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Conservative leader Erin O'Toole rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Jan. 28, 2021.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is ruling out the cut in foreign aid his party campaigned on in the previous election, declaring a government under his leadership would maintain Canadian foreign-aid spending.

“Let me be clear – I will not be cutting [Official Development Assistance], but I want to see measured performance outcomes and really making sure that Canadians can see our impact having an impact,” the party leader said in a Q&A session after a Tuesday speech.

Mr. O’Toole said he was intent on maintaining and modernizing development funding, as well as making it more accountable. “There will not be cuts,” he told a virtual town hall presented by business groups including the Business Council of Canada, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Cooperation Canada.

It’s a reversal from the federal election in 2019, during which Mr. O’Toole’s predecessor, Andrew Scheer, promised a Conservative government led by him would cut Canadian foreign-aid spending, then $6-billion, by 25 per cent.

Mr. Scheer proposed using the resulting $1.5-billion in savings to fund the party’s promised domestic tax credits and a universal tax cut, and said the Tories wanted to focus foreign aid on impoverished countries such as Haiti, Afghanistan or those in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr. O’Toole’s comments come ahead of this week’s Conservative Party convention, which begins Thursday, during which he and the party are expected to lay out a vision that will take them into the next federal election.

He said Tuesday he was interested in measuring performance and finding suitable partnerships for foreign aid.

“I also think we have to use our role in the world – which is friend and ally to many, including the United States – to help push for governance reform at the United Nations and some of its agencies,” he added.

Mr. O’Toole said international development is an expression of Canadian compassion, but also key to the fight for democracy.

He warned against Canada backing off in any way on the file, saying any void left by Canada could be filled by parties less compassionate or committed to human dignity than Canada.

“We cannot leave the field wide open for bad actors who have none of the sincere compassion we do.”

He said it is important to recognize how some powers, such as China’s Communist Party, are “weaponizing aid to extend their spheres of influence.”

Mr. O’Toole said the current Liberal government has fallen short on international development, with a 10-per-cent cut to foreign-aid funding as a share of gross national income, from the levels of the previous Conservative government.

“It will come as no surprise to you if I say that on aid, Liberals over-promise and under-deliver.”

A spokesperson for International Development Minister Karina Gould disputed Mr. O’Toole’s comments.

“For Erin O’Toole to come out and criticize our aid level is pretty rich coming from a party that, during the 2019 election, promised to cut [foreign aid] by 25 per cent. We have no lessons to learn from the Conservative Party,” Louis Belanger said in an interview,

Mr. Belanger said the 2018 budget saw the highest increase in Overseas Development Assistance in a decade, and noted that Canada has renewed relationships with various international development agencies under the Liberal government.

During the most recent election, the Liberals said they would increase aid spending annually toward 2030, and the NDP said they would raise foreign aid to 0.7 per cent of gross national income.

In a statement, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the party is sticking to its 0.7-per-cent commitment.

“Canada must do our fair share to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, including alleviating poverty, ensuring decent work, protecting the rights of Indigenous communities and supporting global peace and justice,” Mr. Singh said.

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