The report of the Standing Committee on Secretary of State regarding the Women’s Program of the Secretary of State Department and its funding practices was tabled in the House of Commons on June 16.

The report followed seven months of investigation and hearings by the Committee during which 144 organizations and 265 individuals submitted briefs and testimony.  The 22-page report contains recommendations for minor changes to the Women’s Program including greater accountability by funded groups, and concludes that funding should be increased if possible “to meet the needs of new groups and address emerging priorities.”

However, a minority report issued by MPs Jim Jepson (London East), and Ricardo Lopez (Chateauguay) charged that the Standing Committee report does not reflect a true cross-section of the view of Canadian women as a whole.  Further, they maintain that “the manner in which conclusions they arrived at was not of normal committee procedure.”

They state that the recommendations first put before the Committee by the Chairman, Geoff Scott, were drafted without full and prior discussion with the Committee, and that, when questioned by Committee members, Mr. Scott would not say who in fact had drafted the recommendations.

Jepson and Lopez participated fully throughout the hearings, with Lopez serving as Deputy Chairman of the Committee.  Their dissenting report is prefaced with the unequivocal statement that neither believe the government should be funding advocacy groups.  Realizing that no consensus exists in this regard, they therefore make alternative recommendations which they consider more appropriate than those proposed by the Committee.

Jepson and Lopez point out that between 85 and 90 per cent of the groups heard by the Committee are members of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), hence the recommendations do not reflect a true cross-section of the views of Canadian women.


Despite this overload of NAC-affiliated witnesses, some of the Committee’s recommendations could have the effect of reducing both the funding levels and power base of NAC.  In his forward to the report, Committee Chairman Geoff Scott (Hamilton/Wentworth) states quite clearly that the Women’s Program should not its funding practices “designate specific national networking groups as the only official advocates on behalf of Canadian women.”  Scott also stresses the Committee recommendation that “client (funded) groups should work toward the achievement of self-sufficiency” and that “no single group should expect to receive a major portion of its funding from the “Women’s) Program in perpetuity.”  All of the above could severely affect NAC which has received a major portion of its from the Women’s Program for many years.

Specifically, the Committee recommends that when operational funding has been provided for three consecutive years, program officers should undertake a thorough and critical re-evaluation of the work done by the applicant organization and, before renewal of such funding is considered, should ensure that funds have been wisely used in the past and that there is a “unique and pressing need” for the continuation of core funding.  In the event that officials are satisfied that such a need exists, the Committee recommends that operational funding be granted for a further defined period of up to three years, to be followed by a thorough and critical re-evaluation.

It is also recommended that in all evaluation procedures officials bear in mind the encouragement of self-sufficiency and be fully assured that every attempt has been made to achieve it before further funding is approved.

Better records wanted

While these recommendations may be an attempt to limit grazing at the public trough to a reasonable meal and discourage glutton,, Jepson and Lopez go even further in their minority report recommendations.  They recommend that operational funding be available for a limited period of three years, and on a sliding scale, after which groups would no longer be eligible for this type of funding.  They further recommend that a maximum limit be set for operational funding.

The Committee appears to have acted upon REAL Women’s claims of discriminatory and rude treatment by simply recommending that Women’s Program officials be required to keep a written record of all requests for application forms, and that the forms be supplied upon request.  Further, the Committee recommends that when an application if rejected, the reasons for rejection be given in writing, and the applicants be informed of their right to appeal to the regional office, national office, or the Minister.

In the Committee’s view, funding should be directed to women’s groups whose main purpose is to improve the status of women in the home, the work place, the community or the world at large.  The principles, objectives and activities of these groups must support the attainment of equality for women as stated in the Charter of Rights and other legal documents to which Canada is a signatory, including the U.N. Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Nairobi document entitled Forward Looking Strategies.

Jepson and Lopez, on the other hand, feel that funding should be available to women’s groups whose main but not exclusive purpose is to improve the situation of women and that groups must fully recognize the diversity of roles played by women in modern society.  Funding they say, should not be limited to groups with a mandate exclusively for the equality of women.

Not to pro-life

According to the Committee report, special consideration for funding should be given to rural and northern women, and doubly and multi-disadvantaged women (i.e., visible minority, disabled, immigrant and elderly women, and women victims of violence.)

Groups, whose “primary purpose” is to promote a view on abortion or sexual orientation  are not eligible for funding under the current guidelines of the Women’s Program and the Committee made no recommendations to change this prohibition.  Chairman Geoff Scott, steadfastly refused to hear representations from pro-life groups, throughout the seven-month investigation, although the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League was heard as a member-group of NAC.

Witnesses censored

Alliance for Life’s request to appear before the Committee in Winnipeg was refused, while Planned Parenthood of Manitoba was allowed to make its presentation following a caution by Scott not to refer to abortion.  This action caused MP Jepson to have his objection read into the record of the proceedings and absent himself from the Planned Parenthood presentation.   Jepson stated that in the interest of fairness either both groups should be heard or none.

A similar incident occurred when REAL Women representative Twila Gilmore from New Brunswick tried to comment on abortion in the context of women as victims of abortion.  She was quickly ruled out of order by Scott.

The program will continue to fund groups that hold positions such as support for lesbian rights and abortion-on-demand so long as these positions do not constitute the “primary purpose” of the organization.  The fact remains that government money is in fact diverted to these advocacy positions.

Jepson maintains that the Committee hearings and subsequent recommendations were a “whitewash.”  Far from being a cross-section of Canadian women, witnesses testifying before the Committee were largely NAC-affiliates or representatives of other radical feminist organizations.  And the Committee members received the recommendations, he say, before they even saw a draft report.  Whether non-radical groups like REAL Women will now be funded under the programme remains to be seen.