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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2011 > Ides of March 2011 > Alternatives Attacked!

Alternatives Attacked!

Monday 28 February 2011, by Michel LAMBERT

It is with these two words that I began my day yesterday. Alternatives is once again the target of a report in the media, this time via the plume of an obscure professor at the HEC de Montréal.

Let’s be clear: I am saying obscure because I wouldn’t know this man from Eve or Adam. Clearly, after reading his text, he also knows little in terms of international cooperation.

To be fair, however, he is not the first. Alternatives is attacked regularly, by both the Left and by the Right. What is striking in the charges brought, as usual, is this abhorrent and total abstraction of what we actually do. In short, none of our detractors seem to know what we really do, and in the end their attacks are nothing more than value judgments without any basis in fact.

Mr. Coiteux stumbles twice, and hard, in this regard.

On the one hand, he dangerously insinuates that international cooperation organizations which also dare to educate the public and advocate on its behalf to our governments would be doing so to the detriment of their commitments to carry out humanitarian and development projects in the global South. These wise calculations, obtained from our publicly available reports, would show, according to him, a certain ‘diversion’ of funds destined for aid work which are ‘redirected’ towards political advocacy.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth and any Canadian civil servant in the field of international cooperation could easily explain to Mr. Coiteux that humanitarian and development projects financed by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) are meticulously scrutinized, and not once but twice! In short, if CIDA contracts Alternatives to support campaigns in Iraq for the rights of women (and it is precisely for this kind of work that the Canadian state calls upon our services), it will be precisely to this end that the allocated sums will go. The projects are approved in accordance with the priorities of CIDA, and they are evaluated, reviewed and audited, even several times. It is therefore totally impossible for funds to be used for other purposes than those for which they were allocated. Tell me, Mr. Coiteux, what do you have against the fact that we use 82% of our funds to support the rights of women?

Secondly, and this is even more serious, Mr. Coiteux’s article implies that in order to have the right to express an opinion in Canada, one has to be elected! (Or perhaps at least a professor at the HEC…) This is a position that would no doubt please certain people in Ottawa, but it is still a very dangerous position. International cooperation organizations, just as with social organizations, are not “in competition” with political parties, but rather are made up of people who think and who have, in a democratic society, the freedom of expression and opinion. In Canada, our organizations mobilize, educate, and benefit from the involvement of a VERY large base of citizens, volunteers, and donors. These citizens of Québec and Canada who support us financially, month after month, are not, for example, in favour of the war in Afghanistan, and did not, for example, believe we had to scrap the Kyoto Accord. Curiously, these Canadian citizens, if we look at the latest poll numbers, are in fact the majority of voices in Canada and there are only a minority who believe in the policies of the government currently in power. More than ever, the argument that majority rules no longer holds sway, and there is currently a real danger in seeking to eliminate all democratic debate in this country.

To return to international cooperation, it is important to know that Canada now injects more than 90% of its funds and means into the multilateral system of the United Nations, where it gains no visibility and even less control. Thus to advocate presently for the reduction of the part played by our NGOs essentially amounts to advocating for the end of Canada’s system of cooperation since, in the international arena, the only and unique representatives of Canadian international cooperation are Canadian NGOs. The most recent decisions of the Conservative government on international cooperation, which aim precisely to disadvantage numerous such Canadian organizations, will have the immediate consequence of depriving the country of the expertise and effective presence of multiple cooperation organizations, which threatens our entire system of cooperation itself.

Already, and even within CIDA, we can hear voices saying that Canada is rendering itself blind, and deaf as well.

This article was in response to this post in La Presse:

To comment on Mr. Coiteux’s blog (and he seems to be losing the argument even there), visit this link:

This is a translation of Michel Lambert’s original article in the Journal des alternatives: