- A little more than two years after the beginning of a pandemic that placed the complex challenges and barriers faced by women in Canada in the spotlight, YWCA Canada can only share its disappointment in the 2022 federal budget. The 2021 federal budget, by its many measures directed to support a feminist recovery, made it a historical one. It acknowledged the multiple intersectional issues faced by women and marginalized people, echoing the YWCA Canada’s “A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada” report published a year before.
- Specific realities and needs of Black, Indigenous, racialized communities, people with disabilities, 2SLGTBQAA+ communities, migrant workers, low-income populations, newcomers, and others facing systemic barriers were seen, heard, and present in the different measures introduced then to support an inclusive recovery plan. While falling short on certain measures, it had met the urgency of the moment.
- In the thinner 2022 budget, the word “women” is mentioned only 22 times and “feminist” is mentioned twice. It seems to send the message of a return to a siloed approach when it comes to integrating a Gender Based Analysis+ lens across the budget – mentioned 386 times in the previous budget, but once only in the 2022 budget relative to the Canada Pension Plan.
- YWCA Canada is cautiously optimistic thanks to some promising steps forward with new or additional investments in affordable housing, dental care, and the National Action plan to End Gender-Based Violence. It regrets the absence of Pharmacare, or of a plan to stabilize a core funding for the charitable sector.
- “It seems that whenever belts are tightened, it is women who bare the shortfalls. We want to make sure that the federal government doesn’t scale back on its commitments to tackle deep-rooted systems of inequality while women, girls, gender diverse people, and members of vulnerable groups living in Canada, are still facing unprecedented challenges that threatens their security, their health, and their future.” Raine Liliefeldt, interim CEO, YWCA Canada.
Organized around three pillars – investing in people, investing in the green economy, and investing in productivity and innovation –, this budget comes in while the YWCA Canada, the YWCAs all over the country, and its partners can testify how the lack of affordable housing, rising costs of living and the burn-out of many women, especially those working in the care sector in our country, still creates inequity and vulnerable living conditions.
Our first look at the Federal Budget 2022 is as follows:
A historic barrier to women’s labor force participation: Childcare
For the past five decades, advocates have been calling for a national affordable childcare system. Agreements have now been signed in all provinces and territories and the federal government is effectively delivering on its promise. The plan to build a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system is presented as a game changer, as a “women’s liberation” and a “feminist economic policy in action”. The YWCA will be attentive to how the historic investment of $30 billion over five years will enable the communities it serves to access childcare at the new reduced costs – “an average of 50 percent by end of the year and an average of just $10-a-day, from coast-to-coast-to-coast by 2025-26” will be developed in collaboration with provinces, territories, and Indigenous partners.
It will be crucial to see how the plan will be implemented in provinces and territories, especially when it comes to ensuring that enough early childhood educators are trained. We need the necessary number of spaces open, and we need sustainability in the business model that private and not-for-profit providers will adopt. Ensuring a sustainable income for the experienced professionals and the tens of thousands of early childcare educators still to be trained must be a priority.
We are hopeful to see an increase in women’s participation in the labor market much like we saw in Quebec 25 years ago when their policies shifted.
Ensuring access to affordable and safe housing, a basic need
“Everyone should have a safe and affordable place to call home” is a statement that resonates particularly with women fleeing domestic violence. Women living in shelters are especially hoping to transition out into affordable homes after shelter stays that continue to increase in capacity. Housing supply and housing affordability is a growing issue faced acutely by women, newcomers, Black and racialized Canadians, and Indigenous people. Finance Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimate that Canada will need to build at least 3.5 million new homes by 2031. There were numerous measures announced that aim to have Canada reach that target and double the current rate of new construction over the next decade. Additionally, to some actions underway since 2015, the federal government added to their 2015 promises by announcing the following measures:
- $4 billion over five years, starting in 2022-23, to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to launch a new Housing Accelerator Fund. Working with municipalities, this fund targets the creation of 100,000 net new housing units over the next five years with an emphasis on small localities in Atlantic Canada and northern Ontario.
- Recognizing the urgent need for affordable housing for those experiencing or are at risk of homelessness, the Rapid Housing Initiative is extended for the third round with $1.5 billion over two years, starting in 2022-23. It will create at least 6,000 new affordable housing units with at least 25 percent of funding going towards women-focused housing projects, meaning 1,500 units across the country.
- Speeding Up Housing Construction and Repairs for Vulnerable Canadians will accelerate the creation of up to 4,300 new units and the repair of up to 17,800 units for the Canadians who need them most.
- Reform to the Rental Construction Financing Initiative looking to ensure that people accessing the rental units save on energy bills.
- $475 million plan for an additional one-time benefit of $500 Canada Housing Benefit. While positive news for the many facing affordability challenges, we are looking forward to knowing more about the effective next steps.
- With women-led single-parent households, visible minorities, immigrants, people with aboriginal ancestry, and people with physical disabilities being most of the co-op members, YWCA welcomes the announcement of 6,000 new units to be constructed.
- Renewed/additional funding for Infrastructure Canada for “Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy” to end homelessness of Canadians including Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and veterans, and for research, while encouraging, is still cause for concern that effective measures will not be implemented soon enough. More than half of Hamilton’s homeless population are women, Indigenous women, trans-feminine, trans-masculine, and non-binary.
- Other more specific measures announced to support first-time buyers or the $150 million over two years, starting in 2022-23 are unclear. None of the measures – support to affordable housing and related infrastructure in the North, the Multigenerational Home Renovation $7,500 Tax Credit or $4.4 billion for Greener affordable housing – specifically mention how the most vulnerable groups will receive support. It is a missed opportunity.
- With no specific measures to stop renoviction, it is otherwise a hope that additional measures against flipping houses may slow down the gentrification in certain areas, a painful phenomenon for people living on a lower income.
With a long first chapter dedicated to the issue of affordable housing in Canada, with housing mentioned 231 times (165 in 2021), affordable 97 (56 in 2021), homelessness 32 times (18 in 2021), the Federal government had listened and taken the measure of the disastrous situations people living in Canada face. YWCAs across the country provide critical supportive, affordable housing. As such, the YWCA will be extremely attentive to ensure the funding is invested where it is needed to avoid a deepening of the vulnerability of women and other vulnerable groups who face high costs and lack of housing. Housing is a crisis that we at the YWCA know too well. While being a basic human right, the capacity to enjoy the security of a home at an affordable cost and with a definition that truly reflects the needs of the low- and middle-income people also ensures that sufficient funds are available for healthy food, transportation, education, savings and to actively participate in the economy and the life of the country, therefore lowering the long term need of social investments.
The health sector but not the health workers
While surprised and concerned by the vague mention of the national implementation of Pharmacare, YWCA Canada is pleased to see:
- Dental care: $5.3 billion to roll out dental care coverage for those with household incomes < $90,000, starting with children and growing to full implementation by 2025, freeing some income for other necessary essential expenses. Dental care is a vital part of health and has been out of reach for too long for too many. In the short and the long term, this is an important investment in the health and wellbeing of communities.
- Menstrual care: $25 million over two years to establish a national pilot project for a Menstrual Equity Fund. Menstrual hygiene is a necessity that no one should be denied due to income. This too will free some financial resources for other necessary essential expenses. This pilot partnership between the federal and provincial governments is a promising step forward.
We also acknowledge a willingness to further expand access to mental health programs with:
- $227.6 million over two years, starting in 2022-23, to maintain trauma-informed, culturally appropriate, Indigenous-led services to improve mental wellness, and to support efforts initiated through Budget 2021 to co-develop distinctions-based mental health and wellness strategies.
- $600 million for innovative mental health care for Canadians.
- $20 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research partially to evaluate and address mental health consequences for caregivers.
- $3.7 million over four years, starting in 2022-23, to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat for Black-led engagement, design, and implementation of a Mental Health Fund for Black federal public servants.
- $140 million over two years, starting in 2022-23, to Health Canada for the Wellness Together Canada portal – a staggering 42 percent of texting users have identified themselves as LGBTQ2.
While recognizing that mental health “challenges are greater, in particular, among youth, Indigenous peoples, Black and racialized people, and members of the LGBTQ2 community” and making few additional investments, the federal government mostly stays on the programs and measures announced in 2021. Additional stronger steps must be taken in the upcoming months to leave no one behind in the difficult circumstances our communities go through.
To conclude, YWCA Canada would like to reinstate the importance of a “sustained and adequate funding of the Canadian movement for women’s and gender equality” as stated in the written submission to the House of Commons committee on Finance of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund that the YWCA Canada and 25 other organizations supported. Its first recommendation was to commit to 25 million per year over 10 years for core funding and an additional 25 million per year over 5 years dedicated to capacity-building.
“The 2022 budget falls short in the area of gender-based violence by not committing new funding towards the National Action Plan (NAP) on gender-based Violence. As mentioned in several YWCA Toronto campaigns and submissions, we need to spend billions, not millions, on a coordinated national strategy. The lack of progress on this plan during a time of heightened femicide and gender-based violence is discouraging.” shared Jasmine Ramze Rezaee, director of Advocacy and Communications, YWCA Toronto
Prepared by Fayza Abdallaoui, founder and consultant, Next Level Impact Consulting.