Canada’s War on Women

We’ve seen 50 International Women’s Days and 50 Mother’s Days come and go and the childcare situation is still dire.  How many times have the Liberals dropped the ball with a national childcare plan? The chart below shows that over five decades, recommendations from national advocacy groups have fallen on deaf ears of both the Liberal and the Conservative governments.  Worse still, over 50 years, government after government has promised to establish a national childcare plan and has never delivered.   

Body or GovernmentYear$ AllocationWhat happened
Royal Commission on the Status of Women (under Liberal government)1970Recommended publicly funded universal childcare
Canadian Commission for the International Year of the Child(under Liberal government)1979Recommended government subsidized childcare
Conservative government (under Brian Mulroney)1984Promised to introduce a national childcare program
Task Force on Childcare Report (first commissioned under Liberals)1986Recommended federal-provincial cost sharing agreement similar to public health and education
Conservatives (under Mulroney)1987$5.4 billion plan To create 200K new child care spaces across Canada
Conservatives1988Died on order paperDo not create national childcare plan, due to federal election
Liberals (under Jean Chretien)1993Wait until the economic times improve; at the same time Fin. Minister Paul Martin gutted social programs including daycare
Liberals (under Paul Martin)2003Appointed Ken Dryden (Min. of Social Development) to cross the country to get provincial buy-in to childcare
Liberals (under Martin)2005$5 billionPromised $5 billion for a 5-year plan for childcare—never materialized
Conservatives (under Stephen Harper)2006$100/mo. per family with child under age 6 Instituted subsidy to parents for use for care or child staying home.  Also promised $250 million/yr to create more childcare spaces but the money simply went to the provinces, not specifically for childcare.  
Liberals (under Justin Trudeau)  budget2017 March$7 billionPledged $7 bn over next 10 years for childcare, for 40K subsidized spaces over next 3 years alone
Throne Speech (underTrudeau & Liberals)2020 September commitment to build a national child-care system,  no specifics   
Liberals   (under Trudeau) 2020 November$400 million+ $20 millionCommitted to $400 mill to train and hire more Early Childhood Educators (ECE), and $20 mill for a childcare secretariat to plan for a national childcare strategy. 
chart by Judy Haiven

In this week’s federal government fiscal update, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland weighed into the fray.  She noted she is a mother and she knows that childcare care is an absolute “must” if Canada was to recovery from the recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

 

T-shirts feature 3 Canadian women medical officers of health, produced by SophieGrace of Calgary. Photo credit: Canadian Press

“She-cession”

But Canadian economist Armine Yalnizyan questions how that is going to happen.    As she put it, there is “no recovery without she-covery, no she-covery without child care.”  

Yalnizyan coined the phrase “she-cession” near the start of the Covid crisis.  Yalnizyan believes the she-session will give way to a “he-covery,” with men more likely to go back to work first.  She’s right. In fact the latest figures show that between February and October 2020, women lost more than 20,600 jobs while men gained more than 68,000 jobs.  

The figures also are clear that women in two age groups are exiting the workforce quicker than men.  The first leavers are women from 20-24 years old, and the second are women aged 35-39.  The younger women are no longer able to find jobs in hotels, restaurants and bars, since most have been slowed and even permanently shutdown due to Covid.  Women in their 30s are being shut out of the workplace for two reasons.  First, because employers are closing, or jobs cannot be done from home. Second, women face the prospect of losing their jobs because of spotty attendance due to unpredictable childcare centre and school closures.  

Women: lowest level of workforce participation in 30 years

According to a report by RBC, one in three women who lost jobs between February and June did not even look for work.  Because most schools and childcare centres were closed for three months, women (both single and married) had to stay home to look after their children.  Staying at home puts them at high risk of losing their jobs entirely, diminishing future earnings and promotions, and shortchanging their pension contributions.  

The Covid shutdown has brought women to the lowest level of participation in the paid labour force in three decades.  Women’s unemployment surpassed men’s for the first time in 30 years.  By June 2020, women had lost 45% of the jobs in the service sector.  Even when restaurants and bars started to re-open in the summer, women regained only 35% of those service jobs.  This was due to the fact many service jobs had vanished.  

Top left: Girl in Yellow Sweater by Prudence Heward (1936: Canadian). Top right: Covid-19:a double burden for women in conflict settings: UN Peacekeeping courtesy of Medium.com. Lower left: World Economic Forum, credit weforum.org. Lower right: credit: eco-business.com

In the pandemic’s first wave, CERB (the Canada Emergency Response Benefit) made it possible for women, especially single mothers with children, to keep a roof over their heads and put food on their tables.  The $2,000 every four weeks was significant for women, as they tend to work fewer hours and earn less per hour than their men.  More women took advantage of CERB than men, likely because women–used to earning low wages– found the guaranteed income, that did not require a means-test, a godsend.  By contrast, in the US, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provided a weekly benefit $600, ended on July 31. And a recent report Women in the Workplace 2020, claims that one quarter of women are considering “downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely.” 

Is there an economic war on women?  I ask you to judge for yourself. 

Featured painting: Red Currant Jelly by Mary Pratt (1972), courtesy of National Gallery of Canada.

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