'Fair share:' Minister vows gender-conscious budget won't leave out Alberta women

This week's NDP budget placed a new emphasis on levelling the playing field for women through Alberta's first gender-conscious budget.

'We want to make sure women aren't left behind,' Minister Stephanie McLean says of economic recover

Minister for the status of women Stephanie McLean said a gender budget ensures women are getting their fair share of public money. (CBC)

Alberta's first gender-conscious budget, tabled this week by the NDP government, placed a new emphasis on levelling the playing field for women.

Stephanie McLean, minister for the status of women, said Friday it's about analyzing the budget through a gender lens and ensuring women are "getting their fair share."

"You identify who's benefiting and who's being left behind by the underlying policy decision and the outcome in the budget," she said.

"What's important to us is that everyone can benefit from the economic recovery. We want to make sure women aren't left behind, because they too often historically have been."

Consider some figures from Statistics Canada:

  • In 2015, Albertan women had a median after-tax annual income of $33,213, which was 39.4 per cent less than the median for men.
  • Last year, 1,039,000 women were working in Alberta, compared to 1,248,000 men.

It's those type of numbers a gender-equality budget seeks to change.

More daycare spaces, tech sector incentives

Among them, McLean pointed to specific items in this week's budget, such as 4,500 additional $25-a-day daycare spaces.

She said there's also money set aside for another boost to minimum wage, which is set to rise to $15 an hour in October, noting that 62 per cent of minimum wage earners are women.

There's also an increased investment in post-secondary education in the tech sector, and a $20-million digital media tax credit to attract and retain more tech entrepreneurs, with incentives to hire those underrepresented in the sector.

"And so that is largely women," said McLean, adding that the gap is even more noticeable among certain groups of women, including some people of colour or immigrants.

Last month, the federal government introduced a budget that also paid particular attention to women.

It included a new allowance for parental leave, a commitment to pay equity legislation and support for women in the trades and agriculture.

There was also money for initiatives to deal with gender-based violence and harassment and other gender-equality measures.

Boost for rural transporation

Another item in Alberta's budget that largely impacts women, particularly seniors and those with disabilities, is the $2-million boost to rural transportation over the next two years, according to McLean.

Funding will be made available for rural municipalities to set up or supplement bus service to regional centres like Red Deer, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie to fill gaps left by cuts to Greyhound routes.

"So that will be a huge advantage to rural women being able to go grocery shopping, take care of other loved ones, which also disproportionately falls to women to do," she said.

McLean said the gender analysis can't be applied to the entire budget, because some spending involves programs and policies developed decades ago. She said ultimately those will need to be reviewed.

"Definitely everything that's gone through the cabinet process that is reflected in the budget since about mid-2016 will have had that gendered lens on it," she said.

Asked for comment, the United Conservative Party issued a brief statement that said "$96 billion in debt affects all Albertans, regardless of gender.

"As does the NDP's pending 67-per-cent hike to the carbon tax," caucus spokesperson Annie Dormuth wrote.