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International aid groups fear cuts as budget looms



International aid

Canada’s aid sector is nervously awaiting this spring’s federal budget amid fears of funding cuts that could require projects abroad to shut down.

“This lack of predictability is creating anxiety in the sector,” said Louis Belanger, whose group Bigger Than Our Borders advocates on behalf of major Canadian charities.

“The future is uncertain for a lot of organizations that are working in developing countries, because there’s a lack of clarity and a lack of transparency.”

Since taking office in 2015, the Liberals have pledged to keep increasing development spending each year — but emerging crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have significantly altered the focus of that spending.


Before the pandemic, the Liberals had earmarked an annual $6.6 billion in foreign aid. After the arrival of COVID-19, they boosted the target to more than $8 billion, first for programs related to fighting the virus and then to help Ukraine and its neighbours.

In late 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was still instructing International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan to “increase Canada’s international development assistance every year.”

And since then, Trudeau has announced large funding allocations related to a UN biodiversity summit, a new Indo-Pacific strategy and the Global Fund, which tackles diseases such as AIDS.

Yet it’s unclear whether the Liberals intend to renew long-standing development programs or let them lapse in order to fund these emerging priorities.

For Belanger, it boils down to whether the Liberals build on the benchmark of funding that preceded the pandemic, or whether they see the current amount of funding as a new baseline.

“(They’re) seeing COVID as the exception, and that we need to go back to 2019 levels. We completely disagree, because there’s a series of crises that we’re seeing in the world right now,” Belanger said.

“You can’t tell me that the needs have decreased since COVID.”

Aid groups fear Canada will follow Britain in announcing cuts. London has long been one of the world’s top development funders, but is facing economic upheaval at home.

Meanwhile, a global focus on suppressing COVID-19 came at the expense of other health programs, leading to a sudden backtracking on two decades of progress in fighting tuberculosis, cholera and extreme poverty.

And the African Development Bank and other continental institutions have lamented rich countries diverting aid to Ukraine.

“COVID left the Global South in critical condition, and so cutting aid now is like pulling the oxygen supply for them,” Belanger said.

“It would be the worst time to cut foreign aid. It would be the worst time to go backwards, when there’s so much need.”

Belanger said officials across federal departments seem most interested in development projects linked to three priorities: climate change; sexual and reproductive health; and paid and unpaid care work.

“Other programs ⁠— on governance, nutrition, social justice, even humanitarian programs ⁠— have been sort of put on hold until they announce the budget,” said Belanger, who is a former Liberal staffer.

He said years-long projects are sunsetting with no sense of whether Ottawa will renew them. But organizations aren’t speaking openly for fear of losing federal funding.

The aid sector argues that developing countries need strong health, agriculture and education systems in order to withstand political instability and natural disasters — let alone future pandemics.

Save The Children Canada said the government has been right to respond to emerging humanitarian crises, such as this week’s earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

But the charity’s president and CEO, Danny Glenwright, said children also need Canada’s help in places with long-standing conflicts, such as the Central African Republic, Somalia, Yemen and Myanmar.

“Unfortunately, it’s a very long list. We have several cases where needs increase the longer a crisis continues,” he said.

“These are countries that are seldom in the news, because new crises have popped up.”

His organization is asking Ottawa to peg its annual development spending at $10 billion by 2025, through year-over-year increases. He said that would help Canada meet its commitments to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to make the world more resilient to crises by 2030.

In a Wednesday evening speech at a reception held by groups to mark International Development Week, Sajjan gave no hint of what his government’s spring budget will bring.

Instead, he said aid groups need to drum up public support by doing a better job publicizing their progress.

“We need to be louder when things are going well, and saying, ‘This is conflict prevention. This is success.’ And we should be celebrating that even more,” he told the assembled groups.

“Policies are one thing. Money is one thing. But action can only happen through you.”

On Thursday, Sajjan earmarked $23.4 million for public engagement programs to get that message out.

Aid groups are hoping he will announce a boost to Canada’s funding at a speech Friday afternoon in Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2023.

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Ottawa requests joint ‘working group’ on oilsands contamination with Alberta



Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has further spelled out what he wants to see in a new body that would oversee monitoring and communications around pollution problems in the oilsands.

In a letter dated March 16 to his Alberta counterpart Sonya Savage, Guilbeault said the new federal-provincial-Indigenous group would look at a wide variety of issues stemming from releases of tailings pond water from Imperial Oil’s Kearl mine. Although Savage has agreed to a new joint body, Guilbeault’s proposal seems to go farther than what she suggests.

“I am proposing the establishment of a joint federal-provincial-Indigenous working group, with participation from the oil companies, to give transparency to all parties involved by meeting on a regular basis to discuss remediation and containment plans, as well as notifications for ongoing incidents of spill or seepage,” Guilbeault wrote in the letter.

“A communication protocol should be established,” he said. “It would be the basis of improvements for future environmental emergencies notifications, reform of water monitoring and strong involvement of Indigenous communities.”


Guilbeault said the exact mandate has yet to be determined. Still, it seems to be more than Savage wants.

A statement from her office earlier this week said Alberta wants to improve communications and start a group for “accelerating collaboration on a long-term solution for the treatment and remediation of tailings ponds.”

That statement didn’t mention including First Nations in the group or any reforms to monitoring.

Guilbeault’s letter refers to Ottawa’s responsibilities in protecting fish habitat and treaty rights, both of which may have been affected by the Kearl releases.

That’s a message to the province that Ottawa intends to have a greater role in monitoring the oilsands, said Martin Olszynski, a professor of resource law at the University of Calgary.

“What (Guilbeault’s) saying is, ‘Let’s be clear, I have to be involved.’ The jurisdiction is clearly there for the federal government.”

Ottawa has been criticized both at home and internationally for inconsistent enforcement of the Fisheries Act.

In 2020, the environmental watchdog set up under North American trade agreements found there was valid evidence of oilsands tailings in groundwater around the ponds but no sign that it had affected any federal enforcement decisions. That same body found little co-ordination between Ottawa and Edmonton on the issue.

Guilbeault’s letter may be a sign the feds are taking action on those concerns, Olszynski said.

“They recognize this is a bigger issue. It’s not just about notification, it’s a question of what is going on with these tailings and their management.”

The first release from Kearl was spotted and reported in May as discoloured water near a tailings pond. It was found to be tailings seepage but no further updates were provided to area First Nations until February, when it was disclosed to the public and both environment ministers along with a second release of 5.3 million litres of tailings.

Imperial said earlier this week that the cleanup of the second spill is nearly complete. It said the seepage is being “mitigated,” although it continues.

Both Imperial and the provincial government say there has been no impact on waterways or wildlife, although neither have granted requests to see the data on which that assurance is based.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2023.


Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Canada sending four more battle tanks, ammunition to Ukraine



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today that Canada is providing Ukraine  with more weapons, which he says will help the country win on the battlefield against Russia.

Trudeau says Canada will donate four additional Leopard 2 main battle tanks to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine, growing Canada’s contribution to eight tanks in total.

Canada will also donate an armoured recovery vehicle and over 5,000 rounds of ammunition.

Trudeau committed to imposing more sanctions on people and businesses that are complicit in Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine.


On the one year anniversary of the invasion, Trudeau called Russian President Vladimir Putin a coward and weak, and reinforced that Canada is a friend of Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told reporters in a press conference on Friday that more weapons will allow his people to regain their territory.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2023.

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Funeral underway for four-year-old boy killed in Quebec bus crash last week



Quebec bus crash

A funeral is underway for one of the two young children killed when a bus crashed into a daycare last week in Laval, Que., just north of Montreal.

The bells of the Ste-Rose-de-Lima church tolled at 11 a.m. as five men carried the small white casket of Jacob Gauthier into the sanctuary.

A funeral notice published last week said Jacob was four and a half and is survived by his mother, father, sister, as well as grandparents and other extended family.

Media were asked to keep their distance as family and friends made their way into the church, past tributes of stuffed animals and flowers that were placed outside the door.


Four silver cars from the funeral home pulled up shortly before the service started, and men could be seen unloading large displays of white flowers.

Samir Alahmad, the president of the province’s private daycare association, said it is hard to describe the magnitude of the parent’s pain.

“Every parent in Quebec, every citizen in Quebec, should feel the pain those people are suffering now,” he said outside the church. “There’s no words to describe what the family is suffering today.”

More than a week after the tragedy, “we still don’t have an answer for how this happened,” he said.

The alleged bus attack at the Garderie Éducative Ste-Rose on Feb. 8 left two children dead and sent six to hospital with injuries.

Pierre Ny St-Amand, a 51-year-old driver with the Laval transit corporation, was arrested at the scene and later charged with two counts of first-degree murder and seven other offences, including attempted murder and aggravated assault.

Funeral details for the second child, who was identified by her parents as Maëva David, have not been announced.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2023.

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