Government report acknowledges 'feminist' federal budget benefits men more than women

The Liberal government has made gender equality a top priority, but its latest federal budget benefits men more than women because many spending initiatives target male-dominated sectors.

Finance Minister Freeland defends the budget, citing $30 billion for child care

A stack of the 2022 budget books in Ottawa on Thursday. (Olivier Hyland/CBC)

The Liberal government has made gender equality a top priority, but its latest federal budget benefits men more than women because many of its spending initiatives target male-dominated sectors.

A statement and impacts report on gender and diversity that accompanied the budget says nearly half of the budget's measures — 44 per cent — are expected to benefit women and men in equal proportions, while 42 per cent are expected to directly or indirectly benefit men.

Only a considerably smaller share of the budget measures — roughly 14 per cent — will directly or indirectly benefit women.

"This relative disparity reflects the fact that men are over-represented in certain sectors benefiting from many of the climate and infrastructure related measures in this budget," the report reads.

"Although these measures will ultimately benefit all Canadians, the workforce in these sectors are predominantly men, who, in turn, will indirectly benefit from the increased economic opportunities associated with these investments."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland addresses a news conference on Feb. 24 in Ottawa. In a soon-to-be aired interview, Freeland called the recently tabled budget 'feminist.' (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

According to the report, the construction and clean technology sectors will benefit indirectly from the low-carbon-economy fund expansion, which will invest up to $2 billion in green projects. Similarly, the agricultural sector — another male-dominated industry — will benefit from the expansion of the agricultural clean-technology program, which is meant to foster the changes required to achieve a low-carbon economy.

The report also notes that while it can be argued that increased defence spending benefits all Canadians equally, the country's military is still predominantly male.

Freeland stands behind 'feminist' budget

In an interview that will air on Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland defended the budget tabled on Thursday, pointing to the $30 billion the Liberal government is putting toward early learning and child care.

"This budget is year two of Canada's revolutionary early learning and child care program," she said. "In fact, we tabled this budget less than two weeks after concluding a deal with the final Canadian province to come on board. So I would definitely say this is a feminist budget."

But men win out in other ways. As the report notes, they continue to have higher incomes on average than women. That means more are able to afford zero-emission vehicles and can benefit from certain incentives as a result. 

A lack of gender parity in the business world also plays a role, since certain male business owners and shareholders will benefit from various tax credits.

"This highlights that gender segregation in the workforce and an imbalance in control of and ownership over resources is still prevalent in Canada," the report reads.

Since coming to office, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a self-proclaimed feminist, has spoken a lot about the goal of levelling the playing field between men and women. He's also the first prime minister to appoint a gender-balanced cabinet.

But Trudeau's feminist credentials have come under fire in recent years.

Frances Woolley, a Carleton University economics professor with expertise in gender and intra-household inequality, said gender-based analysis plus — an analytical process used to create budgets — is meant to explore the impact of government policies on diverse groups.

"Sure, sometimes in the end a government will end up adopting a policy that has more direct benefits for men than for women," Woolley wrote in an email. "Indeed, this will happen almost any time that a government decides to increase defence spending, for example.

"It will also happen when a government decides to devote resources to policies that reduce high school drop-out rates, or prevent prostate cancer."

Measures benefit women in some ways

She said it's important to understand a policy's full implications for diverse communities before it's adopted, and that policies need to be as inclusive as possible.

And while the budget appears to disproportionately benefit men, it does benefit women specifically in some ways, according to the federal report.

"Women comprise nearly eight out of ten workers in the dental sector and are therefore expected to indirectly benefit from investments in Dental Care for Canadians," it states. "Other Budget 2022 measures include features that will serve to achieve greater gender equality over time."

LISTEN | Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland discusses the budget:
The federal budget is big on boosting the housing supply but does it go far enough to make home more affordable? We ask the Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Women also have made progress in government in other ways: 47 per cent of heads of missions were women in 2021, up from 32 per cent in 2015. Heads of missions include ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls general.

Woolley said that, overall, government spending tends to help women, noting that the majority of workers in health care, education and public administration are women. She said a progressive tax system — where higher income earners pay more — also helps since more men tend to be high-income earners and therefore pay a substantial amount in taxes. 

"So the fact that there were a significant number of new initiatives benefiting men in the most recent budget doesn't change the fact that the overall budget package — including already existing spending programs and taxes — benefits women as much as, if not more than, men," Woolley said.

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