Critics say Trudeau government is ideologically pushing women into workforce

Finance Minister Bill Morneau focused on gender issues in his budget and a month later said he will begin looking at Canada's competitiveness.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau focused on gender issues in his budget and a month later said he will begin looking at Canada’s competitiveness.

Despite facing economic uncertainty from the on-going threat of the United States withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement and competitive pressures from the U.S. after it slashed its top marginal income and corporate tax rates, the Liberal government decided to focus its fiscal priorities on a supposed gender-gap in the Canadian economy, with an eye to persuading more women to enter the paid workforce.

After Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivered his third budget on Feb. 27, Peter Stockland of Cardus, a Christian think tank, said it was “not a traditional budget by any means,” and “arguably it’s barely a budget at all. It’s much more a 281-page social engineering blueprint, with 76 pages of economic and fiscal outlook appendices tacked on to keep accounting types from lapsing into withdrawal.”

Indeed, there are 358 references to gender but there is no price-tag attached to the announcement the government would introduce a national pharmacare plan after it studies the idea.

Before getting to the literal bottom line that Canada will run an $18.1 billion deficit in the 2018/2019 fiscal year, and run the national debt up to $669.6 billion, Justin Trudeau’s government promised an array of goodies to incentivize more women to enter the workforce. Ottawa will make $1.4 billion available to female entrepreneurs through the Business Development Corporation and Export Development Corporation, another $105 million for “women-led businesses,” $31.8 million for “newcomer women who are also members of visible minorities,” and $35 million to combat sexual harassment on Parliament Hill, as well as support for apprenticeships in areas where women are under-represented with financial support for a new “Women in Construction Fund” and a “Union Training and Innovation Program.” There is even money to help women enter the field of mining.

There is also mandated pay equity for all federally regulated sectors, programs to encourage women to play and coach sports, and money for Statistics Canada to set up a dedicated Centre for Gender, Diversity, and Inclusion Statistics.

The Liberal government also pledged $7.5 billion over 11 years for “early learning and child care,” a euphemism for a national daycare program.

The headline-grabber that most news reports focused on was a modest five- to eight-week parental leave for the “non-birth parent” to encourage fathers to take time off work and connect with their children. The benefit is not transferable to the birth parent, who is eligible for maternity leave. This program kicks in June 1, 2019, and is forecast to cost the government $1.2 billion, and the cost will be covered by increasing payroll taxes (employment insurance premiums) by three cents to $1.66 per $100 earnings.

Furthermore, all future budgets will be statutorily required to undergo a Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) to determine how “all policies, programs, and initiatives,” affect women.

Lastly, it was announced that the Status of Women will become a fully funded, stand-alone government department.  Maryam Monsef, minister responsible for Status of Women, told the CBC, “it’s just a recognition that this agency, small but mighty agency, for the past four decades has been responsible for transformational change across the country.”

Morneau said of the gender-focused budget, “if half our population (is) held back, we’re not going to be successful.” Morneau peddled the popular factoid that women earn 69-cents for every dollar men make, but that is an apples to oranges comparison. Because more women work in part-time employment, many earn less. Statistics Canada issued a report last year, “Women and Paid Work,” that looked at hourly earnings of full-time workers rather than annual income and found the gap was just 12-cents, not 31-cents. Research in the United States shows that once work experience and education are taken into account, the gap is down to a few pennies.

Pundits wonder whether this single-minded focus was necessary. The CIBC Capital Markets budget analysis noted that “Canada already has a greater share of women in the workplace than other countries.”

Financial Post columnist William Watson decried the “identity politics by budget,” and charged Morneau with buying into debatable economic assumptions. RBC Economics argues that if female workforce participation were equal to male participation, Canada’s economy would be four per cent larger. Other economic literature claims that every one per cent increase in gender diversity is associated with a 3.5 per cent bump in revenue and a 0.7 per cent increase in productivity. Those studies do not take into account, however, that Canada already has a relatively high female participation rate in the labour market and the low-hanging fruit that other countries have experienced by opening the workforce to women is no longer applicable to Canada.

More importantly, Watson wrote, “economic activity isn’t about maximizing GDP. It’s about increasing welfare, utility, and happiness.” He wrote, “women should choose what’s best for them, not what juices GDP  or satisfies first-wave feminist orthodoxy.”

Gwen Landolt, vice president of REAL Women, said in a statement, that Trudeau’s Liberal government was pushing an ideological agenda by pushing women into full-time paid employment. The budget, said Landolt, “is putting into practice the notion expressed in feminist Betty Friedan’s 1963 book The Feminist Mystique: that all women regard the home as a concentration camp from which they must be freed to find true happiness in the paid workforce.”

Landolt said not all women are interested in paid work and “they make different choices in their lives.” She said some women are “home-centred” while others, mostly childless, are “work-centred,” and most women “adapt their lives to fit their family situation.” She said Trudeau is trying to “assign women the role in which he thinks they belong,” in the workforce.

Andrea Mrozek, director of Cardus Family, said the gender-focused budget is really cover for growing the economy under the guise of equality. The government “wants the GDP to go up, so they’re going to use the power of the state to cajole women into the workforce, basically allowing women few choices.” She added, while growing the economy “is a legitimate goal of government, I don’t like dressing it up in equality language.”

The ScotiaBank Global Economics budget analysis said that “this budget does relatively little to comfort businesses given the range of challenges they face,” with rising minimum wages, uncertainty over NAFTA, and stiffer competition with the United States to attract investment. TD Economics also lamented, “little was done to address international competitiveness concerns in the wake of U.S. tax changes,” and, in fact, the Finance Minister “ruled out any significant response to these pressures in the budget.”

However, three weeks after tabling the budget, Morneau told Bloomberg News that his immediate priority is Canada’s ability to attract investment. “Job 1 on the center of my desk for the next six months is going to be about competitiveness in Canada.” He said his department will study the situation and possible policy responses. But he maintained “there was no place in our budget for saying speculatively what we might or might not do in the future,” to attract investment.”