The Conservatives would cut Canadian foreign-assistance spending by a quarter if elected and shift funding from middle and high-income countries to the world’s poorest countries.
A platform policy document provided by the Conservatives to The Globe and Mail recommends reducing Canada’s annual foreign-aid budget of about $6-billion by 25 per cent, or $1.5-billion, in an effort to fund the party’s promised domestic tax credits and a universal tax cut.
The document also suggests redirecting $700-million to countries it says “need it most,” listing sub-Saharan African countries, Afghanistan and Haiti as examples.
The proposals are to be included in the party’s platform and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is expected to raise the measures on Tuesday as a part of an announcement on foreign affairs.
The policy document, which was prepared for Mr. Scheer in August, proposes the Conservatives find the $1.5-billion reduction by cutting foreign aid to middle-income countries.
The policy document says the money recouped from the foreign-aid cuts would help the party fund some of the Tory pledges, including a universal tax cut and a plan to take GST off home heating.
Mr. Scheer has also previously announced a Conservative government would cut $1.5-billion in funding to large corporations.
The policy document says that billions of Canadian tax dollars are distributed around the world “with little to no accountability or oversight, while Canadians are not getting ahead at home.”
“Under [Liberal Leader] Justin Trudeau, a significant portion of Canada’s foreign aid is going to countries that that are not in the greatest need of Canada’s generosity,” the document continued, “Much of this foreign aid money can be better spent by redirecting it to those that need it most.”
Stephen Brown, a professor at the University of Ottawa who studies foreign aid, said Canada is already “stingy” with its foreign aid so further cuts would only solidify the notion that the government doesn’t do its share.
“It’s presented as a trade-off that cutting aid abroad will be good for Canada or for Canadians who need the money more. But that’s actually a very populist way of presenting it. We have the resources to help people at home and we have an obligation to help people abroad as well,” Prof. Brown said.
A spokesperson for the Liberal campaign said Canadians shouldn’t be surprised by the Conservative plan to cut foreign-aid spending.
“Once again, Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives show that if elected, they will put forward the same shortsighted policies as Stephen Harper that lead to diminishing Canada’s voice around the world,” said Pierre-Olivier Herbert in a statement.
Melanie Richer, a spokesperson from the NDP, said: “This is not surprising from Andrew Scheer or the Conservatives, but it is incredibly short sighted. This will hurt the worlds’ most vulnerable people, and contribute to global instability.”
Nicolas Moyer, president of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, said the Tory proposal will cause concern among Canadian aid groups.
“They will really be signalling to our sector that it will be a challenge to work with Conservatives. I think that there’s probably going to be a real surprise, dismay, a lot of confusion,” Mr. Moyer said.
The party document says that in 2018 “hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars went to high and middle-income countries around the world,” including Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, China, Iran, Mexico and Turkey.
“We should also note that the current government’s foreign aid policy has resulted in bilateral aid to countries that are openly hostile to Canada’s national and strategic interests,” the document continues, “This list includes, but is not limited to, Iran, North Korea and Russia.”
The Liberal platform says, if re-elected, the party would “increase Canada’s international development assistance every year towards 2030,” but does not say how much the annual increases would amount to.
Over the summer, the Liberal government announced Canada would increase its annual international funding for women and girls’ health and rights from $1.1-billion this year to $1.4-billion in 2023, maintaining that yearly amount until 2030. The money is meant to help address a global funding gap left by U.S. President Donald Trump administration’s rescinding of international abortion spending.
The Liberal platform does not include any plans to boost Canada’s official development-aid spending as a percentage of gross national income. Recent statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development show Canada’s official development aid amounted to 0.28 per cent of gross national income in 2018, well below the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. Canadian NGOs have long called on the Canadian government to set out a plan to reach the UN target.
The Liberal platform also offered some new details on the party’s foreign-aid plans if re-elected Oct. 21, including a pledge to spend no less than 10 per cent of foreign aid on education.
The Trudeau government prioritized the matter when Canada played host to the Group of Seven leaders’ summit in Quebec City last year, leading a multicountry $3.8-billion investment in girls’ education.