Women first?

The Canadian tradition of finance ministers wearing new shoes to present their budgets is neither particularly long-standing (it originated only in 1955) nor consistent, with many finance ministers foregoing it entirely.

However, it has been used by a number of ministers to make political statements: when presenting his 2006 budget of fiscal restraint, federal finance minister Jim Flaherty wore re-soled shoes; in 2015, Joe Oliver wore New Balance running shoes with blue laces to illustrate the fact that he was introducing a balanced budget. British Columbia’s Carole Taylor wore green shoes when she introduced her 2008 budget, in honour of its environmental focus.

Yesterday, finance minister Chrystia Freeland, the first woman to present a federal budget, wore a pair of shoes from a Toronto, woman-led shoe company. The message? Women are at the centre of her budget.

As I considered everything this budget promises for women in this country, I felt as though I was in a dream that I did not want to wake up from.

Pandemic backdrop

This is the Liberal government’s first budget since before the pandemic began, and there is much in here to respond to the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on millions of people in this country.

The particular impacts on women are noted in several spots of the budget, including the impact on women’s ability to maintain paid employment:

“The closure of schools and child care centres has exacerbated work-life balance challenges for women as they have overwhelmingly borne the burdens of unpaid care work.”

Although the budget sets out a number of new initiatives to mitigate the impact of the she-cession, there is no quick fix to the present situation, and it will take some time to build what the government is striving for: an “inclusive, sustainable, feminist and resilient economy that values women’s work.”

Child care

The final report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women released in 1970 included recommendations for government-supported child care. At the time, the Toronto Star called those and the report’s other recommendations “more explosive than any terrorist’s time bomb.”

Fifty-one years later, the federal government is finally committing to a national child care program, modelled on the Quebec system. According to the budget, families will pay 50% less for child care by the end of 2022 and, within five years, parents everywhere in Canada will have access to child care at a cost of $10 a day.

MMIWG

Women of the Metis Nation applauds the budget for “assertively invest[ing] in improving the wellness, lives and safety of Metis women and girls.” Pauktuutit Women of Canada commends the government for funding the construction and operation of transition houses for Inuit women as well as for its $2.2 billion commitment to addressing past and ongoing violence against Indigenous women.

Funding will also support the National Families and Survivors Circle and provide enhanced support for community-based Indigenous women’s gender-based violence organizations as well as for monitoring of initiatives to ensure they are leading to the intended results.

A NAP to End GBV

With its budget allocation of $600 million over the next five years to build and implement a National Action Plan to end Gender-Based Violence, this government has followed through on a 2019 election promise. As the budget says:

“Gender-based violence costs women and gender-diverse people their lives. It has profound effects on children. . . Canadians collectively spend billions to deal with the aftermath.”

$14 million is directed to the development of the action plan itself; $200 million is earmarked to support gender-based violence organizations; $30 million will go to crisis lines, and another $105 million will support GBV prevention programs.

Justice Canada will spend just over $85 million to make free legal advice and representation available to survivors of sexual assault and to establish similar pilot projects for survivors of intimate partner abuse across the country.

Nearly $30 million will be spent to build supervised access services across the country, increasing the safety of women and children fleeing family violence.

Tying these and other commitments together, the budget proposes to establish a dedicated Secretariat within the Department of Women and Gender Equality with the mandate of developing and implementing the National Action Plan.

Lise Martin, Executive Director of Women’s Shelters Canada had this to say about the budget:

“We are heartened to see the federal government recognize the root causes and wider social implications of gender-based violence and systemic racism. . . . Systemic problems need systemic solutions.”

While I have been feeling a bit giddy with excitement since the budget was released yesterday, I am fully aware that there are many steps, each with accompanying potential pitfalls, between its introduction and the realization of everything it promises.

For today, though, I will celebrate the many feminists who have raised these important issues year after year, as we see that work reflected in this budget.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.