Since the start of the pandemic, YWCA Canada has been advocating tirelessly and leading the call for a feminist economic recovery plan for Canada. As indicated by several of the Federal Budget 2021’s announcements, this advocacy prompted change.
In the 724-page document, women are mentioned 669 times, appearing on almost every page. These numbers highlight the budget’s focus on women’s economic recovery, one that can be further seen by the government’s significant investment in early learning and child care, a National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, and the charitable and not-for-profit sector, among other commitments.
We celebrate the budget’s historic funding plan of $101.4 billion over three years to address the dual aims of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and setting the foundation for a feminist, inclusive recovery. However, we also note that it does fall short in its ambition on a number of issues including support for LGBTQ+ communities, urban Indigenous people and diverse young people, especially young women. This budget has taken key steps in the right direction, but there is more work to be done. We are ready to do our part, marshall our expertise and make systemic change possible for our communities.
Our analysis of the Federal Budget 2021 is as follows:
Access to Affordable Childcare
The headline from the 2021 Federal Budget was early learning and child care, and with good reason. With the proposed $30 billion over 5 years towards building a nation-wide early learning and child care system, the word historic, while true, does not fully describe what a game changer this will be for the country. The Budget articulates a goal of cutting child care costs by half by 2022 and realizing $10-dollar-a-day child care by 2026. If fully realized, this will make a dramatic impact in the lives of families and children across the country.
Research from the Centre for Future Work highlights that investment in child care, modelled after the system in Norway, can result in incredible benefits for families and society alike. Ultimately, this could be a win for gender equality by enabling up to 725, 000 women’s labour market participation. It could yield revenue for government on the order of $17 to $29 billion per year and potentially create over 300, 000 jobs across the country.
A call to invest in childcare has been long-awaited and long worked for – and we are so happy to see this need being addressed within this budget. This is the culmination of over 5 decades of feminist organizing led by organizations like Child Care Now and the Childcare Resource and Research Unit. This happened due to relentless advocacy and this is a clear demonstration that sustained action works.
Decent Work, Reskilling & Training
The economic pressures of this time have been enormous with people experiencing major losses in employment and hours worked. Entire sectors are experiencing an existential threat that unless they adapt with the COVID crisis, risk being completely wiped out. Against this backdrop, the measures taken to invest in training, reskilling, social protection for workers and decent work for all were welcome.
In our Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada, we highlighted how Employment Insurance (EI) has been recognized for being difficult to access for temporary and part-time workers, who are disproportionately women. To counter these barriers, the plan recommended the lowering of the uniform national eligibility requirement of Employment Insurance to 360 hours. Budget 2021 has a proposed investment of $3.9 billion over three years starting in 2021-22 for the provision of legislative changes to make EI more accessible, which includes a uniform accessing entrance requirements of 420-hours for accessing regular and special benefits across all regions. Although still maintaining a higher eligibility threshold than what we recommended, we are pleased to see the continued implementation of a uniform requirement, as this will allow for women across the region more equitable opportunities to access EI. We are also looking forward to the proposed upcoming consultations on EI reform.
We saw other hopeful measures such as commitment to establish a $15-dollar federal minimum wage as well as expanding the Canada Recovery Benefit, the Caregiving Benefit, and the Canada Workers Benefit. We also saw investments in several programs to support underrepresented communities in diverse sectors including the new Apprenticeship Services program investing $470 million and the $298 million for the Skills for Success program.
Businesses led by equity-seeking communities have experienced significant challenges during the COVID period and require tailored supports and solutions as noted by the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce. That’s why the government’s investment of $146.9 million to strengthen the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy, the $51.7 million for the Black Entrepreneurship Program and the $22 million to support the Indigenous Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative were all welcome news. Will it be enough remains to be seen but this is a promising move.
The Federal Government has highlighted its commitments towards a National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence and has proposed to spend $601.3 million over the next 5 years towards its advancement. We are pleased to see an emphasis on advancing this National Action Plan and confronting the prevalence of gender-based violence within Canada in the budget, what the United Nations has deemed a ‘shadow pandemic’.
Although a little under what YWCA Canada was hoping for, the proposal includes some important investments, such as:
- $200 million towards Gender-based Violence Organizations
- $55 million to bolster the capacity of Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ organizations
- $105 million to Women and Gender Equality Canada to enhance its Gender-Based Violence Program
- $14 million towards the establishment of the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence Secretariat
- $85.3 million towards free legal advice for survivors of sexual assault
- $50 million to the Public Health Agency of Canada to design and deliver interventions that promote safe relationships and prevent family violence including intimate partner violence, child maltreatment and elder abuse
- And more!
YWCA Canada played a leadership role driving community input to inform the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence. The Plan is expected to be released later this year.
Another pivotal funding announcement is the $2.2 billion over five years and the $160.9 million ongoing for the National Action Plan in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls to Justice and the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
Strengthening Housing and Physical Infrastructure for Recovery
We were pleased to see a significant investment of $1 billion over 6 years for the Universal Broadband Fund to support access to internet around the country, especially in rural, remote, and Northern communities. As the crisis has shown us, access to internet is no longer a luxury but rather an essential service. This funding enables us to curb the digital divide that holds local economies and communities from thriving.
Access to clean drinking water is a human right. We saw in this budget a commitment of $125.2 million over 4 years to support First Nations communities in ensuring reliable access to clean water and help ensure the safe delivery of health and social services on reserve. We should point out that the Federal government has failed to deliver on its commitment to end all boil water advisories. As recently as March 2021, there are 58 active advisories remaining in 38 communities, majority of which are in Ontario. So we wait to see this commitment be fully realized.
We also saw several commitments to ramp up the National Housing Strategy such as:
- $567 million to Employment and Social Development Canada for Reaching Home
- $750 million advance to the National Housing Co-Investment Fund to fund the construction, repair, and operation costs of over 500 transitional housing and shelter spaces
- $600 million to renew and expand the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund $118.2 million for the Federal Community Housing Initiative to support community housing providers
- $315.4 million for the Canada Housing Benefit to increase rent support for low-income women and children fleeing violence
- $1.5 billion for the Rapid Housing Initiative with a carve out of 25% for women-focused projects.
There were also targeted funding measures to the Governments of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories to create more publicly funded housing in their jurisdictions. However, a glaring omission is the lack of a dedicated urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy which the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association has decried as a ‘deep disappointment’.
Supporting Charities and Nonprofits
As noted in the budget, the charity and not-for-profit sector employs primarily women, Black and racialized Canadians, young people, newcomers, and others who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The budget also highlights what we know to be true – this sector and its employees are invaluable partners in the government’s work to reopen and rebuild communities in the face of this pandemic. To ensure an inclusive feminist recovery, we need to invest in the organizations that make it possible – charities and non-profits. The Budget delivered several targeted measures to support the sector in not only surviving this crisis but readying it to build back better.
One of the most significant investments was the $400 million Community Services Recovery Fund – a direct result of the sustained advocacy by 6 of Canada’s largest charitable federations. YWCA Canada, YMCA Canada, United Way Centraide Canada, National Association of Friendship Centres, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada and BGC Canada came together in 2020 to advocate for organizations providing essential services to communities in need. We are so glad to see this coalition’s work result in financial commitments for our sector.
Another example of successful advocacy by the charitable sector was in the creation of a $200 million Black-led Philanthropic Endowment Fund and $100 million investment to bolster the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative. These investments start to respond to the calls to action raised in the Network for the Advancement of Black Communities’ report ‘Unfunded: Black Communities Overlooked by Canadian Philanthrophy’.
The Government’s commitment to supporting the sector was also reflected in their investment of $755 million into a Social Finance Fund, aiming to mobilize private capital to bring about public good as well as $50 million for the Investment Readiness Program to support charities, non-profits, and social purpose organizations in capacity building activities such as skills development and hiring. The proposed $100 million for the Enabling Accessibility Fund is also welcome news.
However, despite the important wins for nonprofits and charities in Budget 2021, it has not adequately supported the needs of LGBTQ+ communities across Canada. The budget has proposed the provision of $15 million over three years to fund a new LGBTQ2 Projects Fund, which will be dedicated to supporting community-informed initiatives to overcome key issues facing LGBTQ2 communities. Although this proposed amount is a start, this plan is not enough to address the present critical capacity issues which has been highlighted by advocates such as Wisdom2Action. A more extensive budget proposal is required to support LGBTQ+ communities across the region, and this budget has fallen short in providing this.
The lack of dedicated funding for urban Indigenous communities was a missed opportunity, which the National Association of Friendship Centres noted as disappointing.
In coverage of Budgets, there is often an emphasis on the funding announcements, but it is as important to think about the federal revenue side of the equation.
Budget 2021 introduced several new taxes expected to drive billions to federal coffers.
Several are expected to come into force January 1, 2022 including:
- Digital Services Tax – 3% tax on revenue from digital services that rely on data and content contributions from Canadian users. It is expected to net the government $3.4 billion in revenue over five years.
- Luxury Tax – Taxes on the sale of luxury cars, personal aircraft and boats for personal use that are expected to result in $604 million over five years.
- Vacant Homes Tax – A national annual tax of 1 percent on the value of non-resident, non-Canadian owned residential real estate that is vacant or under used. More information on this is expected to come out later this year but it predicted that when implemented, this would yield $700 million over four year for the Federal Government.
The budget has fallen short in providing a clear plan on how the Federal Government will be supporting the economic development of youth long-term in an innovative way. The government has proposed an investment of $5.3 billion into youth recovery, however this focuses more so on short-term plans, such as $392.7 million towards the waiving of interest on student loans for an additional year, $3.1 billion towards the doubling of the Canada Student Grants, as well as investments in pre-existing programs like the $109.3 million in the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy, $239.8 million for the Student Work Placement Program, and $371.8 million for Canada Summer Jobs.
Although these are important investments that we welcome and support, we need more.
Millennials and Gen Z are experiencing a once-in-a-generation economic crisis at a formative period in their lives. They have experienced school disruptions, were the first workers laid off due to pandemic-induced lockdowns and were shortchanged in their earnings. They are feeling insecure about their economic future and this does not help with them with the rising levels of anxiety, depression, and social isolation. Any disruption from the labour market is dire, but it is worse the earlier on in your career when you have less social capital, and the erosion of skills is a very real danger.
Life has completely and this is not how young people envisioned starting out their adult lives. Given the unprecedented threat to young people’s prospects and potential, we need a unique approach that meets the moment with urgency and ambition. This economic strife could stick with young people for the next ten years unless we do something about. That’s why we will do everything in our power to prevent young people from becoming the ‘lockdown generation’.
Did the Budget meet the moment?
All in all, this was a historic budget with significant measures to ensure our country is more inclusive and responsive to the needs of hardest-hit communities. It met the moment with an unprecedented down payment on establishing a Canada-wide early learning and child care system. This investment brings us within reach of our goal but now the hard work begins of advocating for this essential program, jurisdiction by jurisdiction. YWCA Canada stands ready to do our part to mobilize communities, contribute our service delivery expertise and make the call for affordable, accessible, and high-quality child care undeniable.
It is not surprising that this landmark moment for child care in this country happened under the leadership of Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland. She is the first woman to hold the role, a self-avowed feminist and who in her tenure established the much-needed Taskforce on Women in the Economy. Minister Freeland, Associate Minister of Finance Mona Fortier, Women and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef and Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen all prioritized meeting with the feminist movement multiple times throughout the pandemic. This Budget showed they really listened.
While the Budget did meet the urgency of this moment, several communities were left behind and we cannot ignore this. LGBTQ+ communities, urban Indigenous communities and diverse young people, especially young women need ambitious measures to meet their unique needs and we must invest in the organizations that support them. This is where we need to tap into our collective power and engage in advocacy and coalition building to create systemic change. We look forward to contributing to this mission and doing our part.
Liked what you read and want to dive into more budget analysis?
Check out our event hosted by YMCA Canada and YWCA Canada on April 22nd, 2021 where we unpacked the Federal Budget through an intersectional feminist and youth equity lens: https://bit.ly/Budget-2021-Event-April-22nd-2021
Anjum Sultana is the National Director of Public Policy & Strategic Communications at YWCA Canada. She also was the Operations Lead and Co-Author of A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada: Making the Economy Work for Everyone. Sarah Hannaford is a practicum student with YWCA Canada. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in Social Justice and Community Engagement from Wilfrid Laurier University.