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Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau launches Canada's feminist international assistance policy during an event in Ottawa in June, 2017.The Canadian Press

The federal government has not done enough to track whether a policy intended to direct the country’s billions of dollars in annual development aid toward improving gender equality abroad has actually helped women and girls, a report from Auditor-General Karen Hogan says.

Ms. Hogan’s report, tabled Monday, says Global Affairs Canada could not demonstrate how the roughly $3.5-billion in bilateral development aid it provides each year to low- and middle-income countries had delivered on its commitments under the federal Feminist International Assistance Policy.

The Auditor-General took aim at GAC’s information practices, which she said it had not set up to monitor long-term results.

“These weaknesses make it impossible for Global Affairs Canada to accurately track and report on the outcomes of funded projects against the goals set out in Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy,” she said at a news conference in Ottawa.

The federal government unveiled the policy in 2017. Since then, Canada has been commended by international development organizations for putting women and girls at the forefront of its programs.

Ms. Hogan’s office examined whether GAC’s implementation of the policy had resulted in funding for projects that supported gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The audit also sought evidence that the projects were generating the expected outcomes.

Ms. Hogan told reporters the weaknesses highlighted in her report had already been flagged in an internal department audit in 2021.

Her report says that although GAC took steps to monitor the policy’s progress, 24 of the 26 indicators the department tracked did not measure outcomes.

The report says the Auditor-General’s office assessed 60 projects to determine whether GAC had demonstrated that it had tracked policy indicators associated with them. The audit found that the department had used only 35 of those projects to report on policy goals.

Ms. Hogan said her office looked at a project that used government funding in an attempt to make schools more welcoming for girls by building washrooms and handwashing stations. She said that while the government could say how many washrooms had been built, it couldn’t say whether or not girls’ school attendance had increased.

Auditor-General Karen Hogan said on March 27 that Ottawa’s slow rollout of high-speed internet to rural areas is putting First Nations at an economic disadvantage, while billions of dollars earmarked to fix the issue remains untouched. Rural Economic Development Minister Gudie Hutchings says the Liberals are still rolling out their plan, but Conservative critic Dan Mazier argues Ottawa is failing rural Canada.

The Canadian Press

“It is imperative that Global Affairs Canada immediately act to improve its information management practices and reporting on results to show parliamentarians and Canadians the value of Canada’s bilateral international assistance to support women and girls in low- and middle-income countries,” she said.

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan told reporters he accepts the findings of the report, and that improvements to project management and reporting are already under way.

He also said he has seen the results of the Feminist International Assistance Policy firsthand. He recalled a trip to Bangladesh, where he said he visited a slum and learned about how Canadian funding is supporting menstrual health education.

When asked by a reporter if he feels personally responsible for his department not knowing if the feminist policy is working, Mr. Sajjan reiterated that he has visited many projects and spoken with organizations delivering programs.

“What we need to do is be able to aggregate and get that information. … That’s what the Auditor-General has noted,” he said.

The report also said that GAC did not meet two of its three spending commitments under the policy. It fell short on funding projects that directly support the empowerment of women and girls, and on funding projects located in sub-Saharan Africa.

The audit also found that departmental spending from the 2020-21 and 2021-22 fiscal years was affected by the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“During this time, the department reallocated money to respond to needs emerging from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine; these reallocations had an impact on the department’s ability to meet spending targets,” the report says.

Mr. Sajjan said Ottawa had not reallocated money away from international aid.

“We looked at the denominator changes, because we had to put more funding into Ukraine, and also because of COVID. However, our funding into Africa also actually increased,” he said.

Garnett Genuis, the Conservative critic for international development, called the Auditor-General’s findings “very disturbing.”

“We hear the government talk all the time about gender when they talk about international development. But the Auditor-General’s report reveals today they haven’t even been bothered to measure the results of their work,” he told reporters on Parliament Hill.