TORONTO — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is promising a leaner foreign policy by taking away aid funding from countries he says don't need it or don't deserve it, and spending the money instead on domestic programs and tax cuts.
Canada is too generous with what he called "middle- and upper-income" countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Italy, he said Tuesday. And Canadians' tax dollars, he added, shouldn't be going towards "repressive regimes," such as in Iran and North Korea, that are "hostile to Canada's interests and values."
Scheer's pledge would cut 25 per cent from Canada's $6-billion foreign aid budget, which the Conservative leader portrayed as poorly managed by the Liberals. The savings, Scheer added, would be reinvested in his party's plans for a universal tax cut and various tax credits.
He vowed to redirect $700 million to countries "with grave humanitarian or refugee challenges such as much of sub-Saharan Africa," which he said would get even more than they do now.
Scheer dismissed questions from reporters that suggested his plan would diminish Canada on the world stage, or signal the country is retreating from its obligations. The Conservative leader said his government would focus its efforts on building "a new international consensus ... on protecting children in conflict zones."
"It's time for Canada to put our money where our mouth is and only use foreign aid to support the Canadian values we hold dear," he told reporters at a lakeside Toronto hotel.
The promised cuts would include ending all funding to a United Nations' organization that supports Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, which the Conservative leader accused of being openly anti-Semitic and having helped the Hamas terrorist group.
The United Nations' Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, which saw its funding from Canada previously cut by the Harper Conservatives before it was reinstated by the Trudeau Liberals, has denied being anti-Semitic or supportive of Hamas.
"At a time when Canadians are working harder than ever, (Liberal Leader Justin) Trudeau is using their hard-earned tax dollars to support anti-Semitic organizations and prop up foreign dictatorships," Scheer said.
But one foreign aid program recently enhanced by the Liberals will be maintained, Scheer said.
Trudeau has announced that Canada will be spending $1.4 billion annually, starting in 2023, on programs supporting the health of women and girls around the world. Under the plan, $700 million of that amount will be dedicated to "sexual and reproductive health rights."
"Those types of groups will not be affected by this announcement," Scheer said, referring to organizations funded by Canadian dollars offering abortion care around the world.
While taking questions, Scheer added that a Conservative government wouldn't re-open the abortion debate in Canada or elsewhere. He said Tuesday's announcement was focused on the countries that would no longer receive funding, not on the types of groups that already get support.
An official in the Scheer campaign later clarified that groups operating in the countries targeted by the Conservative plan would no longer get funding to work there.
When asked about local populations of those countries that could suffer from a lack of Canadian aid, Scheer said Canadians agree with him.
"I am convinced Canadians prefer that taxpayer dollars don't go to hostile regimes and regimes who use Canadian money to support governments," he said. "There is a lot of money that is spent government to government."
The Canadian Council for International Co-operation, an umbrella group that represents many Canadian development organizations, expressed concern following Scheer's announcement. It said what's needed is more Canadian foreign aid — not cuts.
While the rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, of which Canada is a member, have agreed to spent 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid, Canada currently spends only 0.28 per cent.
"International development and humanitarian assistance are important parts of Canada's global leadership that contribute to visible impacts," the CCIC said in a statement.
"For example, South Korea went from a major aid recipient to an important trading partner for Canada and the world. In as little as 25 years, Rwanda, after suffering a vicious genocide, has gone from crisis to develop into a model of economic development for many on the African continent."
Scheer unveiled his foreign policy proposals in lieu of a planned debate between federal party leaders that had been organized by the Munk Debates and scheduled for Tuesday. The event was cancelled after Trudeau declined to participate.
He also repeated his previous vow to de-politicize military procurement even as he promised to order a second interim naval support ship from Quebec shipyard Chantier Davie, which the navy has said it does not need.
The Conservatives, if elected, have said they would move Canada's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, provide weapons to Ukraine and ask the United States about joining its ballistic-missile defence program.
They would also re-open an office of religious freedom set up by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper and later closed by Liberal government.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 1, 2019.
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press