MPP Cheri DiNovo Wants a Gender Lens Applied to the Ontario Budget
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MPP Cheri DiNovo Wants a Gender Lens Applied to the Ontario Budget

How do budget policies and promises affect women and gender minorities?


MPP Cheri DiNovo, councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, Leila Sarangi, manager and community researcher from the Etobicoke Women’s Habitat, and former Toronto Senator Nancy Ruth. Photo by Erin Davis

In the upcoming provincial budget—and in future budgets—legislators may look at each line through a gender lens.

Yesterday, Cheri DiNovo, NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park, announced plans to table a motion requiring the Ontario government to incorporate a gender equity perspective in the 2018 provincial budget. The move comes just weeks before the release of the 2017 provincial budget, which is expected by the end of the month.

As we witnessed through the collective voice of fierce and fed-up females (and men, for that matter) at February’s Women’s Marches around the world, issues like health care, education, and labour are very much gender issues. Especially in cities like Toronto, so are the ever-increasing transportation and housing costs. Taking this into consideration, a gender-based analysis of proposed budgets allows for the assessment of how a certain policy may negatively affect women and gender minorities.

A longtime champion for LGBTQ rights and feminist causes, DiNovo said that applying a gender lens to the provincial budget is embarrassingly overdue.

Joining her on stage was Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale), who recently moved two similar motions that were passed by City Council. Also on the panel was Leila Sarangi, manager and community researcher from the Etobicoke Women’s Habitat, and former Toronto Senator Nancy Ruth.

All speakers highlighted the reality that women and gender minorities currently face deep inequities within the provincial budget, programs and services—issues that can have serious impacts on their quality of life. For example, according to Statistics Canada, Ontario has the highest cost of full-time child care, with an average cost of $677 per month. Even more dire, on a single day, as many as 302 women and 221 children are turned away from shelters in Canada because they’re full.

Then there are the many trans individuals who continue to wait—sometimes with potentially suicidal results—for transition health care and mental health supports.

Even elements of the budget that may not seem obvious in their connection to gender issues—such as tax cuts, pension income-splitting, and infrastructure spending—women and gender minorities can be left at a serious disadvantage.

Tax cuts, for example, predominantly benefit men because 38 per cent of women in Canada simply don’t make enough money to be taxable. Pension income-splitting cost more than $1 billion in 2012—a whopping 89 per cent of which was claimed by men.

As Ruth noted, even decisions to invest heavily in highway infrastructure serve little benefit to women, many of whom can’t afford cars. In fact, some can barely afford transit, thanks to the climbing transit costs in cities like Toronto, coupled with skyrocketing rent that continues to rise.

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Perhaps more shocking than the aforementioned statistics is the fact that it’s taken so long for both discussions of a gender lens and its practical implications to become a reality.

Currently, Canada lags behind others in terms of gender-responsive budgeting, with regions like the European Union, Sweden, South Africa, Iceland, Austria, and the Netherlands long ahead in the game. As DiNovo highlights, all have budgets and subsequent progressive programming that reflects the application of a strong gender lens.

As DiNovo points out, Ottawa had committed to a gender-based analysis back in 1995. The auditor general revealed that only a disappointing 30 out of 100 federal departments and agencies were committed to it by 2015. 

While there’s nothing comforting about that figure, the good news is that we’re making progress. In what was credited as a historic first and acknowledged by Finance Minister Bill Morneau as long overdue, the 2017 federal budget was assessed with a lens that paid particular attention to its impact on women. The budget’s “Gender Statement” highlighted things like the wage gap, the overrepresentation of females in lower income jobs, and the disproportionate underrepresentation of women in management and boardroom positions.

Refreshingly, it included investments designed to promote equality and to draw women into the workforce. Now, all spending proposals submitted to the Treasury Board are required to provide proof that gender was considered. So, we have that.

As for Toronto, this year the City followed up Wong-Tam’s 2016 motion to apply a gender lens to the budgeting process with a finalized gender-responsive budget plan. Action items included the development of an “intersectional gender-based framework” for determining the impact of City programs and services on various genders during the 2018 budget process. The plan also features consultation with experts—including community agencies, equity-deprived groups, and vulnerable populations—in gender-responsive analysis. Finally, it includes the development of a data collection strategy designed to assess the gendered impacts of budgetary and policy decisions.

“Trying to create a gender-responsive budget at the City level is something we are taking baby steps to actualize,” said Wong-Tam, who acknowledged that the 2017 budget fell short of fully doing so (hence, her second motion). “We hope to create a fully gender-responsive budget now for 2018 and moving forward.”

Of course, attention needs to be paid to the people who affect the key decision-making. For example, John Tory was met with a social media backlash recently when he tweeted about meeting with affordable housing experts, posting a picture that featured a boardroom people who were almost all white and mostly male

As highlighted by DiNovo, increasingly, women’s participation in the paid labour force doesn’t just benefit women—it helps the whole economy. She pointed to a RBC study that estimates that the GDP could grow by 21 per cent if women and gender minorities had equal outcomes in the job market compared to men. 

DiNovo’s motion is scheduled for Second Reading debate on April 13.