Budget 2017 made headway by using a gender-based [plus] analysis (GBA+) in considering the ongoing need for diverse women’s equality. It also rightly recognized the need to look at intersecting forms of discrimination and how they may impact one’s overall experience within Canada. These are important first steps and the government is to be commended on this, but it would be much better if talk and analysis were matched by action.
Need for measures to eliminate pay gaps and ensure good jobs
The budget notes that women continue to face a significant gender wage gap in Canada, one of the highest in the OECD, but offers nothing on ensuring equal pay for work of equal value. Last year, CUPE called for proactive federal pay equity legislation, modelled on the recommendations of the 2004 Pay Equity Task Force, which last reported over 10 years ago. Despite years of research and tested pay equity regimes in Ontario and Quebec, the government has said it will do more research and consultation before tabling pay equity legislation in late 2018.
One of the indicators of success named in the budget is “more equal wages and increased labour market participation for diverse groups of women and men” yet the budget failed to provide any analysis or mention of racialized labour market discrimination and how it might be addressed. While the government did acknowledge that due to a lack of data, a thorough GBA+ analysis could not have been applied to the entire budget, there was no funding provided to address this data gap. There is hope that the new LGBTQ2 Secretariat announced in Budget 2017 will go some way in providing much-needed analysis of, and solutions to, labour market discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
The Trudeau government has done little on employment equity, which reduces barriers to jobs faced by equity-seeking groups. A key recommendation from CUPE’s submission to the federal government’s accessibility consultation was the need to reinstate federal employment equity regulation to its pre-Harper standard, and fix gaps in the employment equity system.
Budget 2017 does promise investments in training and skills development for under-represented groups, including Indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities. But without strong employment equity systems in Canada, the hiring and retention of trained women, Indigenous peoples, racialized people, people with disabilities and LGBTQ people is compromised. Leadership from the federal government on employment equity is essential to achieve this.
Parental benefits for whom?
A major highlight of Budget 2017 is an emphasis on the need to address unpaid care work and balance work and caregiving responsibilities, which are big factors in the pay gap faced by women. In addition to desperately needed investments in early learning and child care and a new EI Caregiving benefit, Budget 2017 has increased the length of EI parental benefits to 18 months from 12 months. Unfortunately, there is no increase in benefit levels for parental leave. This means parents taking this option would only receive a 33 per cent wage replacement level versus the current 55 per cent.
It is likely that this extended leave will only be taken by parents with a high income earning spouse, not single parents, not low-income parents, and not middle class parents. This leave will more than likely entrench gender wage gaps and women’s roles as unpaid caregivers.
Instead the Trudeau government could have introduced a genuinely feminist plan that would help make our society more equitable. It chose to ignore CUPE’s recommendations last year to help them do this, including our recommendation to boost the EI wage replacement level to 70 per cent.
As part of its GBA+ analysis, Budget 2017 notes that women are more likely to be among the most vulnerable seniors. Women face significant challenges in saving adequately for retirement due to their disproportionately lower wages and time spent doing unpaid care work. CUPE was disappointed last fall when the federal government cancelled dropout provisions for women and persons with disabilities in the expanded Canada Pension Plan (CPP). These special provisions have existed for decades under CPP, and they go some way in achieving equitable retirement benefits for workers with disabilities and those with child caring responsibilities. The budget made no mention of the need to address this major flaw in the expansion of CPP.
Ensuring basic human rights
While there were important funding commitments made to address indigenous rights, Budget 2017 continues to shamefully ignore the discriminatory underfunding of child welfare services on First Nation reserves. To date, the Trudeau government has refused to comply with the order of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) to implement ‘Jordan’s Principle’ and ensure all First Nations children have access to the same services as other children in Canada. While this budget offers vague promises to address the crisis, it does not allocate any new funding for First Nations children on reserves. The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society has said it will sue the federal government for contempt of court if it continues to ignore the CHRT order.
The budget promises $100.9 million over five years to develop a national strategy to address gender-based violence. This is a positive step to address Canada’s unacceptable levels of violence against women, which disproportionately affects indigenous, LGBTQ and racialized women, and women with disabilities. CUPE expects the government to seek direction from, and provide funding to, the community organizations that have been leading this work.
There are also positive measures that the federal government should take now in addressing gender-based violence, including violence in the world of work. The Manitoba government recently made history by passing a law that provides five paid days of domestic violence leave for survivors. We need the federal government to do the same and provide paid domestic violence leave in the federal Labour Code.
Budget 2017 made investments in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the International Mobility Program, but it is unclear how this will directly benefit the lives of temporary foreign workers and migrant workers. Despite past promises to expand pathways to citizenship, the government has not addressed this and the very real concerns about permanency, mobility and job safety made clear by migrant workers and migrant workers organizations.