News / Vancouver

B.C. advocates 'pleased' but hoped for more on gender in federal budget

On heels of B.C. $1B budget daycare boon, B.C. women's organizations scrutinize Ottawa's so-called 'equality and growth' plan focused on workforce participation without any daycare funds

Vancouver-area residents rallied on a rainy Saturday for a second women's march on Jan. 20, 2018.

EG Orren

Vancouver-area residents rallied on a rainy Saturday for a second women's march on Jan. 20, 2018.

Women's organizations in British Columbia keenly pored through Ottawa's budget release on Tuesday afternoon, hopeful for new funding for gender equality amongst the fiscal plan's $3.6-billion spending this year.

Many advocates were particularly hopeful the feds would pony up as B.C.'s budget did this month on child care, but also that Liberals also step up with increased cash for anti-violence against women services and other issues disproportionately affecting Canadian women.

But although the budget increased spending for women's organizations and family courts, it contained no funding towards child care. Nonetheless, over the next half-decade Status of Women Canada will get nearly $170 million — including ramped up spending on "community women's organizations" starting with $24 million this year, $29 million next year, and jumping to $39 million annually for three years.

Included in the budget, which touted itself as created using a "gender lens," is a new measure the government announced to measure its impacts on women. The so-called "Gender Results Framework" will measure equality progress and "help define what is needed to achieve greater equality and to determine how progress will be measured going forward."

Zahra Jimale, director of law reform at West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), said the gender-focus and several pay equity and violence measures were welcome.

"We're grateful for anything that involves a gendered lens, so we're pleased that itself is being recognized," she said in a phone interview. "… How meaningful the funding is, though, time will tell.

"It's also good to see the conversation about proactive pay equity — but we're concerned about the lack of a timeline for when this legislation will be brought in. Sooner rather than later, hopefully, because it's long overdue. We've been talking about this issue since the 1950s."

And Ottawa has even threatened "withdrawing federal funding" starting next year "for those universities and college campuses that are not implementing best practices addressing sexual assaults on campus."

Although finance minister Bill Morneau had offered few hints about what was to come, he indicated that equality would be a keystone of the fiscal plan.

"Through Budget 2018, the Government will take the next steps towards equality," his ministry had said in a statement.

Women in business fared particularly well in the budget, which includes $1.4 billion financing for women entrepreneurs, and a program to put "a renewed focus on training staff on unconscious biases" in Canadian businesses. There's also $250 million to offer women-owned and -led export businesses funding and insurance.

The budget allocates $11 million a year over five years to "getting into and staying in the workforce and career pathways for visible minority newcomer women in Canada," and another $20 million over five years towards "protecting vulnerable women and girls."

Economist Marina Adshade told Metro one of the most important measures was expected — five weeks paternal leave, under a take-it-or-leave-it approach that means men can take the leave instead of having to deduct it from women's maternity leave.

"You cannot transfer it to the other parent," explained the lecturer at the University of B.C.'s Vancouver School of Economics and assistant professor at Simon Fraser University's public policy school, in a phone interview. "Five weeks parental leave may seem like a small thing.

"But it's quite important, in other places it's been very effective to getting fathers to take some of that leave. You'll never have full participation of women in the workforce as long as men aren't doing an equal share of the work at home."

However her one criticism was that Canadians in lone-parent families — such as hers — don't get the same benefit as couples from the five-week leave.

"There's nothing in here for single parents," she lamented. "I wish that when governments make policy about this, they'd take that into consideration.

"They're not helping all families but one specific type of family — ones with two working adults. That's definitely not all families."

Under its $170-million Status of Women Canada spending, Liberals also proposed $5.5 million over five years to work with provinces and territories towards "a harmonized national framework to ensure consistent, comprehensive, and sustainable approaches in addressing gender based violence at post-secondary institutions across the country."

And the budget proposes a $6.7-million fund over five years to create a new department at Statistics Canada to collect and analyze gender, diversity and includion data. Other spending includes expanding the family courts system to improve access to the family justice system, improving the RCMP's ability to "address unfounded sexual assault cases," and offering more "legal information and support" for employees experiencing sexual harassment at work.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau emphasized gender as central to his government's "equality" promises.

"Gender equality is not only an issue for women and girls," he said in a statement. "All of us benefit when women and girls have the same opportunities as men and boys — and it’s on all of us to make that a reality.”

The finance ministry cited 2016 statistics suggesting women's underrepresentation in the workforce translates to a 33 per cent reduction in Gross Domestic Product per Canadian, equivalent to $8,287 a year each.

Violence against Indigenous women also is high on the groups' radar, as a national inquiry on missing and murdered women continues to flounder amidst controversy over its leadership.

And many advocates see investments in services which particularly impact women — such as affordable child care, ending gendered violence, pay equity and access to justice — as essential to reversing years of shortfalls from Ottawa.

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