(OTTAWA) Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland insists the government’s planned $1.3 billion cut in foreign aid spending does not correspond to a cut in international aid.

The Liberal budget released this week projects that Ottawa will spend nearly $6.9 billion on international development over the next fiscal year, down 16% from last year’s allocation.

This is despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instructing International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan to increase aid spending every year.

The Liberals had provided a historic aid boost in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Asked about the industry’s criticism of a cut in international aid, Ms Freeland said she “wouldn’t characterize it that way”.

She pointed out that Canada is providing $2.4 billion in direct financial aid to Ukraine and called that country’s resistance to the Russian invasion the most important battle being waged in the world today.

The Liberals have also given money for infrastructure projects in developing countries in the Indo-Pacific region, arguing that these countries want investment more than aid.

Representatives of the Canadian aid sector have said they will have to shut down overseas projects due to lower-than-expected funding in the Liberals’ budget last week, and they are particularly concerned about whether international aid money is diverted from Africa to Ukraine.

Ms. Freeland told reporters Thursday at a news conference in Surrey, B.C., that Ukraine’s fight is crucial to Canada’s interests.

“The fight unfolding in Ukraine today is the most important battle in the world between democracy and dictatorship,” she said, while defending her government’s record.

Last October, Ms Freeland came under fire for her response to an African aid expert who said the West’s diversion of funds to Ukraine was causing the continent to rely more on Russian support. , an idea she rejected.

“A democracy can only be defended by the people themselves if they are truly willing to die for their democracy,” she said.

In a later apology for her remarks, she said she was sorry if people found her comments insensitive, adding, “If a white Western person has offended someone, the first response is to say, ‘I really didn’t mean not offend you”. »

At the time, Ms Freeland said the Western world needed to recognize that Africa’s current problems stem from colonization.

“These are challenges that have been imposed from outside. And I think that means we have a high level of responsibility. »