National Defence watchers will no doubt be aware of today’s story in the Globe and Mail regarding the Conference of Defence Associations’ funding agreement with the Department of National Defence.
For your background information, I am attaching a copy of that contract, which was tabled in the House this week. Download it here: p-39-cda-2008-05-131
As I stated in the Globe and Mail article, I urge the Conference of Defence Associations to adhere to its professed goal of being a “non-partisan, independent” organization, cancel the contract and return the DND funding to the government.
From today’s Globe and Mail
Think tank’s funding tied to getting good press
STEVEN CHASE May 16, 2008
OTTAWA — The Department of National Defence sets quotas for how many times a year a military think tank it subsidizes must appear in the news media, a contract made public at the request of the NDP shows.
Critics say the five-year, $500,000 deal with the Conference of Defence Associations crosses the line from promoting debate to paying for supportive commentary – especially troubling when the Harper government is trying to sustain public backing for the Afghan mission.
They say it also raises questions about the millions spent by National Defence each year on grants to other think tanks and universities and called on the department to disclose the terms of those deals as well.
A contract the Conservatives tabled in Parliament this week says the department considers the CDA’s key goals to include the need “to consider the problems of National Defence” and “to support government efforts in placing these problems before the public.”
The March, 2007, contract says the grant is part of a program to ensure an “independent voice for discussion and debate on security and defence issues outside of the academic sphere.” It sets out 13 “expected results” for the CDA, including the requirements to:
“Attain a minimum of 29 media references to the CDA by national or regional journalists and reporters;”
“Attain the publication of a minimum of 15 opinion pieces (including op-eds and letters to the editor in national or regional publications).”
NDP defence critic Dawn Black said the contract’s terms make her uncomfortable because she believes it helps the Harper government build public support for Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan.
“This is part of that effort to try and sell the war. These are people who support the government position on the war in Afghanistan, and all of the requirements of this contract indicate they need to be in the news and the op-eds and on television across the country.”
Alain Pellerin, executive director of the CDA, says his organization has received money from National Defence for decades and the media quotas have been part of the agreement with the military since 2002, when a consulting firm told the department it should draw up more performance-based grant contracts.
He rejected the notion that the CDA is a mouthpiece for Ottawa. He said it has previously disagreed with the party in office, including during the 1990s when former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien’s government slashed military spending, as well as when former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin decided against joining the U.S. missile shield plan.
Mr. Pellerin said the CDA has backed the current Afghan mission since the Liberals announced it in 2005 because it believes it’s the right course.
He said that media commentary quotas are not something the CDA wanted as a term of its contract, and conceded that the NDP may be right in saying they don’t make sense.
“That might be a valid point. … It’s not something we went out and sought,” he said.
Stephen Staples, head of the left-leaning Rideau Institute, a critic of Canada’s role in Afghanistan, said the CDA has to return the cash to National Defence to maintain credibility.
Mr. Pellerin said those attacking the CDA’s contract are critics of the Afghan war who lost the public debate over whether to extend Canada’s mission there. The operation was extended to 2011 in March National Defence declined to answer questions on the contract. A spokeswoman said a five-hour window given to respond was insufficient, adding the department would need until today or next week.