Leading up to the official release of the new 2018 Canadian Federal Budget Tuesday, the Liberal government was toting the plan’s heavy focus on gender equality and families. For the most part, the budget makes good on the promises made by Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau regarding pay equity and parental leave, but it leaves much to be desired in other areas. While this type of goodwill spending seems progressive on the surface, experts at Business News Network are calling the plan “benevolent but benign.” Here’s what the new budget does for women and some things it doesn’t.
Focus on women in the workplace
The plan focuses on investing in women who want to work. It commits $1.4 billion over the next three years to aid female entrepreneurs through the Business Development Bank of Canada. It acknowledges that women face barriers that men don’t when starting businesses like limited access to “capital, supply chains and export programs” and seeks to level some of those by offering additional financial boosts.
Another significant point is the introduction of pay equity legislation for women employed in the government and in federally-regulated sectors. These measures are still in the preliminary stages though and concrete numbers are not provided.
Additionally, the budget introduces strategies to reduce gender-based harassment and violence. It specifically references the Me Too and Time’s Up movements’ impacts on new policies and focuses on a range of gender-specific abuses in the workplace, by one’s partner and against Indigenous women. It also commits to an “increased accountability and responsiveness from the Canadian criminal justice system” in such cases.
Paid Paternal Leave
There are several changes to the way parental leave works with an emphasis on the new five-week “use it or lose it” parental leave for new parents who did not give birth. The goal of this change is to defy the stigma that women are expected to be primary caregivers of children by allowing fathers to take time off to care for a newborn too. The benefit will also be extended to same-sex couples and adoptive parents come June 2019.
The budget also increases Canada’s overseas humanitarian spending by $2 billion over five years and focuses on supporting and bringing in refugee women and girls, committing support to 1,000 refugee women from conflict zones. This commitment is in line with comments Trudeau made at the UN Peacekeeping Summit in Vancouver last fall about Canada needing to do better when it comes to protecting women in places where we have peacekeeping efforts.
Kids’ free admittance to national parks
Not a female-specific change, but it could lift a burden from parents who want a cheap way to keep their kids occupied in the summer. Working off the success of making Canada’s national parks free to all Canadians for the entirety of 2017, the new budget makes national parks permanently free for anyone under the age of 18. It also fulfills a promise made by Morneau two years ago to make parks free to youngins by this year.
Hey, what about daycare?
With all this commitment to getting women into the workforce and leveling the playing field as much as possible, you would think the government might have addressed one of the most significant obstacles facing working parents: daycare. Private childcare is expensive and there are few government supports or alternatives to help families with working parents.
Critics (including working moms) are disappointed in the government’s oversight of the whole daycare issue. Forget paternity leave, where does my kid go after those five weeks are up?
What else is lacking?
Other significant criticisms of the budget have to do with the $18.1 billion deficit (which Liberals had promised previously to lower at some point during their term) and the fact that Canada doesn’t seem to be taking precautions to remain competitive in business with the U.S. There are notably no indications of NAFTA uncertainty and no tax breaks for businesses to the degree the United States passed last year. While there was great controversy over the American tax bill last fall, the takeaway for Canada is that their drastic tax cuts for businesses give American companies a competitive edge over their Canadian counterparts.