Mind The Gap: Is Canada’s 2018 Federal Budget A Step Towards Gender Equality?

Federal Budget 2018 Joshua Soucie

Though the 2018 federal budget’s focus on gender equality is being praised by some, others are writing this year’s budget off as symbolic Liberal feminism.

“This budget is bold. What the Liberals did, is that they made the next two years or year-and-a-half about social issues. I, as a whole, like it,” says Erica Ifill, co-host of the Bad + Bitchy podcast and founder of Not In My Colour. “They’re making strides, but it didn’t go far enough in certain areas.”

Statistics Canada’s “Women and Paid Work,” released in March of 2017, reveals that women earn, on average, $0.87 for a man’s dollar. That knowledge is quite widespread. But other wage gaps, such as Ontario’s 17.2 per cent racial wage gap, cited in a study conducted by The Conference Board of Canada, are seldom acknowledged.

This map highlights racial wage gaps by per cent in Canada’s provinces. The data was taken from a study conducted by The Conference Board of Canada.

The 367-page budget, entitled “Equality + Growth, A Strong Middle Class” outlines plans to invest in female entrepreneurship and increase female representation in male dominated fields, such as skilled trades and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related disciplines. The Liberals are according $187 million, over five years, to take action against gender-based violence and sexual assault. The government has also pledged $100 million to women’s organizations, $7.2 million to hold a “national conversation” regarding gender equality amongst Canadian youth and $600,000 to Statistics Canada, in order to create a Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics.

All things considered, many insist that these initiatives and the foreseeable 2.7 cent decrease in the wage gap, alone, are not enough to achieve truly indiscriminate pay equality.

“If you look at the higher end of the scale of management, the female representation drops significantly. Now, some people would say it’s because women have children, and they leave the workforce, but it’s also true for women that don’t have children and didn’t leave the workforce,” says Ifill. “So there is a stubborn structural gap there.”

Ifill says we should not seek to destroy the structure, but rather find a way to change it because it no longer serves our societal needs: “I think that, because most of the positions of power are occupied by white men – and I don’t think that anybody can deny that – most promotions are done through that power structure. I honestly think that the structure, itself, needs to be changed. We’re not doing the nine to five, you get a pension at 65, anymore.

“The devil’s always in the details.”

The budget further proposed a “use-it-or-lose-it” five-week parental leave, at a projected cost of 1.2 billion over five years, partially to incentivize men to spend time at home, with their children. This, however, leaves some dissatisfied.

“I’m currently disappointed that there’s still no move towards a universal child care program,” says Dr. Grace Adeniyi Ogunyankin, assistant professor at Carleton University’s Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies.

“I think the initiatives definitely signify some form of progress. I am trying not to be skeptical, but I’m curious about how things will unfold and how these budget initiatives would actually translate to change and help attain parity,” says Ogunyankin. “I am especially curious about the plans, if any, that the government has in place to enforce pay equity.”

The Trudeau government has, in fact, outlined plans to develop pay equity legislation for federal and federally regulated employees, using Ontario and Quebec as models. Yet, the private sector will remain virtually uninhibited in its systemic corporate discrimination.

“I feel like all this [applies to] is white, cisgender women.“ says Esosa May, a volunteer at Carleton University’s Race, Ethnicity and Culture (REC) Centre. “What about people who don’t identify as male or female? What about the people in between? […] You are talking about equal pay for males and females, but what about people that don’t even have jobs based on their sexual orientation?”

As a central figure in the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada, Louis Lang also knows a thing or two about conceptualizing equality. He says the budget contains no tangible solutions to rectify the wage gap.

“The 2018 Federal Budget does not provide redress for income inequality,” says Lang. “Most importantly, what is missing is for working people themselves to have a meaningful say in the economy and other matters that affect them, so as to seriously address issues of inequality.”

I reached out to the Department of Finance Canada for comment regarding the concerns raised by these sources, amongst others. While Finance Canada stands behind the 2018 budget, they acknowledge that gender equality requires a multi-faceted action plan.

“Budget 2018 introduced numerous measures to advance equality in Canada, which have been generally well received by Canadians,” says Jocelyn Sweet, deputy spokesperson at Finance Canada. “The reasons behind the gender wage gap are deep-rooted and complex. As described in more detail in the section of Budget 2018 on Addressing the Gender Wage Gap‎, closing the gap will require a comprehensive approach, involving multiple tools and action from all segments of society.”

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