Women hope David Alward's government will re-instate essential funding.
by Jody Dallaire
As Premier David Alward’s government approaches Budget Day, New Brunswick women are watching to see whether Alward will redeem itself for its shocking decision two years ago to cut all of the public funding allocated to the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
As a New Brunswick woman, hearing that decision made me feel like I was in The Twilight Zone, like the American 1960s TV-series, where nothing is as it seems and where unusual and scary things happen to ordinary people.
What made this decision particularly unbelievable was that just a few months before, the Progressive Conservative Party’s Platform, called Putting New Brunswickers First for a Change, committed to: “Actively engage with important stakeholder-groups such as the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Council on the Status of Disabled Persons and the First Nations of New Brunswick to enhance the inclusiveness of our government’s decision-making authorities.”
Since then, the government has admitted that it needed to create a new independent voice to represent the voice of women in this province — that the Women’s Issues Branch of government cannot fulfill this mandate.
The Premier also endorsed the decision and said that his government knew that abolishing the council would bring with it opposition from New Brunswick women. He is quoted as saying: "I was not naive going in…we said from day one this process is not going to be without pain. It's not easy … Believe me, I'm hearing from advocates across the province."
But my “favorite” quote on the abolition of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women goes to Dorothy Shephard , the Saint-John Lancaster MLA who said during a debate on March 29 2011 on the funding cut:
“Change can be scary, and it is often met with opposition. Nellie McClung met with opposition when she petitioned to give all Canadian women the right to vote, but this change was a good change. Agnes Macphail was met with opposition when she put her name on the federal ballot. She became the first woman elected to Parliament. It was a big change, but it was a good change. When Emily Murphy became the first woman appointed as a magistrate in Canada — in fact, the first female magistrate in the entire British Empire — it was a big change to the way our country administered justice, but it was a good change….
"I am confident that our government will continue to promote the voices of women and women’s issues. Bringing women’s advocacy wholly into Minister Blaney’s portfolio is a big change, but it is also a good change. It signals the end of women’s issues being at arm’s length of the government, and it signals the end of the division between the advisory council and the Women’s Issues Branch. Down the road, as the Women’s Issues Branch continues to advocate for the status of women in New Brunswick, this change will also be recorded as a good change.”
Defending the cut is one thing, but then to compare it to one of women’s greatest victories — getting the right to vote — really offended me. Moreover, I believe that time has proved the error of eliminating the Council. Since then, the government has admitted that it needed to create a new independent voice to represent the voice of women in this province — that the Women’s Issues Branch of government cannot fulfill this mandate. It has since organized a public forum on the subject and formed a working group to define what an independent voice for women should look like. All that is missing now is to get it done.
For government to invest in an effective mechanism to represent the voice of New Brunswick women is important: a mechanism that is controlled by women in the province, one that receives public funds and has a small staff to make sure that the work moves ahead. It is also important that the government does not “rob Peter to pay Paul — or if you rather rob Pierrette to pay Paulette. ”
In other words, it will be important for the government to introduce new funding to finance the work of the independent voice to represent women — without cutting funding to other women’s programs to fund a new and improved advisory council. Already the funding allocated to women’s equality issues is minuscule.
A common statement signed by 38 organizations in March 2011 put the issue this way: “Already too few provincial government resources go towards promoting and implementing women’s equality initiatives. In fiscal year 2010-2011, the New Brunswick government invested 0.05 percent, that is five one-hundredths of one percent, of its overall budget in women’s equality issues. The abolition of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of women represents a 9 percent budget cut. This is simply unacceptable.”
The Advisory Council plays a different role from the Women’s Issues Branch of Government. It also plays a different role from non-profit women’s organizations. The Advisory Council focuses on getting public policy issues on the government agenda and on influencing public opinion to further the equality between women and men in the province.
As happens in the The Twilight Zone, I hope that this story will see a twist and the government will rectify its error by restoring public funding to a new and improved independent body to represent the voices of women in the upcoming provincial budget. Otherwise, the government will face the wrath of women in the next provincial election.
Jody Dallaire shares a weekly column on women’s equality issues and matters of social justice with Beth Lyons. Her column appears every other Thursday.© Copyright 2013 Jody Dallaire, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca