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.
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.