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Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on March 28. Aid organizations wanted the government to increase international assistance and reach $10-billion by 2025. Instead, the budget proposes spending a previously allocated $6.8-billion over the next year.Sean Kilpatrick/CP

The federal government says it is committed to improving the lives of women, girls and vulnerable populations around the world – but did not announce any new funding to support such efforts in the budget, disappointing aid groups.

International development organizations had launched an aggressive campaign ahead of Tuesday’s federal budget, urging the government to invest in sustained funding and warning that its feminist international assistance policy would not live up to its ambition without an increase in foreign aid spending.

The organizations wanted the government to increase international assistance beyond last year’s $8.15-billion and commit to a predictable three-year boost to reach $10-billion by 2025. Instead, Tuesday’s budget proposes spending a previously allocated $6.8-billion over the next year.

The budget said Canada is “committed to improving the lives of women, girls and vulnerable populations around the world, and to increasing international development assistance every year toward 2030,” and that through its feminist international assistance policy, “Canada has delivered high levels of international assistance.” However, it only points to previous spending commitments, and does not include new budget commitments.

Kate Higgins, chief executive officer of Cooperation Canada, which represents international aid organizations, said the budget is disappointing and undermines Canada’s contribution to the world.

“We are disappointed that Canada has not kept its promise to increase international assistance year on year toward 2030.”

Ms. Higgins raised the reference in the budget to the government’s commitments to improving the lives of women and girls, and increasing assistance through its feminist assistance policy. She said those words are not matched with investments or budget commitments.

“There is a very clear disconnect in this budget between a commitment to increasing international development and delivering on the feminist international assistance policy and then actually delivering through investments,” she said, adding the cut represents about 15 per cent in spending commitments.

However, she added that the figures do not include expiring programs that have not yet been renewed, and so she is hopeful that there is an opening for additional announcements for international assistance over the next year.

The feminist international assistance policy, which was unveiled in 2017, has been lauded by international development organizations for putting women and girls at the front and centre of programs. But it’s also come under scrutiny lately as aid groups responsible for implementing the programs say they need more financial support to do their work.

Fred Witteveen, CEO of Children Believe, said the federal budget is “a big setback.”

“Instead of boosting commitments to international aid programs as promised, our government has chosen to make significant cuts to crucial development funding at a time when it is needed most,” he said.

And on Monday, Auditor-General Karen Hogan said the federal government has not done enough to track whether its billions of dollars in annual development aid toward improving gender equality abroad have actually helped women and girls.

The federal government in its budget Tuesday also proposed to spend $16-million over two years to support legislative changes it announced recently to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

The budget says the funding proposed for Public Safety, the RCMP, Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Security Establishment would support the delivery of a mechanism under proposed amendments to the Criminal Code to allow humanitarian assistance and to support refugee resettlement in areas controlled by terrorist entities.

The Liberal government proposed legislation recently to amend provisions in the Criminal Code that had prevented humanitarian organizations from working in Afghanistan and hindered the ability of veterans’ groups to evacuate Afghans who have been approved for resettlement in Canada.

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