International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen said he is focused on accelerating aid funding while consolidating the Trudeau government’s feminist approach to overseas development.
In his first interview on taking office since being sworn in on July 26, Hussen said his mandate letter calls for continuing to focus on Canada’s feminist international a*sistance policy and prioritizing the elimination of bureaucratic obstacles that prevent this policy from taking shape.
“We know that when women and girls are included in society, societies improve, poverty goes down, gender-based violence goes down (and) economic development takes off,” he said.
Hussen previously led the government’s housing and immigration portfolios.
His new job focuses on managing a $6.5 billion budget for development aid, such as building schools, as well as sending humanitarian funds in response to crises such as major earthquakes.
The goal is to try to create a more prosperous and inclusive world that poses fewer risks to the security of Canada and its allies, even as the international community faces increasing climate chaos, pandemics and a historic number of refugees.
Hussen is tackling this issue at a time when Canada has joined some allies in reducing its foreign aid.
Last spring’s budget projected a funding cut of $1.3 billion, 15 percent less than the previous year. The Liberals insist it’s not a cut, since the budget remains higher than Canada’s aid spending before the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Hussen argued in the interview that Ottawa’s efforts “go beyond just its contribution to aid financing,” and noted that Canada remains among the leading donors of development projects.
“Yes, needs have increased in all areas, whether it is food security, refugees or disasters. The needs are greater, but we have intensified over the years, and Budget 2023 is another example,” he said.
“We remain committed to achieving these amounts, but also to improving the quality and effectiveness of our aid, in order to generate better results for the poorest and most vulnerable people across the world. »
To that end, Hussen said his number one goal is to make sure the department simply responds to people’s needs in a timely manner. He is overseeing an emerging reform of how Global Affairs Canada funds projects through organizations, from updating decades-old databases to changing forms and criteria to better reflect small groups abroad that have an outsized impact.
“My priority is to ensure, above all, that I have better customer service,” he said.
“The second is to (find) ways to localize this work, to actually collaborate with small, promising, innovative, nimble local organizations, and invite them to participate in this process. »
The reform involves an overhaul of the bureaucratic system Ottawa uses to approve funding requests from aid groups, which charities describe as notoriously cumbersome.
As part of this review, Global Affairs Canada is considering how to best balance Ottawa’s needs for reporting requirements that keep an eye on the flow of funds and measure results, while also a*sessing whether local groups on the ground believe that the projects actually improve people’s lives. the people they serve.
In fashion now
Hussen said it’s all part of strengthening progress for women abroad, creating groups in developing countries and also working with like-minded wealthy countries to promote a feminist perspective. For example, a women’s voice and leadership program aims to create connections between organizations and train staff to be more effective in their work.
“We will continue to collaborate, share best practices, learn from others and really continue to support not only the work, but also the capabilities of women leaders and feminist groups,” Hussen said, linking this to efforts to reduce administrative formalities.
“How can we really redouble our efforts to mobilize international development funds to achieve more sustainable socio-economic development?
The hope is that whenever the Liberals leave power, they will have enough support from other rich countries and enough know-how from local groups abroad that progress on issues like access to abortion are not left to the whims of future Canadian governments.
This spring, meetings of the House Foreign Affairs Committee studying global s****l and reproductive health were repeatedly postponed by conservative lawmakers who argued that other issues, such as the war in Ukraine, should have priority.
This has led other parties to accuse the Conservatives of filibustering and to speculate that a future Conservative government would repeat former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to restrict the ability of maternal health funds to fund abortions.
“One way to address this, to ensure long-term impact, is also to increase funding for local women’s rights organizations? who continue to do very important work to address persistent gaps in s****l and reproductive health and rights,” Hussen said.
“For example, when it comes to the prevention of s****l and gender-based violence, this work is really, really paying off, and we will continue on this path to ensure that we consolidate these gains. »
The government is expected to release Canada’s third action plan on women, peace and security this fall, a five-year plan that shapes everything from domestic policing policy to diplomatic priorities and foreign aid agreements.