The Federal Budget: Where are we going with the Feminist Foreign Policy?

On Monday the Liberals released their first budget in two years. I was asked by McLeod/G78 to participate in their “Hot Takes on the Federal Budget: Where are we going with the Feminist Foreign Policy?” with a focus on diplomacy and here is what I said:

By Bianca Mugyenyi – Originally published in the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute website


A lot is being made of the federal government’s commitment of up to $30 billion over five years to get a national childcare program off the ground, but less has been said about their plans to move forward with a $19 B fighter jet purchase, in what would be the second most expensive government procurement program ever. $19 billion is a massive sum—and that’s just the sticker price. A recent report released by the No Fighter Jets Coalition estimates the full lifecycle cost of purchasing 88 new warplanes at $77 billion.

While the funding for childcare is excellent to see, it’s important to highlight that another $77 billion could be used for more socially useful projects or to promote peace and human rights.

Currently, there is a rolling fast to reject Canada’s plans to purchase these jets arguing they are useless in helping us cope with real changes ahead from droughts, floods, the global pandemic or even a 9-11 style attack. The fast also honours those who have been killed by Canadian war planes. I participated last weekend to bring attention to the fact that these expensive carbon intensive, warplanes don’t deal with real threats and in fact lead to violence. What fighter jets are useful for is fighting in US and NATO led wars.

The budget allocates 10 times more money to the military than to Environment and Climate Change Canada. Put another way, as the climate crisis deepens, the Liberals appear to be 10 times more concerned about the military than the environment.

The Liberals like to talk about feminism, but the budget suggests they are more strongly committed to a patriarchal institution focused on US and NATO-led missions.

The 2021 budget has a section devoted to the Liberal’s plans to increase Canada’s contribution to NATO. Ottawa has also been an aggressive proponent of the nuclear-armed NATO alliance, and currently leads a coalition mission in Latvia. We need to question further contributions to this alliance.

There is a clash between funds that will go to the nuclear armed NATO and a feminist foreign policy or feminist budget. In a disappointing move Canada refused to join 122 countries represented at the 2017 UN conference to negotiate nuclear ban treaty. It’s safe to say a major reason they have not signed is their commitment to NATO.

The TPNW went into force on January 22 — a beacon given the dangers of nuclear weapons. The Liberals have not signed. Incredibly they’ve done so, while asserting they are committed to a world free of nuclear weapons. They also claim to want to advance a feminist foreign policy and to advance an International rules based order.

There is a further hyprocrisy, given the TPNW has been dubbed the first feminist law on nuclear weapons, recognizing the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons on women and girls. Additionally, the UN Nuclear Ban strengthens the International rules based order by making weapons that have always been immoral also illegal.

In the budget, the government announced $16 million for a corporate mining ombudsperson. In theory this is positive, however, the ombudsperson they created is largely toothless and doesn’t have the power to compel companies to provide documents and isn’t empowered to sanction corporate abusers. Failing to make good on their promise to rein in Canadian mining abuses abroad undercuts the Liberals’ “feminist foreign policy” as sexual assault often plagues communities near Canadian-run mines. Women are also disproportionately burdened by the ecological destruction caused by mining while the jobs tend to go to men.

The government allocated $80.3 million to respond to the Venezuelan Migrant and Refugee crisis. The budget references Canada’s key role in international efforts to find solutions. Given Canada’s involvement in regime change efforts, and leadership of the anti-Maduro Lima group, it’s important to keep an eye on where this money goes — specifically that it does not go to continued regime change efforts. Also it important to remember that Venezuelan refugees are in part victims of foreign (including Canadian) sanctions.

We must keep asking: Why is Canada leading the LIMA group and involved in efforts to overthrow Venezuela’s UN recognized government? This is a clear violation of the principle of non-intervention in other country’s internal affairs. Also, does Canada’s sanctions policy respect International law?

Regarding the intersections between diplomacy and aid, we need to be careful. The Canadian Foreign Policy Institute released a public letter calling on Trudeau to end “support for a repressive, corrupt Haitian president devoid of constitutional legitimacy” after Jovenel Moïse unconstitutionally extended his mandate in February.

In 2020 the Canadian government gave $12.5 million in operational support to the Haitian police as part of a feminist aid policy. It is Haiti’s Canadian trained and funded police force that has sustained the repressive, illegitimate Moïse as President. Since a popular uprising began in July 2018 against Moïse the police have killed dozens without any criticism from the Trudeau government. It is difficult to see how funding the Haitian police is feminist or how it benefits women. It is a repressive apparatus which has been implicated in all kinds of abuses including massacres. This is not how we want to be spending on diplomacy.

In light of our second consecutive security council defeat last Summer, it’s clear we need a fundamental reassessment of Canadian foreign policy. We need a spirit of Internationalism to generate the goodwill required to come together with other countries to overcome the overlapping global crises of inequity, climate change, a pandemic, and the threat of nuclear weapons.

We need to see more spending that addresses our outsized contribution to the climate crisis, that supports peace and disarmament, that reflects the desire of people living in Canada to be a force for human rights in the world.

Bianca Mugyenyi - @Bianca_Kabibi Author. Feminist. and Climate Justice activist. Director of the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute.