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Lobbying czar calls for federal investment after 10 years of stagnant funding

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  • OTTAWA — Canada’s lobbying czar says she needs more funding to meet the growing demands of her office and to properly modernize the country’s lobbyist registry.

    The federal lobbying commissioner’s office has not received an increase to its annual budget of $4.5 million since it was first created 10 years ago.

    Commissioner Nancy Belanger said she believes more must be done to increase education and outreach efforts to ensure all lobbyists and public office holders understand lobbying rules and to maintain a high level of transparency for the public — but she needs more money to do it.

    “We will not be able to sustain the level of demands on our staff right now and (on) the registry,” Belanger said in an interview.

    “If we want to be able to modernize, there is no way we will be able to do it with the current budget. That’s clear. So one day we won’t be able to put another Band-Aid on it and it will crash.”

    Half of the office’s budget currently pays for salaries, which leaves little for program development, Belanger said, and even less for updating the technical aspects of the registry itself.

    As a result, the registry has been forced to forgo more modern features, such as allowing lobbyists to upload information on mobile devices.

    “We need to modernize our system, but I have such a small budget it’s very difficult to prioritize and get to it when it’s so I.T.-based and so expensive.”

    Belanger, who was appointed as Canada’s lobbying watchdog last December, tabled her office’s annual report last week.

    In 2017-18, some 9,084 lobbyists were registered over the course of the year — the largest total in seven years, and a number that’s only expected to grow. That’s why Belanger said she needs to be able to expand her office’s capacity.

    “The monthly communications reports have been going up, everything is increasing,” she said. 

    “That enhances the demand on our staff on all fronts, so at some point, with a team of 26 people, there’s only so much we can do.”

    Her office asked Treasury Board for a one-time increase of $3 million over three years over three years to pay for modernizations like a new website and updates to the registry, as well as $700,000 more a year in base funding. No such help materialized in the federal budget.

    Belanger said her office is “maintaining” things for now, but hopes government will consider an increase soon.

    Treasury Board did not respond to media inquiries Tuesday.

    As for the work of her office, Belanger said she believes there’s a lack of knowledge and understanding about what lobbyists do and why her work is important.

    For many, lobbying remains a dirty word awash in corruption and secrecy — something that’s simply not true in Canada, where stringent rules govern organizations and companies that wish to influence the decision-making powers of government, she argued.

    “(Lobbyists) appear to have a negative reputation, when in fact the work that they do is good for democracy,” Belanger said.

    “It’s good for our public office holders to have the information in order to make decisions that are in the public interest.”

     

    – Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter.

     

    Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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    Canada should do more to help women refugees worldwide: Oxfam Canada

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  • OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau’s self-proclaimed feminist government could and should be doing more to address gender-specific challenges faced by female refugees affected by wars and displacement.

    That’s according to a new report from Oxfam Canada, which takes a close look at how Canada provides international humanitarian aid and the gaps that exist when it comes to outcomes for women and girls in refugee situations.

    Canada has made great strides when it comes to making gender equality and feminism a key priority of its domestic and foreign policy agenda, but more can be done to help women being disproportionately affected by global crisis, the report says.

    “Currently, Canada’s international assistance funding is out of step with its ambition to be a world leader on gender equality and feminist aid and foreign policy,” the report states.

    “The fact that Canada’s international assistance spending is at a near historical low, merely reaching 0.26 per cent of gross national income, as compared to the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent, undermines its credibility and leadership on the international stage.”

    The study zeros in on areas where women in conflict zones are not getting the help they need or where efforts to improve gender equality in these areas are not being fully realized.

    Some of the findings are unsettling, including a statistic showing 25 to 50 per cent of maternal deaths in refugee camps are caused by unsafe abortions and related complications.

    This is due, in part, to a lack of adequate access to sexual and reproductive health services, which are often seen as a “second-tier” priority when people are forced to flee their homes due to conflict.

    “Our argument is that services are totally life-saving when you consider, for example, that last year 500 women and girls died during emergencies every single day from pregnancy and childbirth complications simply because sexual and reproductive health and rights weren’t a priority,” said Brittany Lambert, a women’s rights policy and advocacy specialist with Oxfam Canada.

    “These things should be prioritized from the very inception of these humanitarian responses and could save many lives.”

    Oxfam Canada also published findings last month following a series of interviews, focus groups and surveys of hundreds of women and men from the host and refugee communities in Bangladesh, suggesting Rohingya women and girls who survived genocide in Myanmar are facing new risks in refugee camps, notably when it comes to access to water and sanitation facilities.

    Some women are choosing to go hungry and thirsty and are restricting their children’s diets in order to limit their trips to these facilities to reduce risks of physical and sexual abuse and harassment, according to this research. 

    The organization is calling on Canada to develop a 10-year plan to achieve the United Nations aid target of 0.7 per cent of national income.

    It also wants Canada to establish a dedicated pool of 15 per cent of all its humanitarian aid to be specifically earmarked to address the needs of women and girls.

    “Right now the way Canada’s funding system works is that humanitarian assistance is aligned with the global humanitarian system priorities, which are things like shelter, water, food — but gender is not one of those categories,” Lambert said.

    “Women’s needs can be inserted into these categories but there are really limited funding opportunities to actually undertake programming that address gender inequality as a main goal so that’s why we’re calling for a stand alone pool of funding where Canada could actually fund this kind of feminist programming.”

    In addition, Oxfam Canada says the Trudeau government should take firmer action to ensure weapons do not end up in the hands of those who commit gender-based violence.

    Several international aid agencies, including Amnesty International, have said loopholes exist in Canada’s arms export policy that would allow arms sales to the United States — weapons which could end up being transferred to countries that abuse human rights.

    The government has announced several measures aimed at championing women’s issues both at home and abroad, including launching a feminist international assistance policy and a national action plan on women and government. Canada also disbursed more than $68 million in humanitarian assistance to support sexual and reproductive health needs in 2017-18.

    In addition, Canada has committed to increase its foreign aid effort by $2 billion over five years, which will bring total assistance to nearly $6 billion by 2021, says Global Affairs Canada.

    “We agree with the report that we need to ensure that the voices of civil society partners and affected communities, particularly women and girls, are included throughout the humanitarian response,” said the statement from Global Affairs Canada.

    “That is why Canada expects its partners to directly consult affected communities, and ensure that women and girls, in particular, are involved in the design of initiatives and decision-making processes that affect their lives.”

     

    —Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter.

     

    Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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    MP pays tribute to baby daughter on pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day

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  • OTTAWA — Conservative MP Tom Kmiec choked back tears as he recalled his infant daughter in a heartfelt speech in the House of Commons to mark national pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.

    Kmiec’s daughter Lucy-Rose died in August when she was only 39 days old.

    MPs from all parties struggled to maintain their own composure as an emotional Kmiec used a member’s statement as an opportunity to thank the medical staff who cared for Lucy-Rose, the neighbours who brought his family food and support, and the parliamentarians who sent their condolences.

    Lucy-Rose died of Trisomy 13, a genetic condition that leaves babies with severe intellectual and physical disabilities. Also called Patau syndrome, only five to 10 per cent of babies diagnosed with it will live past their first year.

    “On this day, let us grieve with the parents who have lost a child, as well as the siblings who lost a lifelong best friend,” Kmiec said.

    Speaker Geoff Regan said he hoped Kmiec could see that love and support from the parliamentary family was around him.

    About one in five pregnancies in Canada ends in miscarriage.

    Congenital malformations and chromosomal abnormalities are the leading cause of death for babies under the age of one year. In 2016, 404 infants died of a congenital abnormality, according to Statistics Canada.

    In all, more than 1,700 babies died before their first birthday in 2016, 75 per cent of them before they were one month old.

    On Tuesday, the House of Commons human resources committee is starting to study the impact on parents of the death of an infant, including possible updates to parental leave programs and benefits.

    The study comes after a motion from Conservative MP Blake Richards, who identified shortcomings in the parental leave program when it comes to being compassionate to parents who are grieving.

    Kmiec urged MPs to hug their kids the next time they go home.

    “If they are old and have their own (kids), hug them anyway, even if they protest,” he said. “Life is too short and none of us knows when our time will come.”

    The Canadian Press


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