On February 22, as part of his effort to reduce federal spending and he burgeoning debt, Finance Minister Michael Wilson included a few budget cutbacks for women’s centres, programs and publications, amounting to $1.6 million.
The Secretary of Stat’s Department, for example, eliminated financing for three feminist magazines – Resources for Feminist Research, Canadian Women’s Studies Journal and Health Sharing. It also trimmed, but did not eliminate, the subsidies for five activist groups: the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sports; the Canadian Committee on Learning Opportuniites for Women; the Canadian Research Institute for Advancement of Women; the Women’s Research Centre; and Nouveau Depart. And it also withdrew much of the financing for 80 women’s counseling and referral centres nationwide.
The decrease in funding still leaves $9.6 million for the women’s program in fiscal year 1990-91 in the Secretary of State’s Department alone. This is still more than double the amount ($4.2 million) the program received in 1983-84. Although the women’s program annual budget has dropped from an all-time high of $12 million in 1987, it has received over $56 million from this Department since 1984. Many groups also receive funds fro other Departments.
“We are pleased that there has been a reduction in the funding. It’s a good sign to us,” Gwen Landolt, national vice-president of REAL Women, told The Interim. She conceded, however, that the budget cuts were most likely part o the government’s effort to get the federal deficit under control rather than a coming to grips with the political wisdom of funding radical feminist strategies.
On budget day the finance minister and other members of the cabinet stoutly denied that the 10 per cent rollback was an attempt to deliberately silence women.
“We’ve been careful in avoiding any undue impact on programs that provide support to battered women,” Wilson said. Secretary of State Gerry Weiner stated that lowering the federal deficit is the top priority with the government: “There is a plan to ensure our future security and prosperity. The deficit is being addressed.”
Reaction to the Finance Minister’s modest rollback in funding from representatives of Canada’s feminist movement was swift and furious.
“I hope the family and friends of the students in Montreal who died because violence against women is accepted in this country accept this,” shouted Liberal Women’s Critic MP Mary Clancy in the Commons on budget day.
“This man of power, single-mindedly… pursuing his deficit reduction, had just dealt a hard blow to every beaten, raped or unemployed woman in those 80 towns and cities. And he’s indignant when we women, despairing of this male-dominated government, mention Montreal,” wrote the Toronto Star’s Michele Landsberg in her February 27 column.
REAL Women takes a different view. “The money is allegedly to help women, but really it is directed only to feminists for feminists,” argued Gwen Landolt. “The women’s centres in particular say they have all kinds of altruistic purposes, but their basic purpose is to serve as agents of social change and propaganda,” she said.
One example of such a centre was the Pictou County Women’s Centre, exposed in The Interim (February 1986) as a centre for radical lesbian activity.
Already hurting from cutbacks in their funding, women’s groups overreacted to a joke told by Trade Minister John Crosbie at a February 27 Tory fundraising dinner.
“Sheila Copps is running for the leadership of the Liberal party,” Crosbie told the audience. “It reminds me of an old song: “Pass me the tequila, Sheila, and lie down and love me again.”
Feminists nationwide used the off-colour remark to shrilly denounce the government for everything from failure to implement its child care program to the $1.6 million cutbacks in women’s programs.
Next day, Janet Maher, an executive with the National Action Committee for the Status of Women (NAC) frantically demanded the resignation of the Newfoundland MP.
At the same time Crosbie apologized to any person who mistakenly took offence, but added that the remark was taken out of context. It was “flashed across Canada,” he stated, “and then representatives who think they are representatives of women objected.”