Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says his party’s plan to cut foreign assistance by a quarter wouldn’t affect current Canadian support for abortion abroad, marking a departure from the Harper government’s decision not to fund international abortion services.
If elected, a Conservative government would not cut foreign-aid programs for abortion services that Ottawa is currently funding, Mr. Scheer said in Toronto on Tuesday. The aid is part of Canada’s support for sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide.
“We are not reopening this debate at any level. What this is about is which types of countries will receive financial assistance, and so groups that are receiving funding will continue to receive funding going into the future,” Mr. Scheer said when asked about international abortion funding. “This decision does not affect groups or programs going forward.”
The previous Conservative government, under former prime minister Stephen Harper, would not fund abortion services abroad.
In a sharp departure from that strategy, the Trudeau government included the funding of abortion services as part of hundreds of millions in foreign-aid dollars for sexual and reproductive health and rights. At a campaign event in Richmond Hill, Ont., Tuesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the Conservative plan to cut foreign aid would mean even less money is available for the Tories’ proposal to take the climate-change fight global and help other countries reduce emissions.
Mr. Trudeau also defended foreign-aid spending as a “meaningful way of promoting prosperity and indeed security and stability” but he avoided committing to raising Canada’s foreign aid to the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI).
Recent statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development show that Canada’s official development aid amounted to 0.28 per cent of GNI in 2018.
The Conservatives are promising to cut 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 spending cuts.
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Brad Trost, a Conservative MP who sought the party leadership that Mr. Scheer won in 2017, said the Leader’s decision to continue to fund abortion services abroad really surprised him. “Stephen Harper had eliminated funding for overseas abortion,” he said. “In our leadership campaign, multiple candidates came out in favour of cutting abortion funding for overseas.”
It is “good politics” to cut abortion abroad, said Mr. Trost, who lost his bid to run for his Saskatoon seat this fall.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the Conservative foreign-aid proposal is a “reckless idea” that will mean life will get harder for millions of vulnerable people around the world.
“It also means Canada will be even further away from the UN goal of spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on foreign aid,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Scheer’s plan was also met with concern from international aid experts, who happened to be meeting in Ottawa on Tuesday to discuss Canada’s global leadership on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, said the cuts will deeply affect those who rely on Canada’s generosity, especially women and girls, around the world.
“Any further reduction to the aid budget would be tantamount to balancing the budget on the backs of the world’s poor,” Mr. Prasad said.
The Conservatives say they would also shift $700-million in funding from middle– and high-income countries to the world’s poorest countries that “need it most,” such as those in sub-Saharan Africa.
In a platform policy document, the party took specific issue with Canadian foreign-aid funding to Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, China, Iran, Italy, Mexico and Turkey.
When asked Tuesday, the Conservatives did not specify which countries on this list they consider to be “high income.”
According to Canada’s most recent international-assistance report, funding to those countries only counted for $19.7-million of the total $4.5-billion bilateral assistance during the 2017-18 fiscal year.
Julia Anderson, chief operating officer of Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health, was careful not to speculate about the promised cuts because the details have not been released.
But she called Mr. Scheer’s comments on maintaining funding for abortion services a “positive statement.”
She said the Conservative assertion that hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid goes to middle– and high-income countries needs to be “unpacked,” noting that the majority of Canada’s official development assistance actually goes to the “most poor and marginalized communities in the world.”
“We need to get really specific with these claims and understand where’s the data, where’s the evidence to underwrite the claims,” Ms. Anderson said. “My understanding is we cannot have and do not have loads of money going to high– and middle-income countries.”
The cuts to foreign aid are one aspect of Mr. Scheer’s four-point foreign-policy plan, unveiled Tuesday, which also includes strengthening Canada’s commitment to traditional alliances, such as NATO, advocating for human rights on the world stage and “depoliticizing” military procurement.
The Conservatives say they would also amend the Investment Canada Act to ensure that foreign state-owned takeovers of any Canadian company would automatically trigger a national-security review. The proposal comes after the Canadian government heeded warnings from national-security agencies last year and rejected a $1.5-billion bid by a Chinese state-owned construction company to take over Toronto-based construction giant Aecon Group.
Mr. Scheer also emphasized previously announced plans to enter into talks with the United States to join the ballistic missile defence program and move the Canadian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Many of the promises echoed the foreign-policy priorities of the Harper government.
Meanwhile, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was in Toronto on Tuesday to discuss plans that included a $10-billion commitment for postsecondary education.