by André Magnan
Saskatchewan has long prided itself on being an outward looking, globally connected province. This is of course reflected in our provincial motto, “From many peoples, strength”, and our history as an exporting powerhouse. Today, more than ever, Saskatchewan strives to make new global connections through trade and by welcoming newcomers from around the world. It’s puzzling, therefore, that the provincial government has ended its successful partnership with Saskatchewan’s humanitarian and international development sector by cutting the Matching Grants in Aid Program in its most recent budget.
The Program was founded in 1974 with unanimous approval in the provincial legislature. For 42 years, it was administered by the Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation (SCIC), a coalition of organizations committed to ending global poverty and injustice. The Program leveraged the generosity of Saskatchewan people to help improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Every dollar spent by the provincial government was matched by individual donations to international development NGOs in Saskatchewan, creating a powerful multiplier effect. The program funded development projects ranging from maternal health and food security, to co-operative business development, teacher training, children’s rights, and more, in countries around the world. More than charity, these projects produced lasting change based on principles of effective and sustainable development.
Jeremy Harrison, the government Minister in charge of this portfolio, has argued that, faced with difficult budget decisions, government money should be spent closer to home. Yet, the idea that we can either take care of our own or help our neighbours is a false choice. Governments of all stripes maintained the Matching Grants Program for over four decades, in good times and bad. Even more impressive, Saskatchewan residents have donated nearly $18 million to international development organizations in the last three years alone, despite the economic downturn. All things considered, the $410 000 per year needed to fund the program is a drop in the bucket for the provincial budget.
As global challenges become increasingly complex, governments at all levels have a responsibility to build partnerships and work for sustainable solutions. This burden should not be left squarely on the backs of individual donors. The Matching Grants in Aid program generated tremendous international goodwill for our province and was supported by Saskatchewan people. With this cut, Saskatchewan seems less globally connected and compassionate than it did before, which is unfortunate for us all.
André Magnan is the President of SCIC and an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Regina.
Portions of this Op-Ed have been submitted to the Leader Post.