Budget 2017 takes positive steps for women, but more needed on foreign aid.
The Government of Canada released its Federal Budget 2017 today, announcing a few new measures and investments aimed at making the economy work for women.
Gender inequality is one of the most widespread and pernicious drivers of poverty and inequality worldwide. Promoting its feminist agenda worldwide has put Canada back on the international stage as a strong ally of women’s rights and movements.
Oxfam Canada was looking to Budget 2017 as a key moment where Canada’s feminist words would be turned into concrete actions on child and elder care, better public services, on more international development money going to women’s rights programming and on putting a stop to regressive tax policies that hurt women.
Diana Sarosi, Oxfam Canada’s Senior Policy Advisor, and key contributor to Canada’s network of gender budgeting experts, said: “The Budget’s Gender Statement demonstrates that women are being heard by this Government, and that has translated into a few concrete budget choices today to address the challenges faced by women.”
New investments in the care economy, including $7 billion over 10 years in Early Learning and Child Care and $1 billion over 5 years in home care, will reduce women’s burden of unpaid care work, increase their access to the workforce and provide them with more decent jobs. Roughly 60% of minimum wage earners in Canada are women. They are often forced to take on low-paid jobs as they move in and out of employment due to caring responsibilities for children, the elderly and sick. We know that a solid investment in the care economy stimulates employment, contributes to more inclusive growth and helps level the playing field for women by narrowing the gender pay gap and improving women’s access to decent jobs.
“Investments in the care economy in Budget 2017 demonstrate a move in the right direction, but much more is needed to expand the quantity and quality of public care services, including child and elder care, in order to raise the standard of living and well-being for all Canadians and to boost the economy,” said Sarosi.
Furthermore, inclusive growth requires a progressive tax system that allows for raising greater revenues and puts tackling gender inequality at the heart of fiscal policy. Budget 2017 has made some progress in this regard. The Liberal government is the smallest government in the past 60 years, with total federal spending standing at roughly 13% of GDP. In order to raise more revenues, the government will need to crack down on tax evasion, reform the corporate income tax system and close tax loopholes. At the same time, fiscal policy has an important role to play in tackling gender inequality.
Sarosi commented: “Measures in Budget 2017, including 523.9 million over 9 years to prevent tax evasion coupled with the continued implementation of BEPS measures, the Common Reporting Standard, and the closure of several tax loopholes will help the government to raise additional tax revenue. However, with the corporate income tax rate remaining at historically low levels, revenues are not likely to increase sufficiently to pay for needed public services. Also, Budget 2017 did not address measures to correct regressive tax policies that hurt women, such as pension income splitting.”
Finally, Budget 2017 is the first federal budget to include a gender-based analysis. The aim of gender budgeting is to include a gender perspective at all stages of the budgetary process and to restructure revenues and expenditures in a way that promotes gender equality.
“This analysis is a timely and welcome step to ensure budget decisions improve women’s lives. We would like to see the government’s approach to gender budgeting strengthened over the next year to include specific targets on how it aims to promote gender equality in the economy. The time to make the economy work for women is now,” added Sarosi.
Despite positive steps, Canada has yet to step up to the plate in terms of its foreign aid budget. Budget 2017 did not include any increase to foreign aid. This means Canada continues to be a below-average donor within the OECD and falls short of walking the talk on our global contributions. An increase to the aid budget will be essential to boost Canada’s leadership on women’s rights. Directed funds such as the recently announced $650 million for sexual and reproductive health and rights are commendable, but more of these funds also need to go directly to local women’s rights organizations and movements. So far, only a meagre 0.03% of Canadian aid has gone to organizations of this nature.
“With no increase, 2017’s aid allocation will not be sufficient to address the political backlash faced by women around the world. More aid will be needed to ensure that Canada lives up to its promise of being a world leader in championing the rights of women and girls during such critical times” said Sarosi.