How the 2017 federal budget stacks up for women

The Trudeau government unveiled the 2017 federal budget on Wednesday. Photo from Canadian Press.

The 2017 federal budget contains something that no previous budget has: a long statement on gender equality. Trudeau’s second federal budget has a 26-page statement about gender equality that puts government spending and programs through a gender-based analysis.

Unsurprisingly, that analysis confirms that inequalities exist between Canadian men and women. For example, Canada has an 18.97 per cent gap between male and female median wages, putting the country below the OECD average. Additionally, two-thirds of the country’s small- and medium-sized businesses are owned by men.

Accordingly, this budget contains measures specifically aimed at improving the lives of Canadian women. There’s enhanced financial aid for schooling, additional money for early learning and childcare, and changes to parental leave. The 2017 federal budget also contains money (or future promises of money) to reduce gender-based violence, increase supports for Indigenous women, and fund an 11-year affordable-housing strategy.

Here are the key points of interest for women:

Child-care spaces

The Canadian Press reported last week that the government was expected to make child-care commitments in the 2017 budget, and the federal government has restarted talks on the matter with the provinces. The budget earmarks $7 billion over the next decade (starting 2018-19), which could boost child-care spaces by up to 40,000 over three years. But that’s likely far from sufficient to fill need. For example, in Toronto alone there are more than 17,000 children waiting for a fee subsidy.

Child-care costs vary across the country, but in 2016 costs hit a monthly median of $1,649 in Toronto, $1,321 in Vancouver, $1,102 in Calgary, and $902 in Halifax, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The exceptions are found in Quebec, which has a provincial child-care program in place. Median monthly costs in Montreal and Quebec City were under $200 a month last year.

As well, an additional $310 million over six years has been earmarked for a consolidated caregiving credit, which will mean $1,000 back on taxes for caregivers who provide support for an ailing family member.

Sexual assault and gender-based violence

The federal government has committed $100 million over a five-year period towards creating a national strategy to fight gender-based violence. Additionally, another $2.7 million over five years has been set aside for education, ethics, and conduct programming for Canadian judges. The budget cited a Globe and Mail investigation into police sexual assault investigations as a motivation for these commitments. “Recent media investigations have shed light on unfounded sexual assault cases, indicating that the national dismissal rate could be as high as one out of every five sexual assault allegations,” the budget reads. The budget also noted that better data on sexual assault is needed.

The funding puts money behind work the federal government has already begun to change the way sexual assault is dealt with in Canada. Earlier this month, justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould led a day-long knowledge session on exploring alternative approaches to sexual assault justice.

Maternity and paternity leave

Additional flexibility will be worked into the existing Canadian programs for maternal and paternal leave. For example, women will be able to take leave up to 12 weeks before giving birth, and one year’s worth of employment benefits can be spread over 18 months. Women will also be allowed to work sporadically during their leave.

But the changes still don’t match the additional leave benefits offered in Quebec, where more lower-income mothers are able to take leave and fathers have ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ leave time available as well.

Additionally

There are some other measures in the budget that could benefit women in particular. There’s an additional $11.2 billion for affordable housing, and student-loan eligibility has been extended to bring more part-time students and parents into the fold. A special advisor on LGBTQ2 will be installed in the Privy Council Office. Also, more than $80 million has been committed over five years for Indigenous maternal and child health. Additionally, $13 million will go towards improving internet access for low-income Canadians.