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At Last-A gender budget

March 6, 2018
By: 
Clare Beckton
Executive in Residence
Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work

Finally, a budget that examined every measure through a gender lens to bring life to the goals of this government to create equality in Canada. What results is a budget that supports women across the spectrum of issues including growing a business, participation in construction and other trades, proactive pay equity, parental benefits, inclusion, protection from domestic violence and to strengthening Status of Women Canada. Canada has been advocating gender budgets around the world for some years so it is very heartening to see the actualization of this initiative in our 2018 budget. A fully gendered budget enables a government to begin to address gaps in equality across the spectrum of budget measures. Piecemeal approaches to equality do not work as the conditions that result in inequality are embedded in all of our systems and measures. Recognizing this important factor opens the doors to future measures and encourages provinces and cities to take a similar path. All levels of government and private sector participation will be necessary to create the equality that is guaranteed in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I will address a couple of the key initiatives as examples.

Innovation continues to be a key theme. Reflective of this need is the Strategy for Women Entrepreneurs. In our recent partnered study Everywhere, Everyday Innovating-Women entrepreneurs and Innovation, co-authored by Janice McDonald and I, we interviewed 146 female entrepreneurs across Canada. We heard their stories of innovation in all aspects of their businesses from product development, to marketing to their work with clients. The majority of these businesses were in the services sector. While the OECD and Canada 2020 advocate a broad definition of innovation, in general Canadians and Canadian policymakers have thought of innovation solely in terms of tech initiatives. While tech innovations are important, ignoring the multiplicity of innovation in the non- tech sector is harmful to the economy Many entrepreneurs spoke about the challenges of accessing capital for growth and access to grants which were often inaccessible because the criteria did not fit their businesses. Announcing $1.4 billion in loan funding for BDC for women entrepreneurs is an important initiative to supporting growth irrespective of sector. Notably, $130 million was added to the already committed$70 million for women in the tech sector. Encouraging women to enter the tech sector while recognizing the value of innovations in other sectors is not incompatible- it is essential to the growth of Canada’s innovation capacity and economy. Budget 2018 made a commitment to increasing the representation of women entrepreneurs and other underrepresented groups in the innovation economy. Women represent an opportunity to increase entrepreneurship with the right supports and encouragement. Money committed to regional development agencies will continue to encourage more region-specific initiatives. Recognizing that not all regions are equally equipped to support the growth of women-owned businesses is important.

A commitment to reduce the number of grants and programs and to make them more accessible is important. Currently, women find it difficult to find the grants and programs and doubly difficult to try to navigate the system to obtain a grant if their business needs meet the grant criteria.

Also recognized in the budget is the need to support women entrepreneurs to access external markets. Money is allocated for enhancing the mechanisms to connect women to international market opportunities and financing and insurance solutions to women entrepreneurs seeking to expand their global marketing opportunities. All of these measures and funding support the recommendations that we made in our report based on what we heard from women entrepreneurs. Women-owned businesses are currently not accessing global marketing opportunities in the same numbers as businesses owned by men resulting in lost opportunities for growth.

Measurement is important to understanding the success of both budget commitments and programs designed to advance equality. In recent years Statistics Canada has seen its ability to gather vital statistics diminished. Gender and diversity data is essential for identifying gaps, creating better evidence- based policy and measurement of results. Budget 2018 set out a Gender Results Framework. The Framework is a measurement tool for assessing success in achieving equality that can only be used effectively with appropriate means of gathering data. Commitments throughout the budget focus on tools and data including $9.5 million over three years to “accelerate the accumulation of knowledge, data and best practices for women entrepreneurs”. Research of this kind will continue to provide the knowledge to strengthen the eco-system for women entrepreneurs.

In sum the budget is an important step forward for increasing gender equality and women’s participation in the economy. Much remains to be done. One budget cycle cannot address all levels of existing inequality. Gender budgeting must be entrenched in law so it is not a one- year wonder.