When it comes to doing good around the world, Canada talks big and acts ... less big.
We pride ourselves at having invented the idea of peacekeeping, but our contribution to keeping the peace has dwindled to almost nothing.
We talk a good game about helping the neediest and promoting progressive values abroad, but among our peers we’re near the back of the pack in spending on foreign aid.
Now along comes Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer with a bold proposal to take a bad situation and make it even worse.
On Tuesday (Oct. 1) Scheer unveiled his priorities in foreign policy, and they include slashing Canada’s budget for foreign assistance by 25 percent, or some $1.5 billion.
What Scheer didn’t mention, and what most Canadians don’t realize, is that this country has already let its spending on humanitarian aid fall to record low levels.
This has been going on for many years under both Conservative and Liberal governments. Justin Trudeau took power in 2015 with a promise to “reverse the decline” in foreign aid, and failed to do any such thing.
At the moment, according to the OECD, Canada spends 0.28 percent of GDP on foreign assistance. That’s less than the average for developed countries, far less than we spent in the 1980s when Conservative Brian Mulroney was prime minister, and way less than the 0.7 percent of GDP set as a goal by the United Nations.
A Scheer government would cut even more, shirking Canada’s international responsibilities and further eroding its clout at the UN and in other global organizations. Because the truth is that countries don’t spend on foreign aid only out of the goodness of their hearts; aside from helping needy countries, it also buys influence. Slashing aid, for example, certainly wouldn’t be a plus as Canada argues for a seat on the UN Security Council.
Scheer did raise one good point. It’s questionable why Canada continues to fund aid to so-called middle-income countries like Barbados and Argentina. Those programs might well benefit from a clear-eyed review.
But such a review should be an opportunity to target aid dollars where they’re needed most, not simply to cut a budget that already falls far short of what it should be. ...
(T)he key foreign policy issues that any new Canadian government will have to face: our deeply disturbed relationships with the two most important countries in the world, the United States and China.
Foreign aid is worth discussing, but it pales in importance to those relationships and Scheer has offered nothing concrete on either one, aside from repeating attack lines about Trudeau’s supposedly “weak, unprincipled” leadership.
Neither, to be fair, do the Liberals have much of substance to say in their policy platform about the U.S. or China and all the issues raised by those relationships. Instead, they offer another commitment to peacekeeping and disaster relief and a promise to increase foreign aid every year (given their track record, we aren’t holding our breath on that one).
It looks, in fact, like Canadians aren’t going to get a robust debate on foreign affairs in this election campaign. Both major parties, for their own reasons, don’t have much to say at a time when the world is getting way more dangerous.