Newspaper article The Canadian Press

One Year after Arab Spring, Federal Support for Struggling Democracies Sees Cuts: Promoting Democracy Takes a Hit from Budget

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

One Year after Arab Spring, Federal Support for Struggling Democracies Sees Cuts: Promoting Democracy Takes a Hit from Budget

Article excerpt

OTTAWA - Canada's commitment to strengthening struggling democracies will likely be a key message as the prime minister travels to Latin America next week -- but the federal budget tells a different story.

Some of the government's tools for helping democratic institutions flourish abroad are disappearing, including Elections Canada's direct assistance for foreign elections in developing democracies. It lent a hand in Haiti's elections in 2006 and in 2010.

"Elections Canada will limit its international role in 2012-2013 to that of contributing to the work of multilateral organizations, such as the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Organization of American States," said spokesman John Enright.

This week, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird revealed that the federally funded International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, known as Rights and Democracy, would close its doors.

Over the last year, the arm's-length agency had organized trips to hotspots Burma and Libya to examine where Canada could be of assistance. It had worked on the Burma file for two decades.

But Rights and Democracy was swept up by controversy in recent years because of internal infighting and allegations the Conservatives had stacked the board with ideological friends.

Baird said the organization's work would be absorbed into his department, but a spokesman said it would be weeks or months before decisions were made about how this would unfold.

"I can tell you that a portion of the $11 million in funding that had been earmarked for Rights and Democracy's operations will continue to go to human rights and democracy promotion," Joseph Lavoie said Wednesday.

"But ... the goal is to further these foreign policy goals more effectively and efficiently within the department."

The cloud around Rights and Democracy had also served to dampen cabinet's enthusiasm for the creation of a democracy-promotion centre, promised by Stephen Harper in the 2008 Speech from the Throne. There hasn't been a peep about the idea in more than a year.

Foreign Affairs is facing $523.5 million in budget cuts over four years, but two programs that do work in strengthening democracy won't be affected: the Global Peace and Security Program and the Glyn Berry Program. …

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