Federal budget doesn’t go beyond #becauseits2015 in supporting women’s economic equity
March 20, 2016
This is the first post in a monthly series by Jenn Prosser about feminism and federal politics. In this series, federal action will be deconstructed and the real world implications on intersectional feminist action will be discussed. This piece focuses on the recently released federal budget.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has received international praise for his gender-balanced cabinets, the Liberal government has yet to propose any significant policy to ensure that women not sitting in Parliament will be guaranteed the same pay as their male counterparts.
Rising concerns about unemployment have dominated Canadian headlines this year. The slow rate of growth has yet to meaningfully increase full time employment. Decades of cuts to public services have become self-fulfilled downturn prophecies—which means that benefit-holding, well-paying, full-time jobs are even less available than they were in the 1990s. And we don’t even have a re-vamped Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix to help keep our chins up with.
Economic stimulus has been a hot political topic for the last year in Canada—so hot that it gave the Liberal party an opportunity to tap into a public narrative that has been echoed through public demonstrations and online organizing: economic stimulus means public spending, public spending means jobs, jobs mean economic security. To complete this circle through a gendered lens, economic security can mean closing gender gaps. At least it’s supposed to.
An understanding of the intersections of gender oppression seems to be absent from Canadian government policy. Economically, the stimulus and job creation policies found in the federal budget are not going to move workplace equality forward, and are even less likely to benefit queer women, trans women, young women, women of colour, Indigenous women, and women with disabilities.
Resource extraction and the wage gap
The infrastructure spending that makes up the bulk of this Liberal government’s first budget is a large part of the federal government’s plan to stimulate the economy in hard-hit sectors and create employment opportunities. It’s an ambitious plan. The federal budget has set out to create 43,000 new jobs in 2016 and 2017, and an additional 100,000 new jobs for 2017 and 2018—primarily in infrastructure-related industries.
Resource-based industries have taken a hit, and as the low cost of oil seems to be a new normal for Canada, more people are facing unemployment and more unemployed are facing fewer options. People, mostly cis men, have come from all over Canada to work in Alberta’s oil and gas industry.
The decline in public sector employment and the rapid rise of resource extraction are at the core of the widening gender gap in some parts of Canada.
Men hold 88 percent and 76 percent employment in Alberta’s resource extraction and construction industries respectively. In regions with heavily resource-based economies, the gender gap on wages and workforce is higher than in places with strong public services. The federal budget’s job growth projection is for those industries in which women make up less than a quarter of the work force. Alberta’s gender wage gap is the highest of any province.
Despite campaign promises made by progressive parties that have recently formed governments, neither the NDP government in Alberta nor the federal Liberal government have made any serious moves to make childcare more affordable and accessible. Childcare policies meant to “deliver affordable, high-quality, flexible, and fully inclusive child care for Canadian families” were a campaign promise from both governments, and yet neither government has seriously signaled a coming comprehensive childcare infrastructure.
They both have increased spending for child tax benefits—opting to continue their predecessors’ policies on childcare and family supports.
Nationally, those who get counted as cis white women continue to make 20 per cent less than their male counterparts. Yes, that is accounting for education and full time work. Women of colour, Indigenous women, and immigrant women take home even less. Trans women and non-binary people are still not even counted in workforce equality measures. This year the government voted for an NDP pay equity bill—but private members cannot attach funding to their bills and the government hasn’t implemented the two main asks in the private member’s bill.
Don’t worry, anyone holding it down in anti-violence and anti-oppression work: Status of Women received a $3 million boost, bringing it to a 10 year high of 0.02 percent of the total budget. I doubt that means a return to operating funding for women’s rights advocacy organizations, but it might mean more project grants that exploit unpaid skilled labour!
There was an $89.9 million investment for emergency women’s shelters, and that is good. (Solidarity fist bump to Kate McInturff for breaking these numbers down). But the national cost of domestic violence is 7.4 billion yearly—and that only captures reported numbers from the justice department. So, imagine the real cost if it included unreported, undocumented mental health services, rent support, emergency room visits, family supports and straight up emotional anguish.
The absence of pay equity, no sight of a national childcare plan, and an infrastructure investment that focuses on stimulating industries dominated by men make it unlikely that women will be better off in four years than we are now.
Despite promises of “real change” from the newly formed federal government, and the election of progressive governments in economic powerhouses Ontario and Alberta, it seems like very little real equality will actually be trickling down from the cabinet table.
A semi-professional #feministkilljoy, Jenn Prosser has over a decade of experience in organizing, and gets her #realtalk feminist activism from lived experiences. Working for some of Canada’s most outspoken feminist political leaders has provided her valuable insight on dismantling the patriarchy from the inside out, and how to push the outside in. Follow her RTs on Twitter: @jprossa.