Federal Conservative MPs are calling women’s shelters in their local ridings to solicit applications for grants from Status of Women Canada, says the Ontario based provincial association of women’s shelters.

“A number of our members have received calls from their local Conservative MP asking them to make an application,” said Eileen Morrow, Coordinator of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH), the association representing 75 members across Ontario, primarily first stage emergency shelters for abused women and their children.

Wednesday in the House of Commons, Beverley Oda, Minister Responsible for the Status of Women denied that MPs were calling shelters in their ridings but the Association says it has heard from some members in Ontario that they have received such calls.

Last weekend women across the country protested cuts of almost half of the Status of Women department staff and the closure of 12 of 16 department offices across Canada. They also opposed changes to the department mandate to remove “equality” as a goal and to prohibit the use of any department funds for research and advocacy for women at any level of government.

Minister Oda has repeatedly said that funds from the federal women’s department will now be used to fund frontline programs like “women’s shelters” that have a “direct” impact on women. She has also claimed that the women of Canada want to know that this is where their money is going.

“We are deeply troubled that the federal government is using violence against women and public support for women’s shelters as a justification for cutting funds for equality and advocacy work,” said Morrow. “Advocacy and women’s equality rights work is our only hope to finally stop violence against women. Women certainly need better funded shelters and women’s services, but they also need a stronger advocacy voice in public policy. Both are critical sides of the same coin.”

“What women in Canada should know is that the time-limited project grants Status of Women provides will not give ongoing program funding to women’s shelters to do direct frontline work,” she said. “It will be the proverbial drop in the bucket motivated by politics, not sound policy development. This is not an effective way to support women who experience violence and their children.”

The Association and its members were not consulted on any new changes to the Status of Women mandate or re-direction of funding to project grants for women’s shelters in Canada.

“It is especially bizarre that MPs in Ontario are soliciting applications from shelters. When James Flaherty (federal Finance Minister) and John Baird (Chair of Treasury Board) were MPPs in the Ontario government of Mike Harris they participated in cuts to the base budgets of these very same shelters and in the elimination of all program funding to abused women’s second stage shelters,” said Morrow.

According to the Association, the calls from MPs are also inappropriate because they favour shelters represented by Conservatives and other shelters aren’t being urged to apply. At the same time, the policy of taking funding from advocacy and giving it to frontline services pits women who do direct service work against women who advocate for women on a public policy level.

“This strategy, apparently launched out of political expediency, is more likely to slow our progress to reduce violence against women rather than advance it,” said Morrow.

The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH) has received Status of Women project funding for years for advocacy work on behalf of women and children experiencing violence. That funding has allowed OAITH to do ground-breaking advocacy work on advancing services and systemic response to violence against women. Prohibition on applications for advocacy and research to promote that kind of advancement will seriously hamper the work of the Association to move forward safety and support for women and children who are exposed to violence and for an end to woman abuse.

OAITH and women’s equality experts across the country had recommended increased funding from Status of Women and a change from project funding to stable core funding for women’s groups. These recommendations have been rejected by the federal government.