By Mitchell Thompson
After one of the longest campaigns in Canadian history, Election Day has finally arrived. Before we decide which party – Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic Party (NDP) – we want running our country, we must take a look back on Canada’s track record dealing with women’s issues.
Last year, the Public Service Alliance of Canada released a run-down of the current government’s major funding cuts and legal impediments to women’s progress.
The PSAC says, “Since 2006, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has been steadily cutting back women’s gains and women’s rights.”
The policies that the union says have been detrimental to women include: cuts to advocacy groups, laws obstructing pay equity and cuts to social programs.
The report begins by outlining major funding cuts to women’s shelters, advocacy groups like the Status of Women Canada, healthcare programs and the Women’s Health Contribution Program. In a press release, The Women’s Health Network states that, “These cuts are in direct contradiction to the pledges regarding gender equality that Canada has made.” So far, only the Green party and NDP have announced plans to reverse these cuts.
According to Up for Debate (an alliance consisting of 175 women’s groups), issues such as sexual harassment and missing/murdered Aboriginal women have also yet to be adequately addressed by any political party.
The PSAC also takes issue with our government’s refusal to address pay equity. Last month, the CBC reported that, “men are paid 20 per cent more than their female colleagues.” While the Globe reports that Canadian women currently make an average of $8,000 less than men.
This is made worse by laws blocking unions from bringing pay equity cases to the Human Rights Commission. Instead, under the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act, female workers must bargain with employers for pay equity. This makes attempts at having their wages raised to be equal to their male coworkers easier to dismiss. Maclean’s says of PSECA that while the Canadian Human Rights Act, “dictates that the value of work be assessed on skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions,” the act requires that, “qualifications and market forces,” be considered. Maclean’s argues this could “effectively gut the right to equality in the workplace.” While the law has not been mentioned explicitly by the opposition, the NDP and Greens have mentioned introducing pay equity legislation if elected.
The union also notes that due to government inaction, poverty among women and single mothers in particular has become quite acute. A 2011-2012 report by Statistics Canada on household food insecurity shows that 8.6 per cent of women live in households with moderate or severe food insecurity compared to 6.9 per cent of men. Meanwhile, the PSAC says 22.1 per cent of lone parent households experience food insecurity, 82 per cent of which are headed by women. On top of that, a report by TD Economics says, “mothers who have taken time off for parental leave face a consistent wage gap of about three per cent for every year of absence.” Despite this, Citizens for Public Justice told the Huffington Post that, “none of the opposition parties [have] done a good job addressing the growing income gap and the needs of those who make less than $30,000 a year.”
Moreover, the PSAC says the current government has made things worse for unemployed women. The report says this is due to increased difficulty in qualifying for Employment Insurance (EI) and low payments. Thomas Walkom writes that, “Under the Harper Conservatives, EI is becoming a cruel joke. Rules are already so tight that most jobless Canadians don’t qualify [while those who do] often find their claims disallowed later.” But, the report adds that, “Even when women do qualify, their EI payments are so low – 55 per cent of minimum wage – that they often can’t feed their children AND pay the rent.” Though the liberals have mostly been silent, the NDP do plan on easing EI requirements.
Regardless of who wins the election, these problems remain and they need to be addressed, by whichever party will listen.
NOTE: A previous version of this post incorrectly named “Up for Debate” as “Up to Debate”. This correction has been made.