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Dear Colleagues/Chers collègues

This note is to give you a sense of where we are as go through summer between our 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. Many thanks to Victoria Schorr and Gwen Temmel who have stepped down from the Steering Group after several years of service – in Gwen’s case as our invaluable Secretary.

Cette note va vous situer le GRA pendant que nous traversons l’été entre la saison 2016-17 et celle de 2017-18. Nos chaleureux remerciements à Victoria Schorr et Gwen Temmel, qui quittent le Groupe de direction après plusieurs années de service, dans le cas de Gwen dans le rôle critique de Secrétaire.

Note to ASG Members from the ASG Chair July 2017

After the panel discussion on May 29, organized jointly with the Africa-Canada Forum of the CCIC, the Africa Study Group held a very successful picnic despite the weather.  Many thanks again to François Arsenault and Yolande Desrochers for their hospitality. The final évent for 2016-17 was co-sponsoring a Politics@the Pub session on African youth employment with the CIC National Capital Branch on June 19th.

As we look forward to the 2017-18 « season » the Steering Group has been looking at issues that may be of interest to members. Two recent announcements from the Government will definitely be on our agenda. The first was the confirmation in the budget by Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau of the creation of a Development Finance Institute in Montreal – following up on a commitment by the previous government. However, details are still limited, other than that it will be based in Montreal and be a subsidiary of EDC (which may be a way of financing it from EDC’s retained earnings). This is something the ASG has encouraged in the past – former ASG Chair Paul Hitschfeld has been particularly interested in the issue.

The second announcement was the Minister’s unveiling of the new « feminist » International Assistance Policy, following on the consultations Global Affairs conducted in 2016. This policy has taken a long time – the delay may reflect a desire to coordinate with the major speeches this spring on foreign policy and defence. Although the « feminist » policy itself describes a range of priority areas beyond the gender-specific, it is not clear what it will mean in practice. Neither the announcement nor the federal Budget included new money for the International Assistance Envelope (IAE).  Since all the Liberal Government’s announcements (including extra spending on climate change, for the Global Fund, for refugees, and for reproductive health, among other areas) have come from the IAE bequeathed by the Harper Government , we understand that this has meant that money will not be available to extend many existing programs.  In the short-run all new spending will have to be very gender-specific in order to give substance to the use of the term feminist.

What this suggests is that, outside the specific area of reproductive health, there may not be much room for significant bilateral programming in partner countries.

The new development policy describes six priority areas for programming globally with a somewhat less narrow focus on health than was the case in the discussion paper issued for the consultation.  It is much less restrictive in terms of where spending might take place – the concept of priority countries or countries of focus is eliminated. Thus, despite the very limited availability of discretionary funding at least in the short term, there will also be much less in the way of discipline around spending choices.

What the new policy means for Africa is not clear. There is a commitment to spend at least 50% of bilateral programming in Africa but that does not really represent an increase. Indeed, if the policy is to be as poverty-focussed as it claims, there are not that many very poor countries outside Africa : 50% is probably too low. The Government is still focussed on gaining a Security Council seat, so one could expect that Africa, with 54 votes, will get more attention than it has had to date. We are told that Global Affairs Canada (GAC) will roll out regional strategies after further consultations – we have not yet heard how the consultations will be structured. We will look to see ways in which the ASG can participate in them.

Overall, given the centrality of the « feminist approach » in the new Policy, we are proposing to have, as a first main ASG event of the new « season », a panel discussion on feminist approaches (or gender-based approaches) to development assistance in Africa. One important question is whether Canada can facilitate meaningful, country-wide progress in Africa on these issues without higher level policy dialogue that would also probably require more resources than appear on offer. The target date for the panel is October 25 to start at our usual time of 5:30PM.

We are not planning a separate ASG talk for the end of September because there is an Africa-based event on the last Tuesday of September – a « Walrus Talk » (held by the magazine The Walrus) at the Ismaeli Imamat on Sussex. We are also discussing with the Centre for International Policy Studies (CIPS) the idea of co-sponsoring a panel in early October to mark the end of Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson’s ten years as President of Liberia.

The ASG Steering Group will continue to do its best to put together interesting programs for our members – at this point our goal will be to look for one a month with the last Wednesday of the month, except for December, when we will see if a mid-month program is possible, and perhaps February, if we can organize something just before or after the big mining conference (PDAC) in Toronto in early March. Members with suggestions should feel free to send in their ideas – the Africa Study Group is YOUR organization. Moreover, if you are interested in working on the Steering Group please get in touch.

Bruce Montador