Every once in a while, there’s a slew of announcements that seem to reveal a pattern of sorts with regard to political doings. In this case, I’m looking at three announcements about recent moves by the Canadian Conservative government and which seem, to me, curiously interlinked.
First there was the announcement (CBC Mar. 27, 2013 news item) that Canada is withdrawing from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, in those Countries Experiencing Severe Drought and/or Desertification (to become the only country in the world not party to it) and its annual commitment of $350,000. The CBC Mar. 28, 2013 news item provided more detail,
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said less than one-fifth of the $350,000 Canada contributes to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification goes to programming.
“This particular organization spends less than 20 per cent — 18 per cent — of the funds that we send it are actually spent on programming, the rest goes to various bureaucratic measures.That’s not an effective way to spend taxpayers’ money,” Harper told MPs during question period Thursday.
The Canadian Press reported Wednesday [Mar. 27, 2013?] the UN secretariat that administers the program was unaware of Canada’s decision until contacted by its reporter.
A spokesperson for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) [emphasis mine] told CBC News the head of the secretariat was informed of the decision on Monday [Mar. 25, 2013?], and written confirmation was delivered to the UN Secretary General’s office in New York the same day.
But a UN official in Bonn told CBC News that Canada notified the UN about its withdrawal “informally last week by telephone” and “this is not considered proper notification… or protocol.”
The proper protocol is to formally write to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York and formally provide a notice that Canada is withdrawing from the treaty.
Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN and chief foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, wrote an Apr. 1, 2013 essay for the Globe and Mail about some recent history between Canada and the UN, this latest withdrawal, and its implications (Note: A link has been removed),
Following the Harper government’s failure in 2010 to win a Canadian seat on the UN Security Council, its disregard of the UN gave way to disdain. Ottawa’s rare appearances at the UN have tended to stress what it regards as Canada’s uniquely “principled” foreign policy, bringing to mind U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s characterization of Canadian foreign policy in the fifties as “the stern voice of the daughter of God,” and cementing Canada’s long-standing reputation as global mother-in-law.
Because of the links between drought, land degradation, desertification and climate change, withdrawal from the Desertification Convention comes with potentially significant costs. …
Heinbecker develops this line of thought by noting that the withdrawal makes it seem that Canada does not care about climate change (let’s not forget the withdrawal from Kyoto protocol, the UN Convention on Climate Change, a UN initiative from which the Canadian Conservative government withdrew in 2011) and noting this,
Given that the government of Alberta as well as ministers and departments in Ottawa have been going to considerable effort and expense to argue in the U.S. that Canada does care, it is self-harming to hand America’s Keystone opponents a stick to beat the pipeline with.
Also, because the locus of most of the devastation arising from desertification is in Africa, walking away from a treaty whose creation was led by the Mulroney and Chrétien governments reinforces the impression that Ottawa no longer cares about Africa. It is an impression that this government also went to some trouble and expense to try to reverse. Further, because the worst destruction from desertification is happening in the Sahara region, abandoning the treaty sends a mixed signal about the security issues at stake in Mali and the Sahel, and about Canadian mining interests there as well.
Thankfully, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the conservative government are ensuring that our annual $350,000 contribution, after 2014, will no be longer wasted on what they termed a ‘talkfest’. To combat this negative impression being made on the rest of the world, there’s been an announcement (Azonano Apr. 6, 2013 news item) recycling some old government news about monies for the second phase of the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF),
”The Harper Government is committed to increasing food security to those most in need as part of Canada’s effective international assistance through investing in scientific research and innovation,” said Parliamentary Secretary Brown [Lois Brown]. “Canadian universities, businesses, and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] have expertise that they can share with the world. Together, we can use innovation to put an end to global hunger.”
The Canadian International Food Security Research Fund is a joint initiative between the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). [emphases mine] It supports innovative research partnerships between Canadian and developing-country researchers to respond to immediate food needs while increasing access to quality, nutritious food over the long term. Phase 2 will focus on connecting promising research results to public and private sector organizations that can get them to end users on a larger scale.
“IDRC and CIDA have a long history of supporting Canada’s leadership in agricultural research and innovation for development,” said Jean Lebel, Acting President of IDRC. “CIFSRF demonstrates our mutual commitment to achieving sustainable results that put Canada’s considerable experience in agricultural and nutrition science to work globally to ensure farmers have access to new technologies and specialized expertise to keep pace with the growing demand for food. Through CIFSRF, we are also expanding Canada’s scientific base and contributing to the country’s science and technology strategy.”
The Canadian International Food Security Research Fund, first launched in 2009, currently supports 19 projects, bringing together some of the best researchers from 11 Canadian and 26 developing-country organizations, as well as partners from scientific, private sector and civil society organizations, to develop innovative solutions to improve global food security.
The part where it got really interesting for me was the April 4, 2013 article by Rick Westhead for star.com about the funds some of which are bound for the University of Guelph as per its Apr. 5, 2013 news release about the matter. Not to be too confusing but the following excerpt is from the April 4, 2013 Westhead article,
Manish Raizada, a University of Guelph agriculture professor, is changing lives in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka by showing farmers how to boost crop yields with weeding and planting techniques and by adding new crops.
Other Canadian researchers are bolstering Ethiopia’s agriculture sector, introducing farmers to rhizobia, a bacteria that naturally adds nitrogen to the soil and helped Saskatchewan, nearly a century ago, become a leading soybean exporter.
Then there are Canadian-led efforts in India that use nanotechnology to improve the lifespan of mangoes, efforts that should help improve livelihoods in a country where half of children under five are malnourished. [In fact, this an India, Sri Lanka, and Canada effort which I mentioned in a June 21, 2012 posting and again in a Nov. 1, 2012 posting.]
For instance, McGurk [Dr. Stephen McGurk, IDRC director of agriculture programmes] said one government-funded project is helping lengthen the shelf life of mangoes by as much as two weeks by introducing a nanoparticle-based coating that prevents them from ripening as fast.
“That way they’re attractive when they get to market, not looking like pulp,” McGurk said. “That science, once it has been tried in India can be equally applied to fruits here like plums or raspberries.”
Interestingly, McGurk gives this quote to Westhead,
“In no way would Canadian scientists in the agriculture sector say they are muzzled,” said Stephen McGurk, director of IDRC’s agriculture programs. [emphasis mine] “We’re engaged outside our borders and doing research now that’s valuable to Canadians but has to prove its salt somewhere else first.”
What makes McGurk an interesting spokesperson regarding ‘muzzles and Canadian scientists’ is that he is an economist and a sinologist who prior to his latest appointment as IDRC director of agriculture programmes seems to have lived in Asia for the last 12 years and given this career description is likely from the US originally (from the Oct. 9, 2012 IDRC announcement of McGurk’s appointment),
Stephen McGurk is a Sinologist and economist who has spent more than two decades studying Asia’s rural development.Since 2006, he has been Director of IDRC’s Regional Office for South Asia and China in New Delhi (now the Asia Regional Office). From 2000 to 2006, he led IDRC’s office in Singapore.
Before joining IDRC, McGurk worked with the Ford Foundation in Beijing, where he was responsible for its economic security program in China. He has also taught at the University of California and worked with the World Bank on investments in China’s rural development. McGurk has a PhD from Stanford University’s [California] Food Research Institute.
I am curious as to how Dr. McGurk comes by his information about Canadian government agricultural scientists and their views on muzzles or lack thereof.
In looking at all of these bits of information, the desertification treaty withdrawal seems odd, almost as if it were designed to divert attention from something else the Conservative government is doing. Or, perhaps it’s an example of meanspirited shortsightedness something this government has been accused of before.
The recycled news item seems like it might not be as helpful as one would hope, although governments of all stripes are known to announce monies for projects that have been previously announced making it seem that a great deal more money is being dispersed than is the case. These announcements are always excellent for distraction but one would think the government would be eager to emphasize funding for projects in African countries rather than Asian countries given the conservatives’ current public relations problems in that region, as noted by Heinbecker.
As for McGurk’s quote about muzzles and agricultural scientists, while it does seem a bit ‘facey’ of him, he, at least, is not afraid to say something (although it’s not clear why he was asked about the muzzle since the news release was strictly about funding). For more about the ‘muzzles’, there’s this excerpt from the Apr. 2, 2013 Canadian Press news item found at macleans.ca on campus,
Federal policies that restrict what government scientists can say publicly about their work are about to be put under the microscope.
Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has agreed to investigate how government communications rules on taxpayer-funded science impact public access to information.
Legault is responding to a detailed complaint lodged by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria and the ethics advocacy group Democracy Watch.
Their lengthy report — “Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy?” — laid out repeated examples of taxpayer-funded science being suppressed or limited to pre-packaged media lines across six different government departments and agencies.
Chris Tollefson, the executive director of UVic’s law centre, said their research into suppressed science revealed both the wide scope of the practice and that it “represents a significant departure” in government practice over the last five to seven years.
…Gary Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, was not available Monday to defend Conservative practices. His office provided an email stating government scientists “are readily available to share their research with the media and the public.”
“Last year, Environment Canada participated in more than 1,300 media interviews, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada issued nearly 1,000 scientific publications, and Natural Resources Canada published nearly 500 studies,” said the statement.
It came the same day that the Globe and Mail reported that the National Research Council declined to make available its lead engineer for a front page story on research into truck safety. [emphases mine]
“Great spin — but missing the point,” Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher said of the government response.
“It’s not the number of documents, it’s what percentage of documents are being released.”
Truck safety? That seems an odd topic for which to suppress or restrict any discussion with the lead engineer. But then, why withdraw from a treaty to save $350,000? As for the recycled announcement about funding for food and agriculture projects in Asia when you have substantive perception issues regarding Africa and having someone who hasn’t lived in the country for 12 years defending your policies, the whole thing seems rather inept.