Rights and Democracy: the Board replies. "It’s not about the Middle East"

The seven members of the Rights and Democracy board who support Chairman Aurel Braun are back in the pages of the National Post today, with a concerted effort to explain their side of the current dispute. This is the first time they have submitted such a piece of writing since Jan. 20, and anything from this majority faction of the board deserves the attention of readers who have been following this story closely. In part, the Braun faction’s op-ed stands as a sort of answer to the questions I put to Braun and Jacques Gauthier earlier this month. Since Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon’s actions yesterday amount to a wholehearted endorsement by the Government of Canada of everything Braun and the board have done in recent months, that’s all the more reason to consider carefully the board majority’s arguments.

So once again, here is a link to the full op-ed, which I encourage you to read. Here are a few key paragraphs:

First some facts, which seem to have eluded critics of the Rights & Democracy board. Every Canadian member of the board was appointed by the current government, including those who are vociferously supporting the late former president, Rémy M. Beauregard, and who are openly hostile to the rest of the board. The government appointed Mr. Beauregard as well. Most members of the board have no prior political affiliation; a recently appointed board member is a well-known Liberal. Clearly, the board wasn’t “stacked.” The only discernible pattern is that board members were appointed to bring governance to Rights & Democracy. There is no imposition of a right-wing agenda, no interference in autonomy.

Accountability and transparency are the true issues. A December 2007 report by the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Office of the Inspector‑General discovered “persistent … accountability … problems” with Rights & Democracy, which regrettably remain. Whether it was the finance and audit committee requesting timely and adequate information; members seeking proper clarification of the operations of the Geneva office; explanations about a $100,000 expenditure which raised questions; or information about how $300,000 a year in discretionary funds was spent, we on the board have been stymied.

…The former president’s death was a gateway to surreality. Conflict entrepreneurs in the Canadian and Middle East political trenches could not resist interfering. Instead of determining how to resolve a real battle between those supportive of accountability and those who opposed it, Canadians have ended up debating the imaginary impact of the government’s Middle East agenda on Rights & Democracy.

Those of us responsible for the governance of the organization do not have the luxury of fighting national or Middle Eastern fantasy battles. Ensuring accountability and transparency is far less exciting than debating Canadian and Middle East politics. Yet, that is our task….

I’ll respond to these arguments tomorrow.