A new political trend is sweeping our nation: the sacking of women’s policy units.
Yukon dismantled its women’s directorate as part of a “government renewal” campaign on April Fool’s Day, 2002. It went from a stand-alone department that reported directly to the minister to a line item in the Executive Council Office, reporting to two assistant deputy ministers.
As one Yukon researcher sadly remarked, “And this under a woman premier [Pat Duncan].”
Things went from bad to worse when Status of Women Minister Sue Edelman declared the women’s movement dead in an e-mail to colleagues. She also referred to women’s groups as “feminazis” who had taken over her right to an opinion. Edelman has since resigned as minister responsible for the status of women but maintains her health and social services portfolios.
Women’s secretariats or directorates review government legislation and policies to assess their impact on women. Yet, with such open antagonism towards women’s equality, its no shocker to see progress at the provincial level deteriorate.
Shortly after B.C. Women’s Equality Minister Lynn Stephens said that a separate ministry of women’s equality wasn’t necessary, the province’s women’s policy branch was absorbed into the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services.
Dodie Godney of the B.C. Coalition of Women’s Centres remarked that Stephen’s actions were “a discredit to women’s equality in B.C.” The Liberal government of Gordon Campbell continued with announced plans to eliminate core funding for women’s centres by 2004, saying that centres don’t provide a service.
In Saskatchewan, even NDP premier Lorne Calvert’s women’s secretariat was absorbed into the Department of Labour following the March budget. Women’s groups complained loudly and won a slight reprieve — the province designated women’s policy advisors in every department. Insiders worry that advisors won’t have the specialized knowledge or training required for effective gender analysis.
Analyzing policy is the behind-the-scenes work of tweaking legislation and programs, initiatives for which politicians ultimately take credit (or blame). Some provinces have units, others don’t. Can you see a difference?
Neither a secretariat for women nor a status of women minister exists in Ralph Klein’s Alberta. Alberta once had an Advisory Council on the Status of Women, but it was closed in 1998. The Ontario Women’s Directorate has lost about twenty-five employees and been reduced to a resource and observer unit.
Manitoba’s women’s directorate reports to Minister Responsible for the Status of Women Diane McGifford, a cabinet minister in the NDP government of Gary Doer. Prince Edward Island has a women’s secretariat, as well as an arm’s length advisory council that provides advice to government through the minister responsible for the status of women. And Quebec’s Conseil du statut de la femme has an impressive sixty employees.
In New Brunswick there is no women’s secretariat. The lack of a women’s policy unit became apparent in April following the introduction of a private members’ bill by Liberal leader Bernard Richard to extend pay equity to the public sector. Status of Women Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney introduced amendments to the bill that demote pay equity to the collective bargaining process.
Northwest Territories, Newfoundland and Labrador do not have women’s directorates, however they do have arms-length advisory councils.
The federal government dissolved its women’s program several years ago.