Written by Karla Gourdeau

They say that money talks, so what does the 2017 Federal Budget released on March 22, 2017 have to say?  The Liberal government’s second budget is being touted in the media as “woman-friendly”, “feminist”, and “gender sensitive” -  it even contains Canada’s first ever gender statement in a federal budget!

The World Economic Forum reported in 2016 that at the current rate of change, the global gender economic disparity gap would not be closed for another 170 years. This forecast, according to the Forum, should serve as a call to action to policymakers around the world to accelerate gender equality.

Has Canada heeded this call to action? Are we on our way to achieving economic gender parity? Is the first step a (gender) balanced budget? Although the Liberal government did not present a budget that would “balance the books” from an accounting standpoint (the deficit projection for 2016-2017 is $23 billion dollars), are they looking to weight the scales in favor of women?

Gender-Based Budgeting

In 2016, Finance Minister Bill Morneau stated that the Liberal government would submit all Liberal budgets to more rigorous gender-based scrutiny by completing and publishing a gender-based analysis of all proposed budgetary measures.  Gender-based analysis requires policy makers to think about how a certain policy might affect the sexes in different ways, while also considering; age, income bracket, and other sociological and cultural factors. While gender-based budgeting might be new to Canada, it has been used around the world for many years. If policy makers find a specific policy to have a disproportionate negative impact on one gender when the gender-based analysis is complete, they have the opportunity to revisit the policy and mitigate any adverse effects.

In his budget address to the House of Commons Finance Minister Bill Morneau framed the objectives of the gender-based analysis in this way:

“The decisions we make, and the policies we create, impact men and women differently. In order to make laws and develop policies and programs that are in the best interests of all Canadians, we have to know what kind of impact they'll have. We know, for example, that while Canadian companies are getting better when it comes to hiring more women, they're still less effective at promoting women to senior roles. And we know that fewer women join or stay in the workforce than men. That means that as a country, we aren't taking full advantage of the talents, insights, and experience of more than half of our population. It seems unfathomable. But it's true. It's why we need to do better.”

He went on to say that the 2017 budget is just the start, and that the government looks forward to feedback on its first gender-based effort, feedback that the government will then build into future budgets.

Female-Focused Policies in the 2017 Budget

Extended Parental Leave

Parental leave, previously 12-months in duration has now been extended to 18-months with no change to employment insurance (EI) benefits received. Therefore, Canadian families who choose to take the full 18 months will have to do more with less and stretch the same amount of EI 6 months longer. Women were also granted more flexibility in when they start their maternity leave – they can now begin their leave up to 12 weeks before giving birth. The extension of parental leave from 12 to 18 months is in part to combat day care waiting lists (more on this issue below).

Child Care

The government has promised to spend $7 billion for childcare and early learning over the next 11 years, but only about $500 million a year during their current mandate. The government has stated this could create 40,000 subsidized spaces over the next three years for lower income families. For a frame of reference, Quebec’s $20-a-day child care plan costs the province more than $2.4 billion per fiscal year.  Currently in Canada, there are 500,000 regulated center-based spots in the entire country for young children, or enough for 1 out of 4 children under the age of 5.

Gender-Based Violence

The Canadian government has committed to spending $101 million over the next five years to support a national strategy to address gender-based violence.  The government cited recent media investigations as a catalyst for the program, in which the media has indicated that the national dismissal rate of reported sexual assault cases as “unfounded” (meaning police investigators believe no crime occurred) could be as high as one out of every five sexual assault allegations. The budget stated more details on the national strategy would be released in coming months.

What Do These Policies Truly Mean for Women?

We already know that fewer women than men stay in the workforce - will extended family leave make it harder for women to transition back to the workplace? How likely are women on the leadership track (who already often choose to return to work before the 12-month mark) to take advantage of the new 18-month option? A question on many young women’s minds may be “If I choose to have two kids, and  two 18-month maternity leaves, will I be three years behind my male counterparts?”

In Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, she talks a lot about the issue of childcare. If women are to continue to break the glass ceiling or rise above the “motherhood penalty,” then who is to watch their kids? Many working families have their children in daycare centers, which typically have long waitlists and large price tags. In Calgary, families can expect to pay $1,500-1,800 per child. Government subsidized childcare for lower income families has not helped to solve the care issue for the middle class.

What Can You Do?

  • The Liberal government publicly stated they were open to feedback on the first gender-based budget strategy and that feedback would be applied to future budget cycles. Consider contacting your Member of Parliament and providing input for future policy making.
  • Contact your HR representative if parental leave is in your near future and discuss how you can utilize the extended 18-month or flexible start (up to 12-weeks before delivery) leave policies
  • This budget that has received so much press as “woman-friendly” has also been called “anti-men”; talk to the men in your life and explain how economic parity benefits both sexes.

It is a step in the right direction that the 2017 Federal Budget has considered women in its policy making - women do make up 50 percent of the population. However, whether or not the women-focused policies truly improve the lives of Canadian women is yet to be seen. Just like a budget with a projected deficit, when it comes to gender equality - we’re still in the red.

“If you invest in a girl or a woman, you are investing in everybody else.” 
– Melinda Gates, Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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Karla Gourdeau is a Financial Analyst in the Accounting Research and Policy team at Husky Energy. She holds a Chartered Accountant designation and a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with an Accounting major from Mount Royal University. Karla began her career in the energy industry five years ago as a summer student at Husky Energy after placing first in CGA Alberta’s Next Top Accountant’s case writing competition. Karla is outspoken when it comes to gender equality and is determined to see more women in leadership roles. In her spare time you can find Karla reading for one of her book clubs, hiking, snow shoeing in the winter, spinning, playing boards games with friends, or drinking wine.