The controversy over lack of government funding for the pro-life, pro-family women’s group REAL Women of Canada has focused media and public attention on the funding of so-called women’s groups and the activities of government agencies responsible for the “status of women” in Canada. But few average Canadians are sure who’s who as the scenario is played out against the backdrop of a Parliamentary Committee hearing.

The catch-phrase “status of women” seems to have become fashionable in the late sixties when a group known as the Ad Hoc Committee for the Equality of Women recommended to the government that a Royal Commission be established to assess the “status” of Canadian women. The group later became the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. The group later became the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, colloquially known as NAC.

Accordingly, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women was established and eventually tabled its report in 1970. In response to its recommendations several “status of women” organizations came into being. In 1971 the position of coordinator, Status of Women was established in the Privy Council Office and a Cabinet Minister was assigned responsibility for the status of women in a portfolio aptly designated “the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women.”

In 1973 the Women’s Program of the Secretary of State Department was created. And last, but certainly not least, came the establishment, also in 1973, of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women as an independent organization entirely funded by the government.

A cursory look at all of the above entities reveals that they are individual yet interdependent.

Women’s Program

The Women’s Program of the Secretary of State Department has been the focus of the furor over the funding of women’s groups since it became publicly known that REAL Women had been consistently refused government funding. The Standing Committee on the Secretary of State began an examination of the Women’s Program in December 1986, and will report to Parliament before the end of June.

Through the Women’s Program, the government “provides financial assistance to groups and organizations working to improve the economic, social and legal situation of Canadian women.”

The government’s Main Estimates for 1987-88 indicate that the program will hand out $12.4 million in the current fiscal year- $11.9 million in grants and contributions to women’s groups and $500,000 to the University of Manitoba to set up a Chair of Women’s Studies. 69 per cent of this budget will be allocated to project assistance, with the remaining 31 per cent assigned to women’s group operational grants.

Previous grants from this program have spanned the spectrum of feminism. They include an $8,000 grant to the Toronto YWCA for Lifestyle and Advocacy Training for Burlesque Entertainers, operational funding for NAC, LEAF and other national feminist organizations, and funding for the now infamous International Women’s Day celebrations across the country.

The Minister responsible for the approval of grants from the Women’s Program is the Secretary of State currently the Hon. David Crombie.

National Action Committee on the Status of Women

One of the chief recipients of government largesse through the Women’s Program is the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.

Following a perceived lack of government action to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, the Ad Hoc Committee for the Equality of Women in Canada (which had recommended the establishment of the Royal Commission in 1966) decided to abandon its ad hoc nature and in 1972 became a permanent fixture called the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.

Status of Women Canada

The least-known organization under the status of women banner is an entire government department called Status of Women Canada.  Although technically defined as a federal agency, Status of Women Canada functions as the department of the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women.

This agency was preceded by the establishment, in 1971, of the above-mentioned position of Coordinator, Status of Women, in the Privy Council Office as a direct response to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1970.

However, in 1976 it was decided that a separate agency, outside PCO, would be created.  This agency, or department, is known as Status of Women, Office of the Coordinator, also called Status of Women Canada under the federal identity program.  The current Coordinator of the agency is Kay Stanley; Louise Holmes is Deputy/Coordinator.

The stated program objective of Status of Women Canada is “to promote equal opportunities for women in all spheres of Canadian life.”  The agency provides advice and recommendations to the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, currently the Hon. Barbara McDougall.  It also provides information and liaison service to women’s groups, non-governmental organizations and the general public with respect to government program and policies concerning the status of women.

However, according to the federal government’s 1987-88 Main Estimates, one of the external factors influencing this program is “the intensity of the lobbying by non-governmental women’s organizations,” an obvious indication of the power of women’s lobbies such as NAC.

Status of Women Canada “maintains on-going liaison with women’s groups in order to identify the groups’ policy interests.”  Presumably these interests are then placed on the government’s agenda.  The agency is also regularly consulted by the Secretary of State Women’s Program; formal and informal contacts have always existed between their offices.  Status of Women Canada assists Women’s Program staff in the development of priorities, and has been consulted on every proposed budget increase for the Women’s Program.

Another activity for which Status of Women Canada is responsible is the promotion of the Nairobi “Forward Looking Strategies,” the final document of the UN Decade for Women.  The agency has produced a workshop kit designed to enable women’s organizations to use the FLS as “an instrument of change in the social, cultural, economic and political spheres.”  Status of Women Canada also has “on-going responsibility for substantive preparation of Canadian representatives to the UN Commission on the Status of Women,” next scheduled to meet in March 1988.  The agency has taken a lead role in the elaboration of a working interpretation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a radical convention which was ratified by Canada in 1981.

Advisory Council

The budget of Status of Women Canada for 1987-88 is $2.8 million, it employs between 40 to 50 people.

Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women

Perhaps the most dangerously influential of all status of women organizations is the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women (CACSW).  In its 1970 report, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women recommended the creation of a federal Status of Women Council.  Following on this recommendation, the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women was established in 1973 as an independent organization entirely funded by the government. The Council reports to Parliament through the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, however it retains the right to publish its views without ministerial consent.

The mandate of the CACSW is to bring before the federal government and the public, matters of interest and concern to women, and to advise the Minister on matters relating to the status of women.

The Council is headed by a salaried President appointed by the Prime Minister, a position once held by Liberal MP Lucie Pepin and currently occupied by Sylvia Gold.  There are also two full-time Vice-Presidents.  The Advisory Council itself is comprised of 27 part-time volunteer members from across Canada who are appointed by Order in Council for a period of three years.  Council members receive per diem payments for attendance at the quarterly Council meetings and some financial support for expenses incurred for other related Council functions.

Most of the CACSW’s services are provided through the central office in Ottawa, with regional offices in Calgary and Montreal, and a local office in Winnipeg.  In 1987-88 the Advisory Council on the Status of Women will spend $2.6 million, employing between 45 and 55 people.

The Council prepares position papers on the implications for women of specific proposals for new legislation, policies or programs.  It also consults directly with government officials during the development of these proposals, and provides advice to Parliamentary committees, special task forces and commissions of inquiry.

To carry out these duties efficiently, it maintains liaison with women’s groups and universities.  The Communications Publications Section promotes public awareness of the Council’s work and also organizes information campaigns in response to issues which in the agency’s view require immediate action.

The Advisory Council has consistently recommended removal of abortion from the Criminal Code.  In its latest recommendations to the federal government on the issue, delivered in a communiqué dated January 22, 1987, the CACSW states that abortion is a medical procedure that need not be performed in a hospital; that the federal and provincial ministers of health should approve publicly-funded, free-standing “reproductive health” clinics; and that abortion should be removed from the Criminal Code.

The CACSW truly has the best of both worlds.  It is a well-funded government agency formed as the result of a Royal Commission.  However it is entirely free to make statements contrary to, or critical of, government policy.  Status of Women Canada, on the other hand, must not be seen to be critical of the government of which it is a part.  It is therefore not surprising that NAC has an almost incestuous relationship with the Advisory Council, both groups defending and supporting each other’s power base.

The total financial allocation from the federal government to the organizations and agencies outlined above for the 1987-88 fiscal year is $17.8 million.  While the stated objective of all of these entities is to advance the “status of women” and not the “status of feminism” it is obvious that none have programs, policies or initiatives which are remotely pro-life or pro-family in nature.  It could be assumed, therefore, that the federal government’s view has been that women and pro-life, pro-family values are mutually exclusive.  It remains to be seen whether this state of affairs will continue.