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'Feminist' Justin Trudeau delivers a deeply unfeminist first budget

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Image: Flickr/John Tavares

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Back in October, Canadians elected a prime minister who was 100 per cent more feminist than the last one. Justin Trudeau has been lauded around the world for his love of women and their empowerment, and was recently a featured speaker on the subject at the UN.

And sure, when compared to Harper, Trudeau is pretty good. The rhetoric has changed from someone who probably despises women to someone who probably doesn't. It's a start, but it's hardly change you can take to the bank.

Last week, the Liberals launched their first budget. It's the first concrete example of how feminist a prime minister Trudeau really is. Reading through it, it's clear why "Because it's 2016" was not chosen to be the budget's title (OK, that also might have to do with the fact that many of the spending promises are for after 2016, but anyway.)

The budget changes direction from Harper but it's hardly a feminist budget.

Kate McInturff at the CCPA broke down what Trudeau's "Real Change" looks like for women. Spoiler alert: it's minimal. High scores on smoke and mirrors, low scores on actual Real Change.

Nowhere is the promise of Real Change more hollow than in the money promised for Indigenous people and communities. Pam Palmater breaks down the numbers and demonstrates that the promises made during the election campaign were lip service only. The money allocated in the budget doesn't come close to what the Liberals promised. Most damning is the lack of funding for Indigenous children. As Palmater says, the honeymoon is over.

This is where the question about representation clashes with the actual policies of an administration. As we argued recently about Christy Clark and her imaginary feminist credentials, the labels rarely matter. Or, they matter, but barely. Unless someone's self-proclaimed cred or commitment has been tested in action, talk minus action equals zero, as DOA reminds us.

What's fascinating about Trudeau's feminist rhetoric is that he clearly sees a use for it and it must be beyond a crass political play, since feminism isn't yet the hot vote getter that it really should be. But Trudeau is perfectly exemplifying a trap that many feminist men fall into: you can claim you're feminist all you want but the women need to see some results.

It's especially interesting considering the flap that Trudeau got into for promising (perfectly reasonably) that his cabinet would be 50 per cent women. If we believe that representation matters (which it does) we have to also be critical in measuring the results of that representation. If having near-gender parity in Cabinet was important, that has to be because we anticipate a different way of doing things, or a more feminist way of operating, when self-proclaimed feminists are at the helm.

Of course, the reality is that the system is stacked up against women, and politicians aren't exempt from this. If they announce that they want to confront sexism within the system (even if it's minor, like calling oneself a feminist over and over), they have to target programs that women need. Otherwise, they're disingenuous (at best).

The most obvious program is a national child-care strategy. Nothing makes working harder than being saddled with a bunch of kids, and for too many families, women are forced to leave the workforce. The child-care supplement is not a replacement for a national strategy. It's like handing families money and telling them to make it work, without ensuring that there's a space or a daycare that they can access.

And the lack of spending on health care (a social service that employs a majority of women, and where volunteer caretakers are majority women) speaks volumes. With the old-age tsunami sweeping ever closer to us, women will be expected to take on more and more unpaid or low-paid work to help care for the ailing or aged.

While Trudeau was clear when he told Bloomberg news to not expect "anything sexy" in his government's first budget (blarg), it's not unreasonable to remind the guy that feminism certainly can be sexy.  And, when it comes to public policy, sexiness or not, you have to walk your talk.

Besides: what's the point in having a feminist prime minister if his government does unfeminist things?

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Image: Flickr/John Tavares

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