Dear Minister Philpott,
It is with considerable dismay that I find myself once again obliged to write to you regarding troubling issues surrounding the HIV and HCV Community Action Fund (CAF), the flawed Letter of Intent (LOI) process and the subsequent offer of “transitional funding.”
Community-based organizations (CBOs) which were defunded by the LOI process last fall were initially encouraged by the offer of transitional funding. Several of these organizations expressed hope that this might be an indication of respectful engagement with the HIV movement towards addressing the fight against STBBIs in Canada and achieving the 90-90-90 goals that you endorsed in 2015.
However, recent developments have quickly soured the mood even among those CBOs across the country that were funded through the LOI process. Several are now being required by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to “re-visit” their work plans for previously accepted LOI projects — and this two weeks prior to the new funding cycle. Even more troubling, many of these CBOs are being asked to further cut the funds that were already included in their work plans (up to 20%) — greatly reducing the potential impacts of their projects and putting many Canadians at risk of contracting STBBIs in the future.
A related and equally important issue involves the timetable for payments. Prior to 2014, payments were typically issued in the first few days of April — at the very beginning of the new fiscal year. This enabled CBOs to plan their activities with some confidence. Since 2014 however, payments have been issued at unpredictable times and this year CBOs are being informed they will have to wait until the third week of April, or possibly later, to receive funds.
PHAC has offered to write a letter of intent in order for affected CBOs to apply for bridge financing loans. Perhaps PHAC is not aware, as we are, that banks will not usually proceed with loan requests from not-for-profit sector clients. As you can imagine, the current approach by PHAC is causing considerable uncertainty and stress among CBOs. We ask that a concerted effort be made to have these payments to transitional and CAF recipients be prioritized for delivery on the 1st of, or at the very least the first week of, April thus allowing CBOs to focus on their deliverables rather than being forced to focus on meeting payroll, rent or other pressing obligations.
These are not isolated occurrences and the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) is receiving an earful from member organizations. We agree with their expressed sentiments that this is no way to treat community organizations! Indeed, CBOs are increasingly dismayed by a behaviour that might have been more consistent with the ideology of some within the previous administration than a government whose expressed desires should be consistent with our agreed upon objectives.
CBOs across the country are becoming irritated, frustrated and increasingly distrustful of PHAC staff who, in some instances, have been perceived to be confrontational in their methods and arrogant and aggressive in their attitudes. Many CBOs have spoken of seeming indifference, lack of engagement, little to no meaningful communications and in some instances, no responses at all to written questions.
Minister, both CAS and CBOs across the country are facing mixed messages from your government. While we have recently been encouraged with the dialogue that we had over the two day “Stakeholder Meeting to Identify Concrete Actions to Address STBBIs in Canada,” the CAF process is placing many organizations across Canada in peril — some to the point of possibly closing their doors.
CAS has expressed publicly that the federal government has legitimate goals in attempting to streamline the delivery of services and prevention for STBBIs as a whole — including for HIV. CAS and its member organizations are able and willing to take on this challenge.
However, there is a rising impression in the HIV movement of a serious dilution of the Federal Initiative to address HIV/AIDS towards a broader scope to include STBBIs — and this was never the intent of the Federal Initiative. Siphoning funds designated for HIV and placing more Canadians at risk is not the way to achieve the goal of creating a concerted impact against STBBIs and integrating existing community organizations as a part of the social and health delivery model in Canada.
Minister, we fully agree with your government’s desire to better address all STBBIs and our member organizations across the country have the experience, knowledge and network built up over the past three decades to help you achieve this. However, many of these same CBOs are increasingly concerned and alarmed that your government is heading in the wrong direction to achieve this goal.
In addition to our request for the timely issuance of payments to transitional and CAF recipients, please take this letter as a plea to change current directions and begin a meaningful engagement with our sector to help us achieve our common goals.
c.c. The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada; The Honourable Rona Ambrose, PC, MP, Interim Leader of the Conservative Party; The Honourable Thomas Mulcair, PC, MP, Leader of the New Democratic Party; Colin Carrie, PC, MP, Conservative Health Critic; Dr. Siddika Mithani, President of the Public Health Agency of Canada; Dr. Theresa Tam, Interim Chief Public Health Officer and, all AIDS Service Organizations in Canada.