A Gender-Based Budget with Little Ambition

By Citizens for Public Justice

Budget 2018 is an important symbolic step for women, but doesn’t go far enough

Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) is encouraged to see the federal government release Federal Budget 2018 with a gender-based analysis, the first federal budget in Canada to do so. Proposing legislation on pay equity and improving women’s access to jobs are both important pieces in tackling women’s economic equity.

But Budget 2018 lacks the ambition needed to make real advancements for all women in Canada, particularly those living in poverty or struggling to make ends meet. Without meaningful funding for a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy, this budget leaves them behind for another year. What’s more, Budget 2018 does next-to-nothing to address Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, ignoring the fact that, globally, women bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. And the government’s commitment to resettle an extra 1,000 refugee women and girls from various conflict zones over the next five years is also commendable. But considering the level of vulnerability of this population, this is not nearly enough.

Poverty in Canada

Despite the investments promised over eleven years to work with the provinces and territories in increasing childcare spaces and subsidies, Budget 2018 falls short of working towards a universal subsidized childcare program, which many advocacy groups have long called for as an effective, evidence-based way to increase women’s participation in the workforce, lift families out of poverty and precarity, and increase economic growth.

The introduction of enhanced parental benefits is not ambitious enough without a serious dedication to accessible childcare for all. In addition, $7.5 billion investment over 11 years for childcare is far from the universal access required to ensure that women with children face less barriers when returning to work. With this investment, the government is still falling short of the accepted international benchmark for OECD countries of 1% GDP spending for early learning and childcare. The Canada Child Benefit is not improving purchasing power in many middle-class households who are paying tens of thousands of dollars annually for childcare, and in some cases, it can even result in a lower childcare subsidy received from municipal or provincial sources. It is imperative that these programs contain protections from different levels of government.

The 2018 Budget also announced the introduction of the Canada Workers Benefit (CWB), a new version of the Working Income Tax Benefit, which will provide additional income to low-wage earners and households in Canada. The improved accessibility to this program is welcomed. However, the onus should not fall on citizens to fund an increasingly inequitable Canadian workforce. Given the ever-present gender wage gap that exists, the CWB funding structure leaves many women behind since it is a household transfer, not an individual transfer.

CPJ applauds strong funding commitments to reconciliation efforts with Indigenous peoples, representing perhaps the most ambitious section of this Budget – and for good reason, given the amount of work to be done in partnership with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples to address years of discrimination and inequality. This is a welcome priority. It also highlights, however, the lack of any similar ambition for the Poverty Reduction Strategy at large.

It is disappointing that the long-awaited poverty reduction strategy did not receive any dedicated funding in Budget 2018. The strategy, which is rumoured to be released sometime in 2018, will be the first national poverty plan in Canada. While certain benefits like the CCB (indexed to inflation), the new Canada Working Benefit, and extensions and additions to existing parental leave options have been announced under the umbrella of this strategy, the government needs to shift beyond piecemeal programs and address more ambitious systemic change if they want to tackle poverty in Canada.

Progressive tax reforms that will combat tax evasions and avoidance are absolutely necessary in these efforts and are well-received by CPJ and our supporters. While improved social programs and benefits tackle inequity for those at the bottom, tax reforms are a way to redistribute wealth from the top and contribute needed revenue to fund other initiatives.

Ecological Justice

Year over year, record temperatures, unprecedented natural disasters, and wide-spread devastation is on the rise around the world as the result of climate change.

Yet Budget 2018 was written as if the climate crisis was resolved with the 2016 announcement of the Pan-Canadian Climate Framework and the 2017 Low Carbon Economy Fund. These measures certainly moved the yardsticks forward but fell far short of what is required from Canada to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. And despite these measures, Canadian greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have yet to decrease.

At CPJ, we believe that social and environmental priorities must inform the ways in which we achieve our economic goals.

We applaud efforts to address the particular social and economic vulnerabilities of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the $143.5 million (over five years) to support the expansion of the First Nations Land Management Act, which should empower Indigenous Peoples in disputes relating to energy infrastructure. We also welcome the $1.346B (over five years) for land and water conservation and the $1.018B dedicated to environmental law reform.

In terms of investments in measures that will lead to reduced GHG emissions, Budget 2018 is weak. The $109 million (over five years) in funds to implement Canada’s carbon pricing mechanism is good, but what is most notable here is the year-long delay in the application of this mechanism and the failure of the government to raise the benchmark to a level that would meaningfully reduce emissions. The monitoring of Canada’s climate framework is also a positive step, but at $4 million annually, quite modest.

Most notably from a climate perspective, Budget 2018 does almost nothing to address the $1.6 billion that continues to be given to the fossil fuel industry in the form of subsidies every year. (In the language of this budget, that’s $8 billion over five years.) In fact, tucked under the heading of “extending tax support for clean energy,” there is an additional $123 million that could potentially be applied to more energy efficient equipment in the oil and gas sector. In any case, the continued subsidization of the fossil fuel sector represents billions in lost revenue that could be invested in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and skills development.

Refugee Rights

In view of the unique challenges faced by refugees who are women and girls, it is commendable that Budget 2018 specifically addresses both the urgent resettlement needs of this population as well as the importance of combating gender-based violence.

The government’s plan to set aside $20.3 million over five years to welcome 1,000 refugee women and girls is, however, unimpressive and communicates a lack of serious intention to address the needs of this population. The projection will see an average of only 200 additional Government-Assisted Refugees (GARs) in each subsequent year, making virtually no dent in the already low numbers of refugees brought to Canada through this stream.

What is praiseworthy, though, is the decision to resettle those from conflict zones around the world, rather than a specific region. This will mean that women and girls identified by the UNHCR as the most at-risk will be prioritized.

To combat gender-based violence, harassment, and discrimination, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada aims to spend $1.5 million over five years to enhance the Settlement Program. As well, $12.8 million will be set aside to provide legal aid services for refugee claimants in 2018-19.

Regarding irregular border crossers, the government is disappointingly maintaining the position to not rescind the Safe Third Country Agreement. Instead, Budget 2018 will see $173.2 million spent to support security operations at the Canada-U.S. border and the processing of asylum claimants arriving in 2018–19 along with $85.5 million towards the Canada Border Services Agency in 2018-19.

It is unfortunate to see no measures to eliminate the Immigration Loans Program, which the government has acknowledged impedes the abilities of refugees to settle and integrate into Canadian society. From a gendered lens specifically, the government should recognize the effects of travel loan repayment on women in particular, who may have the lowest levels of education and language competency and thus have the hardest time securing work and repaying these loans once in Canada. 

Also missing is any indication of how the government intends to address the issue of backlogs in the Privately Sponsored Refugee program. With no clear plan to hire more personnel at processing centres, it is likely the government will not meet its target of reducing wait times to 12 months by 2019.

Overall, Budget 2018 is considerably deficient considering the ever-escalating numbers of refugees worldwide as well as the ever-increasing demands on Canada’s refugee system.

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