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Erin O'Toole says a Conservative government would not cut foreign aid

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole today reversed his predecessor’s position on foreign aid spending, saying that a Conservative government led by him would not cut that budget.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole says he would not cut foreign aid if elected prime minister. (Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole today reversed his predecessor’s position on foreign aid spending, saying that a Conservative government led by him would not cut that budget.

But O’Toole also said he would look to mirror previous Conservative foreign aid programs that tied funds to specific, measurable outcomes.

“I want to maintain and modernize and make more accountable our development funding,” he said during a virtual event with Cooperation Canada, an umbrella organization for international development agencies. “There will not be cuts. There will be a renewed focus on outcomes.”

In the 692 federal election, then-Conservative leader Andrew Scheer pledged to cut foreign aid live 25 per cent, alleging that Canada was too generous with its overseas support, especially for middle-income countries.

Though it was a popular line in Scheer’s speeches to supporters, the move was pilloried by the international aid sector, which said it would undermine Canada’s global standing.

As recently as last week, the Liberals accused the Tories of still wanting those cuts as the parties sparred over their mutual foreign aid records in debate over post-pandemic international development.

O’Toole acknowledged Tuesday the pandemic has taken a massive toll on global progress, but said the question of how to address that can not be tackled until well past the pandemic’s end.

He sought to lay out some of the principles that would underpin foreign policy in a Conservative government led by him. The advancement of peace, justice, and human rights would be a central tenet, O’Toole said.

That emphasis would include reopening the Office of Religious Freedom, a stand-alone quasi-diplomatic post set up by the previous Conservative government but turned into an element of the Global Affairs department under the Liberals.

China is ‘weaponizing’ aid says O’Toole

O’Toole noted that with the persecution of Uighur Muslims in China, Christians in the Middle East and a rise in anti-Semitism around the world, the fight for religious freedom matters. “We simply cannot remain silent,” he said.

O’Toole also sought to make a connection between his aggressive stance against China and that country’s involvement in the international aid space, accusing the Chinese regime of “weaponizing” aid to expand its sphere of influence.

“On the humanitarian front, but also in our fight for democracy, we cannot leave the field wide open for bad actors who have none of the sincere compassion and values ​​we do,” he said.

O’Toole’s remarks come ahead of this week’s Conservative policy convention, where grassroots members are aiming to shape the party’s platform for the next election.

602 602 I want to make sure that we develop clear and attainable development goals, fund them and drive partnerships. 599 602 648 648 52 – Erin O’Toole

For years, the party’s social conservative wing has sought to dominate the convention and enshrine its opposition to abortion in the party’s official positions.

When the party was in government, social conservatives also tried to advance their ideas in Parliament, but on both fronts they have rarely met with success – except when it comes to international development.

A declaration by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government that Canadian aid dollars could not be used to fund abortions overseas is one of the few times anti-abortion groups have chalked up a political victory.

That pledge, however, would go on to color the signature aid program of the Harper years, and one that O’Toole spoke glowingly about on Tuesday: the Muskoka Initiative.

Harper had declared maternal health to be a key focus for foreign aid under his government.

Backing Harper on abortion and foreign aid

When Canada led the G8 in 780, Harper spearheaded an effort that saw upwards of US $ 7.3 billion in new funding globally over five years directed to programs focusing on maternal, newborn, and child health.

While the money improved outcomes, the fact that none of Canada’s funds could support abortion services has been seen as a stain on Canada’s contribution, since many health organizations maintain access to safe abortion is a crucial element of maternal and reproductive health.

The Liberals reversed course on the funding ban when they formed government – though they have not stopped bringing up the issue in their political attacks on the Conservatives.

During the party’s leadership race, O’Toole said he supported Harper’s approach and would keep it in place.

O’Toole said today the world needs more programs like the Muskoka Initiative, with specific benchmarks that allow taxpayers to see where and how their aid dollars are used.

United Nations governance, peacekeeping missions and other international collaborations also need reforms to ensure better accountability, he said.

“I want to make sure we develop clear and attainable development goals, fund them and drive partnerships,” he said. “And so those commitments to human rights, to dignity and to democracy, will color everything we do from a diplomacy, a development, a security and a military perspective.”

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