While Premiers met in Montreal yesterday to discuss the “fiscal imbalance,” a broad alliance of women’s and human rights groups, called on governments to strengthen social programs and services for Canadians in all jurisdictions.

Specifically, the Canadian Feminist Alliance For International Action (FAFIA) is calling on the federal government to significantly increase the funds transferred to provinces and territories under the Canada Social Transfer (CST). They also urge the federal government and the premiers to agree to common standards for programs and services that the CST supports.

“Federal/provincial fiscal relations are not simply about governments; they are about whether or not women, men and children have access to essential public services of reasonable quality wherever they live in Canada,” said Shelagh Day, a member of FAFIA’s steering committee.

Over the past decade, the federal government has withdrawn funding and the provincial governments have eroded and diminished many programs and services that are vital to women.

According to a report released yesterday by FAFIA, Strengthening the Canada Social Transfer: A Call to Account, programs and services that are supported by the federal CST — social assistance, civil legal aid, child care and front line services for violence against women — have been crowded out in most parts of the country by the need for health care dollars. They have also been eroded by the removal in 1995 of standards regarding access and quality.

The report calls for the immediate renewal of the Canada Social Transfer, including a new infusion of funds, increased funding stability, and for national standards for social assistance and civil legal aid to be attached to the transfer.

“This would allow for greater accountability and transparency at both levels of governments. It would also ensure that the federal government continues to reliably contribute to the well-being of all Canadians, particularly women,” Day added.

The report stipulates that because of Québec’s distinctiveness, it makes sense for the Québec government to design and deliver its own social programs and services. Parallel but different delivery and accountability mechanisms for Québec and the rest of Canada are appropriate.

“Federal-provincial/territorial fiscal arrangements are the means of ensuring that Canada meets its human rights commitments to equality, security of the person and an adequate standard of living for all its residents.”

“A strengthened Canada Social Transfer would help to ensure that Canada lives up to these commitments,” concludes Day.