Trudeau fails to track outcomes of ‘feminist’ foreign aid, pledges $2.4 billion more to Ukraine

An audit tabled Monday in Parliament revealed Global Affairs Canada (GAC) does not know whether its feminist foreign aid for women and girls abroad is advancing gender equity or not.

Trudeau fails to track outcomes of ‘feminist’ foreign aid, pledges $2.4 billion more to Ukraine
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
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Auditor General Karen Hogan said GAC could not demonstrate how the investment improved the lives of women and girls, citing "significant weaknesses" in record keeping.

Ottawa failed to precisely track where its $3.5 billion in annual bilateral aid went, besides diverting aid for Africa to Ukraine.

On Monday, Parliament pledged a $2.4 billion loan for Ukraine, though the country defaulted on its foreign debts last July 21, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.

“The brave people of Ukraine have reminded us we must never take our freedom and democracy for granted,” said Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland in the House of Commons. 

Ottawa’s budget document, A Made In Canada Plan, said current loans, grants and military aid to Ukrainians totalled $5.4 billion with “an additional loan of $2.4 billion for 2023.”

Cabinet also proposed an additional $200 million in military aid and $84.8 million in civilian assistance to pay Ukrainian pensions and deliver essential services to the country.

“It’s one thing to promise the money,” said Freeland on August 25. “It’s another thing for that money to hit Ukrainian bank accounts. You don’t need to trust me about this.”

However, Hogan’s auditors only considered direct development aid, which excludes aid dollars sent for humanitarian relief to emerging crises.

Moreover, her audit found GAC struggled to provide specifics on projects because of improper record keeping and insufficient information collected.

"Some of the required information had been stored on computers of staff who had since left the department, so officials were unable to find the required information," reads the report.

"The department missed an opportunity to demonstrate the value of international assistance."

Though Canada ranked first in spending on foreign aid for gender equality, Monday’s audit said Ottawa couldn't track whether the money is improving the lives of women and girls.

Hogan commented that GAC tracked indicators but not actual progress for 24 of its 26 stated policy indicators for half its projects.

"Senior management did not and could not review the complete impact of programming. Without a full account of project outcomes, senior management could not respond to evolving conditions and make changes to improve policy implementation,” she said.

"It was highly problematic that critical information, such as project progress reports, could not be readily found," according to the audit.

GAC accepted the audit findings and intended to shore up its data collection.

"Improving our reporting is imperative for transparency, accountability and decision-making," said International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan on Monday, who stressed that he could also assess projects through personal visits.

"I have visited a lot of the projects, and I've spoken with a lot of the organizations that are delivering the projects to see first-hand what are the actual results, what are the outcomes," he added.

The House committee also learned that further investigation by the Auditor General’s Office would not happen as it took so long to get the information they have now.

"It took several months for us to access the requested information," Hogan told reporters. "That just tells me people aren't using it for day-to-day information and decision-making."

Rebecca Tiessen, a University of Ottawa professor of international development, said Ottawa needs to focus on reporting progress so people don’t perceive the aid as taxpayer waste.

"Without that information, it's so easy to say you're doing feminist work and not demonstrate it," she said.

Hogan’s audit also argued Ottawa poorly assessed intersectionality and other factors regarding the exclusion of people from society. For example, feminist funding considered age but not other factors such as disabilities or sexual orientation.

"This links with those critiques that we're hearing, 'Is this a feminist government? Is Trudeau a fake feminist?' Much of the literature has been stuck at that discourse level: what are we saying about being feminist,” added Tiessen.

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