as President Biggs says, everyone did their due diligence, and the Minister decided that the KAIROS request did not meet government’s priorities for international aid funding at the time (which were food security, children and youth, and economic growth). KAIROS’ project proposal may have been funded if it was in line with these priorities, but it appears the proposal was about human rights instead. I make no judgment on the contents of the proposal. Considering KAIROS’ long partnership with CIDA, and the volume of their contact with CIDA bureaucrats, it is not reasonable to believe that President Biggs or VP Singh did not tell KAIROS that the Minister was not going to approve their new project after the Minister informed the bureaucrats that she was not going to approve the project as per Biggs’ testimony. It cannot have come as a shock to KAIROS, and if it did, that would be very surprising. KAIROS had two months of extra funding to make the transition.
EVIDENCE: KAIROS news release about the project on Dec. 2
EVIDENCE: Minister Oda’s letter to KAIROS informing them of the decision
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 & Thursday, December 24, 2009 – Kenney’s Red Herring
In Jerusalem, Minister Kenney tells an Israeli crowd that the de-funding of KAIROS was due to anti-semitism at the agency. To me, this is pure politics to an Israeli crowd, and has been shown to not be true, especially as Kenney had to later say in a letter to the editor of the Toronto Star that the reason why KAIROS was de-funded was because their proposal did not meet CIDA priorities – this is TRUE, because CIDA priorities formally ARE directed by Minister Oda from her mandate letter. The government decides that food security, children and youth, and economic growth are going to be the priorities at CIDA? That’s what happens. Kenney is correct that KAIROS was de-funded as a result of their program proposal not matching CIDA priorities.
EVIDENCE: Jason Kenney’s Letter to the Editor
Monday, March 15, 2010 – The Parliamentary Secretary Speaks
In Adjournment Proceedings in the House of Commons, Minister Oda’s Parliamentary Secretary, Hon. Jim Abbott, addresses the de-funding of KAIROS and lays out what the government’s priorities are. Mr. Abbott said, “CIDA thoroughly analyzed KAIROS’ program proposal and determined, with regret, that it did not meet the agency’s current priorities. This is important.” Admittedly, this makes it seem like the CIDA bureaucrats, who analyze program proposals, recommended the project not be funded. While true in absolute fact (de-funding became a CIDA decision once the Minister signed off on it), the statement is missing a word – he should’ve said, “CIDA’s Minister, after receiving an analysis of the project from department staff, determined, with regret, etc.” The Minister understands CIDA decisions to be as such only once she has approved. Abbott later apologized for not being as clear as he could’ve been. Also, President Biggs said that CIDA staff are not the only people who analyze projects – the Minister’s staff (who are employed by CIDA) do as well, so the statement is technically OK, but The argument between Hons. Abbott & McKay was more about whether KAIROS was a good partner or not, not about who made the ultimate decisions.
EVIDENCE: See 1840
Friday, April 23, 2010 – The Minister Answers
These are Order Paper questions 105 and 106 Hon. Pearson, who wants to know what CIDA reporting (under the Official Development Assistance and Accountability Act) activities and project approval criteria are. The latter is what is important. Minister Oda replied, ” Mr. Speaker, with regard to a) The CIDA decision not to continue funding KAIROS was based on the overall assessment of the proposal, not on any single criterion.” – This is TRUE. The CIDA decision is HER decision, and the overall assessment was constituted by the CIDA staff and MO staff assessment (President Biggs said so), resulting in not funding the proposal. Minister Oda then said assessment criteria are located on the website, http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca.
EVIDENCE: Order Paper questions transcript
EVIDENCE: CIDA’s website clearly indicating priorities and general criteria
Monday, September 20, 2010 – The Minister Answers – Part 2
In an Order Paper question, Hon. Anita Neville asks the Minister about gender-based analyses at CIDA. The Minister, in her reply, notes that “As a part of its aid effectiveness agenda and in order to improve the focus of aid, the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA, has selected three thematic priorities.” The three thematic priorities are food security, children and youth, and economic growth. No one is concerned that government priorities have officially become CIDA priorities, which is KEY to the issue.
In Order Paper question #314, Hon. Bob Rae asks the Minister about groups that have had their funding cut from CIDA. The Minister, in response says that, “the Canadian Bureau for International Education, MATCH International Centre (MATCH) and KAIROS (Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives) have had their program renewal or extension applications turned down. Program support for Alternatives Inc. was reduced to cover only its programming in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti” and that “partnership proposals are assessed on their merits. Funding is allocated to high value initiatives.” This is consistent with government, and as such, CIDA, priorities.
In Order Paper question #331, Hon. Marlene Jennings asks the Minister specifically about KAIROS. The Minister replies, “KAIROS was recently refused funding as it was determined that KAIROS’ 2009 program proposal did not meet the government’s priorities. Unlike many other NGOs making proposals to CIDA, KAIROS is a coalition of several member organizations, some of which continue to receive separate funding from CIDA. KAIROS submitted a new proposal in April 2010, which is now undergoing CIDA’s standard evaluation process.” The government’s priorities and formal CIDA priorities are one and the same as per CIDA’s website and any reasonable understanding.
EVIDENCE: Sept. 20 Hansard Order Paper and Starred questions
Thursday, October 28, 2010 – The Minister Answers – Part 3
Hon. Francis Valeriote asks the Minister in Oral Questions about KAIROS. The “Embassy” FOI request shows that CIDA staff believed the KAIROS proposal met their country program objectives. As noted previously, CIDA staff can have all the country program objectives they want, but if they don’t match government priorities, and as such, formal CIDA priorities, then the proposal will not be funded. It’s as simple as that. Mr. Valeriote is attempting to find discrepancy where none exists. The Minister explains that according to the effectiveness standards posted on CIDA’s website, “after due diligence, it was determined that KAIROS’ proposal did not meet government standards.” Who was it determined by? The Minister and her staff. Did they have the right to make such a determination? Absolutely. Even President Biggs testified that the MO staff did their own due diligence. Maybe the Minister should’ve spelled that out, that her staff worked on the file as well, but anyone who has had interactions with MOs knows that policy advisors exist to perform their own due diligence and obtain information not just from bureaucrats, but from other stakeholders as well. It’s why there is such a title as “Advisor, Stakeholder Relations” on MO staff.
EVIDENCE: Oct 28 Hansard, Oral Questions
Thursday, December 9, 2010 – Committee Appearance
Minister Oda herself makes clear her thinking on how government priorities are, in fact, her department’s formal priorities, and that she communicates this to her department, in answer to Hon. Rae: ” Mr. Rae, regardless of who is the government, the Government of Canada has ministers who are given responsibility. Ultimately, through a mandate from the Prime Minister, you have to exercise the responsibility and the mandate you are given. There are recommendations that do come up. I would also say that there was much discussion with the department–with the department–to ensure that we had a clear understanding of my thinking and also our government’s policy and intent on how international assistance should be used. Ultimately, it’s the minister’s responsibility and it’s the minister’s decision.”
Hon. McKay asks about the “NOT”, and the Minister answers truthfully that she does not know who inserted the “NOT”. Just because McKay doesn’t understand that a) more than three people could’ve put the NOT there, and b) the Minister was on the phone with her staff, did not physically see who put “NOT” on the decision note, and therefore cannot testify truthfully as to who it was (unless she asked her CoS who it was who put it there – interesting question), does not mean that she lied to the committee. Might the Minister have said, “it was one of my staff, as I was on the phone when I made the directive?” Absolutely, but she is trained to answer only the question she is asked. Honestly, how anyone can see a lie in this is beyond me. However, the Minister has answered consistently that she directed the disagreement to be noted on the decision note, and President Biggs said she knew about the disagreement beforehand. There is no conspiracy, and the only possible misleading statement is that of Hon. Abbott on March 15, 2010, which he cleared up and apologized for on Dec. 10, 2010. In the transcript, the Minister is trying to not bring her staff into the committee room, as she has seen what happened to other staff brought before committees, rightly or wrongly, but the Minister might’ve spelled out “my staff worked on it, as they do, and I accepted my staff telling me that the project did not meet government (and formal CIDA) priorities”. The next question would’ve been, “I want to talk to your policy advisor”. The Minister takes responsibility for her staff’s work, and her ultimate decision. There is no lie, no conspiracy.
EVIDENCE: Committee transcript from Dec. 9/10
Friday, December 10, 2010
Hon. McKay raises his point of privilege, which includes statements regarding the “not”: “A reasonable person looking at the end page would reasonably conclude that all three did not approve of the grant.” I don’t believe that’s true, considering the discrepancies in dates. And more to the point, a reasonable person isn’t the audience of the decision note – Biggs and Singh were, and they knew what the NOT meant, as they had been warned about the Minister’s decision, and yet still chose to not include a place for her to no approve – and have changed the way they do business with the MO since then!
Next: “The transcript of the foreign affairs committee says that she not only did not insert the “not”, she does not know who did. Somebody is making decisions over there, but it is not the minister.” This is a ridiculous statement, if he had ever been in contact with an MO. He had just been told the Minister directed the “NOT” to be put in the document. Which staffer put the “NOT” in is unimportant – the key is that a staffer did it on her direction. She made the decision, period.
Next: “The Minister of International Cooperation was fully briefed on CIDA’s [bureaucrats] position on funding of KAIROS, which has been proven both in the testimony before the foreign affairs committee and in the documentation obtained through the access to information request.” Sure, she was briefed on what they thought. Then she told the President that she wasn’t going to fund the proposal because it didn’t match government, and thus formal CIDA priorities. Just because CIDA bureaucrats wanted to fund based on their own informal priorities, doesn’t mean she had to follow their advice. Biggs says so too.
Next: “One is left with a clear impression that the decision to not recommend was made after the minister’s signature had been appended to the document. The minister does not know who put in the interlineations and therefore cannot tell the House who made the decision, when the decision was made and why the decision, approved by the agency and possibly by the minister herself, was reversed.” This is deliberate misunderstanding on McKay’s part, and it’s incredibly disingenuous. It’s a huge leap for the Minister to not know specifically which one of her staff put the ‘NOT’ on the form that shouldn’t have required it in the first place to say that obviously, then, it’s a conspiracy. The Minister was clear that she did not approve her bureaucrats’ decision and told them so verbally, but McKay ignores that part of the testimony.
EVIDENCE: Open Parliament transcript of the point of privilege.
You know, on the whole, I think there is plenty to go after this government for. Fighter jets, maternal health issues in developing nations, etc. But if it takes me, a great big wonk, 2 hours to just write this post after going through all of it with a fine tooth comb, then I can’t imagine regular Canadians give a hoot about how government (cabinet) priorities become formal department priorities, despite departments having their own ideas and pushing back on the MOs. Canadians care that they elect representatives, and expect that the elected government will implement their priorities, which is what was done in this case. If priorities WEREN’T implemented, that would be a “broken promises” narrative. This government has a history of not getting along too well with department staff, and that is the narrative the opposition is pursuing (cf. census) to try to win votes. This simply isn’t an example of that that makes any good sense – it requires too much explanation, and at the end of the day, it’s not an issue of the Minister not getting along with her staff. If anything, the story is that the staff ignored the government’s priorities as their own formal priorities, and frustrated her with pushback to the point where they were found out, and had to change the way they do business.
This is exhausting work! Let’s talk about media coverage of the issue later this week when we see more coverage in the next few days as the story develops.