Would you like to get engaged?

Mike with BCCIC members April Ingham (Pacific Peoples’ Partnership-left) and Renee Black (PeaceGeeks-right) on Parliament Hill

Reflections from Executive Director Michael Simpson

Like tidal waters, the relationship between government and civil society shifts with regularity; sometimes cold and at other times warming up… but inevitably oscillating. The current trend, with the exciting release of Canada’s International Assistance and Humanitarian Assistance Civil Society Partnership Policy is a welcome move toward a closer relationship between government and civil society. The policy was developed by Minister Paradis and its rocketing ascent from idea, through consultation, to a final release date has a lot to do with Canada chairing the Community of Democracies Working Group on Enabling and Protecting Civil Society. In words it is powerful, even exemplary from a global perspective, but the jury is out on how the policy can find traction in Canada since its recent release on February 5, 2015.

On exactly the same date the Canadian Council for International Cooperation released its own campaign ironically entitled “We Can Do Better”. BCCIC and member groups were in Ottawa that week and played an active role. The campaign essentially notes that three key international meetings are due to take place in 2015 and that Canada would do well to improve its international profile and participate in a more meaningful way in the global community on Women’s Rights at the celebration of the 20th anniversary of Beijing, the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals dialogue at the UN in September, as well as the critically important climate change summit happening in Paris this December. Implicit in the timing of all three events is the potential for government and civil society to be more engaged. The potential, with a genuinely motivated Minister and a spirited as well as unified civil society sector is clear and enticing. In the middle of all of this, we have a Canadian federal election currently expected to take place in October.

So, with rose coloured glasses on, what could happen? First, Canadian groups, particularly the small and medium sized ones that work closely in so many communities coast to coast to coast could be supported financially by DFATD in a fresh spirit of partnership. There has been an undeniable dearth of funding in recent years despite a long, proud history of civil society/government partnership in Canada on addressing global cooperation. To this effect, the councils have been engaging government over the past six months, not just to craft the wording of the document, but to suggest concrete ways in which the talk can be walked.

Another clear way forward is to keep the consultation process alive and dynamic through a continued monitoring of the policy. To his credit, Paradis has done exactly that and announced a civil society advisory board as well as an annual meeting to monitor the progress of the policy. These are two excellent initiatives and both are opportunities for BCCIC and other civil society actors.

Ideally, both the policy and the current civil society concern with the international 2015 agenda would cohere even more in this pivotal year. Why not, in the spirit of the policy, engage and consult Canadians about what is clearly on our minds and the minds of the global community? The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will replace the Millennium Development Goals (expiring in 2015) and the climate change negotiations will hopefully set the post 2020 agenda. National civil society priorities such as theUp For Debate campaign clearly show that Canadians are concerned about women’s rights and roles in development this year. All three of these are outstanding opportunities to give the policy some legs to stand on.

Since we have not taken our rosy glasses off why not take this same opportunity to dream about engaging with Canadian youth? There was a time when Canadian youth were invited by government to international meetings at the United Nations such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development and they played an engaging role in the Earth Summit on the 20th anniversary of Rio. They not only had an important voice to contribute they were given a prominent profile. UNICEF has recently done exactly that and invited young people to the G-7 meetings to meet with Angela Merkel and others from all seven countries. Here at BCCIC we are busy trying to develop a youth team to support this idea as are other councils. It is a wonderful concept and illustrates what meaningful engagement could look like. Indeed there are other examples of civil society with official seats on the international delegations to important UN meetings. This is a clear and genuine attempt to find cooperative ground and underlines the importance of democratic institutions and civil society engagement in an international forum where people take note, notice who is sending who, and why. Canada could be a leader and facilitate civil society participation in September and December on the heels of the upcoming Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies meeting scheduled to take place July 22-24th in San Salvador, El Salvador.

That would be an impressive achievement; Canada chairs the working group on civil society, establishes a fantastic domestic policy, creates an enabling environment in Canada for civil society groups working on global cooperation (by putting serious money on the table for small and medium sized organizations) and then opens up a consultation and dialogue on how to move forward within the rubric of an international agenda on the post 2015 SDGs, climate change and women’s rights. Then it tops it all off by officially inviting civil society onto the official delegations and specifically targeting youth. Add to this Canada’s recent leadership on funding Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) to the tune of 3.5 billion dollars and things could be genuinely cheering up at DFATD. Not bad for a Minister fresh to the portfolio.

Does the BC Council for International Cooperation want to engage in this sort of agenda? I believe we do, but the key, in enjoying the current warm tide and prolonging it, is to ensure the progress of dialogue and policy is followed up with concrete tangible actions.

Michael Simpson, Executive Director, BCCIC

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