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Politics

COMMENTARY: Andrew Scheer’s pledge to cut foreign aid is bad for our health

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has announced that if elected, his government would slash the foreign aid budget by 25 per cent to fund proposed tax cuts and eventually balance the budget.

This is going in the wrong direction. Foreign aid is not only altruism designed to aid the planet’s most vulnerable people, it is an investment in peace and public health.

Foreign aid is distributed throughout a network of non-governmental organizations in various countries to help people access health services, education, training and capacity to act within their own country.

READ MORE: Scheer proposes 25% cut to foreign aid, redirecting funds to kids in conflict zones

It is astonishing to have a political party lament the influx of refugees in one breath while announcing cuts to foreign aid in the other. Desperate people who have no access to medicine and opportunities will seek to leave their countries. They will flow to refugee camps and experience additional trauma. Foreign aid in a variety of countries helps stabilize regions and lessen the flow of migrants.

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It is clear that the Conservatives are playing to a Canadian audience that despises liberal ideas of “cosmopolitanism,” the notion that we are all citizens of the world and that our duties extend not only to our immediate neighbors but to people around the globe.

The emergence of Trump-like notions of anti-globalization, of reinforcing borders, of shutting the world out, is a residue of the discomfort and disillusion about globalization.

Federal Election 2019: Scheer outlines four-point foreign policy plan including cut to aid
Federal Election 2019: Scheer outlines four-point foreign policy plan including cut to aid

Stephen Harper, in his book, Right Here, Right Now, belittles the idea of the “cosmopolitan” voter, arguing that such voters are the exception because most people do not travel, do not move and do not engage emotionally with the world.

He may be right that empathy with the wide world is neither mainstream nor Main Street. For decades and still today, religious organizations continue wanting to help the suffering in all corners of the planet. Yet for Conservatives, empathy is not a governmental function, particularly if it does not translate into votes.

The Conservatives are trying to gain votes from the supporters of Maxime Bernier’s anti-immigration party by de-emphasizing Canada’s international personality. A decreased foreign aid budget will impact negatively on Canada’s global image but may re-energize some Canadian voters. However, there may be more dire consequences to this short-sighted appeal to locally minded voters.

COMMENTARY: Canadian party leaders agree on one thing — how little they have to say on foreign policy

Public health experts warn that borders do not stop diseases. Contagious people cannot be contained in one corner of the earth. World trade, travel, refugee flows will continue. Global disease outbreaks, whether Ebola, H1N1 or the Zika virus, have major consequences for the Canadian healthcare system. It needs to respond to the potential spread of the disease. Good healthcare and good disease monitoring throughout the world minimize the risks of infection spreading.

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When we cut foreign aid and diminish the capacity of local healthcare providers to do their jobs, we undermine a disease control system that we all need.

There could be improvements to foreign aid: it could be disbursed differently and more efficiently, but it should not be cut. Redirected but not reduced. Foreign aid cuts are bad for our health.

Nathalie Des Rosiers is principal of Massey College at the University of Toronto. She was Liberal MPP for Ottawa-Vanier in the Ontario legislature from 2016 to 2019.