Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer announced Tuesday that his party would cut foreign aid spending by 25% should he be elected in the upcoming Canadian election. The announcement sparked concern on the campaign trail and raised questions about where each party's platform lands on the topic of Official Development Assistance (ODA) — also known as foreign aid.
The United Nations’ has set a target for developed countries like Canada to spend 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) on foreign aid every year. But Canada has never reached this target, despite the standard having been initially proposed by a commission led by former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in 1969.
Today, Canada’s foreign aid spending sits at about 0.28% of its GNI.
Here’s what Global Citizens need to know about the Liberal, Conservative, New Democratic, and Green parties’ promises on foreign aid ahead of the election on Oct. 21.
The Conservative Party — Andrew Scheer
A new Conservative government will help you keep more of your hard-earned money. We won’t send billions of your tax dollars in foreign aid to developed countries and foreign dictators. It's time for you to get ahead! pic.twitter.com/DLZkmZsZYC— Andrew Scheer (@AndrewScheer) October 1, 2019
The Consevative leader detailed his plans to reduce Canada’s annual foreign aid budget at a press conference on Tuesday.
Scheer said the funds cut (about $1.5 billion) would, instead, be used to pay for proposed policies focused on Canada, such as domestic tax credits and a universal tax cut. A policy document detailing the foreign aid cut proposal also states that a Conservative government would redirect $700 million in aid to countries that have the highest needs.
“Our plan will take Canadian tax dollars away from corrupt dictators and wealthy countries and return it to Canadians so they can get ahead,” Scheer said in a statement.
The party's statement asserts that Trudeau’s government has provided $2.2 billion of Canada’s foreign aid to high- and middle-income countries. The party defines these countries as having a Human Development Index (HDI) over 0.6; however, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which has set international standards regarding aid eligibility, does not use the HDI for that purpose. The OECD does not allow high-income countries to be recipients of foreign aid.
Scheer’s government would still work with Canadian aid organizations and would continue to look at aid proposals that support non-development targets like minority rights and peaceful coexistence, according to a press release. The party also stated it would prioritize the health, education, and safety of children, with special attention on the protection of those living in conflict zones.
Canada has yet to meet the 0.7% target set out by the UN, but under its last Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, it allotted more than 0.3% of Canada’s GNI to foreign aid, implementing notable policies like the Muskoka Initiative, which addressed maternal, newborn, and child health.
The Liberal Party — Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s current platform promises to continue to increase Canada’s foreign aid spending every year in the lead up to 2030, as it is dedicated to achieving the SDGs.
“Over the last four years, we’ve made a tremendous number of investments overseas, through foreign aid, particularly providing aid to women-led organizations or organizations that help the most vulnerable women,” Trudeau said at a press conference in response to a question about not having reached the UN’s minimum target of 0.7%, on Tuesday.
“We know that there’s always more to be done, but we are a country that understands helping people overseas is a way of helping Canadians to be part of a more secure and peaceful world,” he said.
However, Trudeau has not committed to reaching the 0.7% target as part of his current campaign promises.
Another callout in the Liberal platform includes a commitment to spending no less than 10% of Canada’s international development assistance budget on education, as well as implementing an international plan that would guarantee that all children living in refugee or displacement camps can gain access to quality education.
Canada adopted its feminist international assistance policy under Trudeau’s leadership in June 2017. It focuses on gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls, human dignity, environment and climate action, inclusive governance, peace and security, and women’s leadership around the world.
After launching in 2017, the policy was reinforced with a $2 billion investment in the 2018 federal budget.
The New Democratric Party — Jagmeet Singh
When Andrew Scheer talks about cutting foreign aid to save money, it's a distraction – and it's weakness.— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) October 1, 2019
Right now, 87 of the richest families in Canada have fortunes worth more than 12 million Canadians.
The NDP’s platform highlights the need for an increase to Canada’s foreign aid budget, with the end goal of committing 0.7% of the country’s GNI, as suggested by the UN.
When asked about it at a press conference on Tuesday, Singh reiterated his commitment to reaching 0.7% and added that he believes Scheer is distracting people with his announcement to make cuts.
“Cancelling 25% of foreign funding 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% of gross national income on foreign aid,” a spokesperson for the NDP told Global Citizen.
The NDP platform doesn’t just commit to reaching the target of 0.7%, but it calls for increased funding for global health efforts, as well as gender equality.
The platform specifically outlined the need to contribute more funding to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria in order to improve global health.
Women and girls are currently at the forefront of Trudeau’s international assistance policy, and the NDP also maintains that they “will always be central to New Democrat foreign policy,” adding that they will further efforts to promote gender equality abroad.
Singh’s platform points to the need for bold action when it comes to confronting the climate crisis, stating that Canada must act as a global leader in helping low-income countries mitigate the effects of climate change.
The Green Party — Elizabeth May
While Scheer wants to cut foreign aid, Greens commit to "making poverty history" at 0.7% GDP in ODA. The Liberals have failed here. Only CPC makes Liberal aid levels look good. #MakeScheerHistory#GPC#SDGs— Elizabeth May (@ElizabethMay) October 2, 2019
The Green Party’s platform confirms its intent to reach the 0.7% UN target and includes strong commitments and recommendations to achieve the SDGs throughout its entire platform.
Most notably, the platform suggests an increase in Canada’s national contribution to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and Global Environmental Facility (GEF) to $4 billion per year by 2030.
Trudeau announced Canada’s commitment to the GCF of $300 million at this year’s G7 Summit in Biarritz, France, and Canada’s last commitment to the GEF was $228.79 million in 2018, for fiscal years 2018–2019 through 2022–2023.
In addition, the Green Party calls for a review of federal government policy to align with the SDGs and develop a tool to track progress on achieving the goals.
“We would strongly advocate for the adoption force expanding foreign aid in a minority government,” a Green Party spokesperson told Global Citizen by email. “The Green Party is [calling] for increasing aid and re-establishing [the] Canadian International Development Agency and giving it the resources it needs to do the job.”
The Green Party also seeks to remove the condition that aid be attached to “Canadian business interests overseas or strategic geopolitics.”
Canada’s commitments in development aid have been instrumental in the progress made towards achieving the SDGs, and with only 10 years to go to meet the UN Global Goals’ deadline, commitments made in the coming year will determine the likelihood of success by 2030.