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GATINEAU, Que. — The NDP would restore funding for abortion and family planning to Canada’s keynote development initiative which promotes maternal, newborn and child health.

That pledge came Tuesday in a speech by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair which introduced some foreign policy planks for the Official Opposition.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made helping newborns and young mothers in the developing world his signature aid priority, committing more than $6 billion to the initiative between 2010 and 2020.

But the initiative has sparked major criticism — including from the respected medical journal, The Lancet — because the Conservatives will not allow any money to go towards projects that include abortion.

Mulcair said the NDP would reverse that policy and make funds available for family planning, reproductive and sexual health and access to abortion services.

He also repeated a promise to meet the United Nations development spending goal of 0.7 per cent of GDP.

The most recent analysis by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said Canada’s overall level of aid spending has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade.

The OECD pegged Canada’s 2014 aid spending at 0.24 per cent of GDP, well below the UN target. In 2010-11, Canadian foreign aid stood at 0.34 per cent of GDP.

The United Kingdom, by comparison, has hit the 0.7 per cent target two years in a row.

Canada has never reached the goal, coming closest in the mid-1970s under the Pierre Trudeau Liberals when the level reached above 0.5 per cent of GDP.

Stephen Brown, a University of Ottawa aid expert, said that to reach the 0.7 per cent of GDP target, aid spending would have to rise to $13.9 billion a year.

Brown said such an increase is possible.

“The only thing preventing the Canadian government from reaching the 0.7 target is the lack of political will,” he said.

“The U.K.’s Conservative-led coalition reached that level last year, despite a fiscal situation far worse than Canada’s.”

In a question-and-answer session after his speech, Mulcair gave no details of how long it would take to increase foreign aid, except to say it wouldn’t happen overnight.

“We’re starting from far behind,” he said. “In my speech, I was careful to say we will set out a timeline.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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