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"The Fantino affect".

SAY YOU HAVE A PUBLIC IMAGE problem. People are saying unpleasant things about you and your organization. Some of those things might be true, but that's not the issue. For the public is famous for forgetting things, if you can just ride out the storm. You'll need bluster, intimidation, and impressive-sounding numbers, delivered with the confidence and force of God himself. This is not a chore to be left to amateurs.

Fortunately for the folks at the Canadian International Development Agency, the public relations gods have blessed them with the appointment of Julian Fantino as their new Grand Poobah. No high-priced orange juice and limo rides for this man. No sir, just a long history of holding firm in the face of public criticism.

Wherever he has been, heading police forces in London, Toronto, York Region, and ultimately the province of Ontario, the results have been the same. All has been golden, forces run without a hiccup or violation of public trust. It's the Midas touch that can put a shine on the present and gloss over the past. Illegal wire tapping, homophobia, corruption, excessive use of force and criminally negligent death were little more than media-inflamed conspiracies to bring down the reputation of the men and women under his charge. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you, after all.

And gosh darn do people seem to be after CIDA. Admittedly, it's always been a favourite kick toy of pundits, aid workers, and disgruntled former employees, if only because the institutionalized incompetence rampant in the department is hard to ignore. Couple that with the lightening rod that was former head Bev Oda (she of limousine rides, creative editing, expensive orange juice, and useless Kandahar photo ops) and you have far too much public attention focused on the goings on at CIDA.

The most recent attention has involved a multi-part investigative series by the Toronto Star's Paul Watson outlining the none-too-palatable realities of where things stand with Canada's "signature' Projects in Kandahar. While the stories Watson reports won't come as a shock to those who have been following the debacle for some time, they are deeply disturbing all the same.

The ever-promised success story that is the Dabla Dam repair project is still mired in the silt that was the problem in the first place. Yes, some canal networks have been cleared and control gates repaired, but with a reservoir so backed up with silt it can only hold 40 per cent of its designed capacity, it's of little consequence. Even after a better-than-average snow melt, the water can't be held in reserve and canals inevitably dry up.

Another "signature" project was the building of some 50 new schools. Trusting the Afghan government with Canadian tax dollars and the responsibility to build them with little to no oversight has resulted in what amounts to poorly framed mud huts crumbling to dust around children's ears, to say nothing of the lack of furniture, books, and properly trained teachers (unless three weeks' instruction counts as proper training). Interwoven amongst these reports are stories of corruption, disorganization, indifference from Ottawa, wasted millions and above all an opportunity lost.

Well, pity the poor tool who questions the work of a Fantino-run department. Not two weeks on the job as minister of international development, he wrote to those trouble-making cretins who run Toronto's big blue paper and began to apply "The Fantino Affect." Proud of a department he's barely had time to locate, Fantino quoted numbers that would stir the public's soul and absolve any and all, past and present, of their alleged sins. Eight million children in school! A bumper crop in Kandahar! Pomegranates and mint for everyone!

Of course, those school enrolment numbers had nothing to do with CIDA but rather the removal of the Taliban and have been stable since 2004, assuming you believe Afghan government statistics, that is. And any bumper crop in Kandahar has more to do with a big snow melt than the Dahla Dam. Nor did he address the fact that Watson was reporting oil signature projects trumpeted by the Harper Government[TM] rather than nation-wide projects being handled by NATO allies.

To do that would be to face the problem, be transparent, and maybe even learn from it. Why, it might go a long way to keep us from wasting the lives and efforts of our soldiers down the road. Of course, this assumes we have wasted lives, effort and money, a lie if ever there was one. Just ask Julian Fantino.

Michael Nickerson is a freelance writer and satirist based in Toronto. His website is
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY; Julian Fantino
Author:Nickerson, Michael
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Aug 1, 2012
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