Letter to Minister Flaherty Re: New position and HI priorities- February 28, 2006

February 28, 2006

The Honourable James Flaherty
Minister of Finance
Department of Finance Canada
140 O’Connor Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0G5

Dear Minister Flaherty:

On behalf of the Halifax Initiative Coalition, I would like to congratulate you on your recent appointment as Minister of Finance. Over the past ten years, the Halifax Initiative has developed a good working relationship with the Department of Finance, and in the coming years we hope to strengthen this relationship.

The Halifax Initiative is a coalition of 23 Canadian development, environment, faith-based, labour and human rights groups. Together we work to make the policies of the international financial institutions (IFI), such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), more accountable to people and the environment, and more transparent to constituencies in the North and South who are impacted by their activities, including their respective Parliaments.

For the past 8 years, the Halifax Initiative, working with one of our members, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, has helped coordinate bi-annual meetings between civil society, the Minister of Finance, the President of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and high-ranking officials. Held just prior to the Spring and Fall meetings of the World Bank and the IMF, these exchanges provide a valuable forum for discussing issues related to these important institutions. Ten to fifteen Canadian NGOs, including Oxfam Canada, the North-South Institute and World Vision, among others, participate in these exchanges. We hope that you will continue to value hosting a forum for ongoing dialogue with Canadian organizations interested in Canada’s initiatives at the Bank and the Fund. We welcome any ideas you may have for further strengthening this process.

This year, the Halifax Initiative will be building on our work in previous years to improve Parliamentary interest in Canada’s role and initiatives at the Bretton Woods Institutions. We will be seeking support from parliamentarians for a parliamentary committee to hold hearings on key issues facing these institutions.

We hope to raise with Parliamentarians our perspective on the following issues:

1) Transparency and accountability - One out of every five dollars of Canada’s foreign aid is given to the Multilateral Development Banks, and half of this to the World Bank Group alone. Each year, Finance Canada puts out an annual report to Parliament on operations at the Bretton Woods Institutions, but this tends to say little about ourgovernment’s priorities at the Bank. The Halifax Initiative will be urging the government to improve this annual report, and to more often publicly disclose government positions on major Bank and Fund initiatives. In 2006, the Halifax Initiative will be working with parliamentarians and others to bring greater transparency for Canadian initiatives with respect to the International Financial Institutions, and greater accountability for those actions.

2) Debt - Last year, at the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, the Canadian government made a historic commitment to cancel the debt of 19 of the world’s poorest countries through the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. The IMF has already attempted to water down some of the outcomes of the debt deal, and issues around timing of debt relief through the World Bank are still of grave concern. In 2006, we are committed to ensuring that the Canadian government follows through on its pledges and to seek approaches that provide much more rapid access to 100% debt cancellation for countries not yet eligible for the G8 package.

3) Mining and Human Rights - Over 60 per cent of the world’s mining companies are registered in Canada. Canada prides itself on being a leader in this industry, but many communities around the world affected by the environmental and social impacts of Canadian mining projects sometimes have a different story to tell. In the last session of Parliament, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, issued an all-party set of recommendations for improving the accountability of the Canadian extractives sector. This included making public sector support through the International Financial Institutions and Export Development Canada conditional on not violating human rights. This could be done through a human rights screening process. The Halifax Initiative is participating this spring in a series of government-sponsored Roundtables to discuss the issues and make recommendations.

Congratulations again on your appointment as Minister of Finance. We look forward to continuing our exchange with you on these and other issues in the coming months.

Yours sincerely,

Fraser Reilly-King

Coordinator, Halifax Initiative Coalition

On behalf of member groups:

Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace;
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Social Affairs Office;
Canadian Council for International Cooperation;
Canadian Friends of Burma;
Canadian Labour Congress;
Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights;
CoDevelopment Canada;
Democracy Watch;
Falls Brook Centre;
Friends of the Earth Canada;
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives;
MiningWatch Canada;
The North-South Institute;
Oxfam Canada;
Rights & Democracy;
Social Justice Committee;
Steelworkers Humanity Fund;
Toronto Environmental Alliance;
World Interaction Mondiale.