The pendulum swing on government service fees: C-44 Service Fees Act proposal

The recommendations from my  brief to the House and Senate Finance Committees and the related article in Policy Options, based in part of how the previous government was able to increase fees twice within a year with minimal scrutiny:

While it is unlikely that the Commons and Senate finance committees will undertake a serious review of the proposed “Service Fees Act,” the following suggestions would reduce the possibility for potential government abuse of fee setting:

  • Insert a provision that explicitly allows for public interest considerations, rather than just cost recovery, to be applied when fees are set. The Treasury Board included public interest considerations in its guidelines for the User Fees Act. But as a fundamental principle, this should be written into the Act itself, rather than relying on subsequent regulations or guidelines.
  • Require that any proposed increases that are twice the annual consumer price index adjustment, and that directly impact the public (e.g., passport fees, park fees), be referred to the relevant Parliamentary committee for review in advance.
  • Ensure that Treasury Board Secretariat regulations and guidelines reflect these two points as good practices, even if the government chooses not to amend the Act.

While there may have been a need to streamline the consultation process for fee increases, the proposed “Service Fees Act” makes it too easy for government to raise fees without any meaningful public consultation and debate. The government needs to ensure a reasonable balance between efficiency and consultation, particularly for those fees that affect the general public.

Source: The pendulum swing on government service fees

House/Senate Brief: Bill C-44 Division 21: Risks and Implications of the Service Fees Act

Liberals fall short with first gender-based federal budget

Erin Anderssen’s analysis of the government’s first foray in including gender-based analysis in budget-making.

Like all early efforts, imperfect, but the template and accountability that goes with it is being set:

But it’s in their flagship programs – parental and caregiving leave, and child-care spending – that they flounder. The Liberals are keeping a campaign promise to allow more flexibility in maternity and parental leave; women will be able to take leave 12 weeks before giving birth, stretch one year of employment insurance benefits over 18 months, or work sporadically. The government is also adding a new caregiver leave, which allows people to take employment insurance for 15 weeks to care for a critically ill relative.

But that’s only for the lucky Canadians who can afford it. Those programs will charm upper-middle-class women who can get by on EI and are significantly more likely to have their wages topped up by an employer. But a study published last year by researchers at Brock University and the University of Montreal found that outside of Quebec, 38 per cent of mothers are excluded from parental leave as they don’t make enough or haven’t worked long enough to qualify for EI. (In Quebec, where the government tops up benefits and has expanded eligibility, it’s a different story: 85 per cent of mothers earning less than $30,000 a year take provincially funded leave.) Unlike under the federal proposal, new dads in Quebec also get their own use-it-or-lose-it time at home – a policy that research suggests helps to gender-balance both caregiving and workplace expectations on parents.

There’s an economic argument for gender-based budget analysis: Done properly, it should increase the labour-force participation of half the population. In Canada, women’s employment has stalled at about 81 per cent for a decade, and, as the budget itself notes, the country continues to have one of the highest gender wage gaps in the OECD. That’s where affordable, accessible, high-quality child care comes in, creating an environment that enables women to work while raising a family. (And however often the government tweaks these programs, low-income mothers can hardly take advantage of job training or university loans if they can’t find or afford child care.)

This Liberal budget isn’t going to make that happen in Canada anytime soon. Ottawa is promising $7-billion in child care but only spending about $500-million a year during the government’s current mandate. The budget suggests this funding “could” create 40,000 subsidized spaces over the next three years, depending on how the provinces spend it. For a frame of reference, consider that Quebec’s $20-a-day child-care plan costs more than $2.4-billion. There are currently about 500,000 regulated centre-based spots in the entire country – enough for only one in four children under the age of five. The country needs a lot more than 40,000 might-happen spaces.

Give the Liberals kudos for referring to women on nearly every page of the budget, for showing that the federal government knows its own statistics. But Canadian families – especially low-income mothers striving to join the middle class – already know where they’re crunched and what might help. They should expect Canada’s first feminist government to pick up a gender-balanced share of the check where it will help most and provide the analysis to back it up. There’s always next year.

Source: Liberals fall short with first gender-based federal budget – The Globe and Mail

Anne Kingston’s take in Macleans:

Gender-based analysis (GBA) isn’t new. Canada committed to implementing it in 1995, at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. More than two decades later, we’re still not there; a 2016 government  audit found GBA employed spottily at the federal level, if at all. A Status of Women committee called for mandatory adoption of GBA across all government departments and agencies by June of this year. The tally of what that will cost has not been provided.

The usefulness of GBA was in fact highlighted even earlier: in the 2016 budget, the first tabled by a government lead by a self-declared feminist Canadian prime minister. Kate McInturff, a senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, conducted her own GBA in a withering appraisal: in one instance, she drilled into the $11.6 billion in job creation measures the government expected to add some 143,000 jobs, concluding that women comprised only 36 percent of beneficiaries.

Budget 2017 brings us a new twist: “GBA+,” with the “+”  referring to “the intersecting identity factors that must be considered in public policy along with, and in relation to, gender (e.g. ethnicity, age, income, sexual orientation).” The section on gender-based violence highlights the need. While Indigenous women, children and youth, and LGBTQ2 and gender non-conforming people are at higher risk of violence, it noted, women who live with physical and cognitive impairments are at even higher risk. Senior women, it adds, are the most frequent targets of “family violence”—at a rate 24 per cent higher than that of senior men. (Lest anyone think that GBA is intended only to assist women, the Gender Statement also notes inequities experienced by men, pointing to evidence that the suicide rate for men is three times higher than the rate for women, yet women attempt suicide three to four times more often than men).

Many of the statistics presented in the Gender Statement have been well-publicized. Women make up 47 percent of the paid workforce in Canada, and are more likely to have post-secondary training, yet earn, on average, some 30 percent less than men. That wage gap has been declining over the past decades, yet the country “continues to have one of the highest wage gaps among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries,” the report noted.  Women are disproportionately represented in lower-paying occupations across the retail, health and social-service sectors. They’re twice as likely as men to work part-time, more likely than men to cite caring for children as the reason they are in part-time work, and perform more hours of unpaid work in the home. The repercussions can be cascade-like, in keeping women from getting jobs, qualifying for Employment Insurance and falling below the poverty line.

Given the known pivotal role access to childcare has in enabling women’s access to the workforce, eyes were on the government’s  childcare initiatives. Morneau delievered a big number: $7 billion toward early learning and childcare to increase the number of “high-quality child care spaces available across the country” (the minister also spoke of creating up to 40,000 new subsidized child care spaces over the next three years working with the provinces and territories; it’s also a big number but it doesn’t being to fill the need). Here, there was no deviation from the government’s much-publicized Canada Child Benefit. More significantly, these monies are backloaded over the next decade—to 2028—thus designed as an incentive to vote Liberal at least twice.

Parental leave after a baby’s arrival has also been extended to 18 months, at a cost of $152 million over the first five years, $27.5  a year thereafter. This appears good news for women, who make up 92 percent of those taking leave. A closer look, however, shows it’s just extending the current 12-month leave for another six months with no additional funds given.

The budget’s big, headline-making news was a $101-million commitment over five years—just over $20 million a year—to support a “National Strategy to Address Gender-Based Violence”  like those seen in Australia and Ireland.  Yet given the economic cost of violence against women, the commitment seems miniscule.  Justice Canada estimates spousal abuse and violence against women costs the economy an estimated $12.2 billion per year.

The budget did, however, appear to honour “caring labour,” as economist Nancy Folbre terms it. There’s a proposal to consolidate the existing caregiver credit into into a new “Canada Caregiver Credit” that would allow caregivers to claim tax credits up to $6,883 on expenses arising from caring for a relative with “infirmities” including those with disabilities. There’s also a new “caregiver leave,” which permits people caring for a critically ill relative to  take employment insurance for 15 weeks. More women than men are caregivers, according to Statistics Canada (some 54 per cent in 2012). Yet a higher proportion of men claim caregiver tax credits (55 per cent of all individuals claiming the Caregiver Credit and 59 per cent of those claiming the Infirm Dependant Credit).

Inequities at the upper employment echelons were also noted by Morneau, a former Bay Street executive. In 2016, women comprised only 26 percent of senior management jobs in the private sector and occupied only 19.5 percent of seats on boards of Financial Post 500 companies. Morneau’s stated solution was to rely on advice from the high-profile squad of businesswomen who accompanied Prime Minister Trudeau on his first meeting and photo-op with Donald Trump at the White House: “We’ve asked the Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders to quickly advise us on how we can better empower women entrepreneurs, and remove barriers for women in business,” Morneau said.  Given that the group’s second meeting has yet to be announced, just how quickly, or even if, that advice will be delivered remains a major question mark.

On a day of “gender-based analysis” one would be remiss not to notice that the new approach was delivered by a constant in Canadian political life: a male finance minister. The much-celebrated new shoes purchased for the occasion, (this year’s are symbolically “NAFTA-correct”) have always been brogues or oxfords. Even in Trudeau’s much-vaunted gender equal cabinet, the money man remains a man.

Today, however, Canada’s male finance minister appeared willing to break one gender stereotype, with his government, in asking for new  directions, even if he didn’t always follow them. The Gender Statement ended with the admission that there’s more to learn. There are “current gaps in data and understanding” it conceded, adding there’s “still much work to be done.” On that point, it’s impossible to disagree.

Source: The hope and hype of a ‘gender-based’ budget

Refugee board’s plea for assistance with growing backlog ignored: Assessment of Budget 2017 Immigration-related policies and programmes

As usual, the Star and Nicholas Keung provide the best coverage:

Despite a worsening backlog and surging number of land-border asylum claims via the U.S., the beleaguered Immigration and Refugee Board will not be getting any relief from the Liberal government.

Although the 2017 budget provides $62.9 million over five years — and $11.5 million per year thereafter — for legal aid services for asylum claimants, it ignored a recent plea from IRB chair Mario Dion for additional money to deal with its rising backlog of refugee claims, which is expected to hit 30,000 cases this year.

“It is discouraging,” said Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “We are expecting the number of claims to go up dramatically. This is going to hurt everybody.”

The number of refugees arriving in Canada went up by 48 per cent to 5,520 in the first two months of this year, including 2,145 who crossed the land border via the United States.

Instead of ensuring there is money to hire enough refugee judges to hear asylum claims, the government said it will spend $29 million in the next five years to make permanent an unpopular “reviews and interventions pilot project.”

Launched in 2012, the project assigns representatives from the Canada Border Services Agency and the Immigration Department to intervene in refugee hearings by raising concerns over the credibility of claims.

A 2015 internal evaluation of the program identified operational challenges because of causes confusion and redundancy around responsibilities between the two government departments.

“It is inefficient, wasteful intervention that causes delays. Their submissions are often poorly thought out,” Dench said.

On the immigration front, critics said little change was made to improve the temporary foreign worker program, other than a new permit exemption for short-duration work terms for intercompany exchanges, study exchanges or the entrance of temporary expertise.

The budget also proposes to eliminate the $1,000 labour market impact assessment for families seeking to hire foreign caregivers to care for people with high medical needs and for families with less than $150,000 in annual income looking for a nanny.

“The problem with the temporary foreign worker program is it’s been poorly managed. It’s not about writing stricter rules but actually investing into the system to vet and make sure the rules are followed. The government needs to step up on the expenditures for enforcement,” said Professor Jeffrey Reitz, director of ethnic, immigration and pluralism studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

Chris Ramsaroop of Justicia for Migrant Workers, a grassroots advocacy group, said the budget fails to address the vulnerabilities faced by foreign workers in Canada.

“The refusal to implement a policy of permanent residency on arrival for migrants send a strong message that Canada refuses to acknowledge the invaluable social and economic contributions that migrant workers provide toward our society,” he said.

Also missing are additional resources to address immigration backlogs for qualified live-in caregivers applying for permanent residency and family reunification for parents and grandparents, said MP Jenny Kwan, immigration critic for the opposition NDP.

“The processing time is taking so long that for many families, their medical, criminal and security checks have expired,” said Kwan. “Canada is contributing to breaking up families.”

Source: Refugee board’s plea for assistance with growing backlog ignored | Toronto Star

Feminists watching closely for gender-based analysis in Budget 2017

Indeed, something to watch for.

Whether this will be done seriously for key budget initiatives or more generally will indicate the degree to which the government is serious and the public service able to deliver an informative and meaningful assessment of the budget’s impact on women (and which sub-groups of women).

And of course, GBA is only part of the required diversity analysis required for all employment equity and other groups:

When Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivered his fall economic statement, much of the fanfare focused on the deficit, the infrastructure bank and efforts to attract foreign investment.

Something else caught the attention of a select group of people — mainly women — that Morneau never mentioned in his speech.

“To ensure that the government continues to deliver real and meaningful change for all Canadians, it will submit Budget 2017, and all future budgets, to more rigorous analysis by completing and publishing a gender-based analysis of budgetary measures,” said the statement released Nov. 1.

That one sentence, virtually ignored by the rest of the country, caused a flurry of excitement for those whose work touches on issues affecting women and girls.

They are now anxiously awaiting the results of the commitment, and there are some signs of movement.

“It’s historic and it’s important, but there is a lot of work to be done,” said Kathleen Lahey, a professor of tax law at Queen’s University.

The idea behind gender-based analysis is to think about how a certain policy might affect men and women, or boys and girls, in different ways, along with taking age, income, culture, ethnicity and other intersecting factors into account.

If the analysis — ideally done early on in the process — reveals one gender would experience disproportionately negative impacts then policy-makers have the opportunity to reshape things or otherwise mitigate those effects.

Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier reacted strongly to the idea Monday.

“More identity politics nonsense from those who want bigger and more interventionist government pandering to every subgroup of Canadians,” Quebec MP posted to Twitter.

‘Good for the economy’

Isabella Bakker, a political scientist at York University who has done research on gender budgeting, said the process is actually good for the economy.

“There’s a lot of economic good sense to doing a gender-based analysis of budgets, because basically what you’re doing is targeting your policies more effectively,” she said.

“So, you’re asking who is using these services and how are we meeting the needs of the most marginalized?”

There are many different models around the world, but one example of what might be included would be a look at how a tax measure — be it a cut, a hike or a credit — could impact men and women differently based on the fact that a higher percentage of women do not earn taxable income.

It could also involve viewing infrastructure spending through a gendered lens, both in terms of how men are more likely to benefit from the creation of construction jobs and how women are more likely to be the ones to use the infrastructure once it is built.

And then there is the matter of including things specifically aimed at reducing gender inequality, be they relatively inexpensive initiatives aimed at reducing gender-based violence or massive programs aimed at increasing participation in the workforce, such as child care.

An ambitious, overdue goal

Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said a federal budget that is truly gender-responsive needs to take this holistic approach to reducing gender inequality.

“They have to watch what kind of narrative they develop around growth, or else it is going to sound tone-deaf,” she said.

“‘We need you to work because we need more money.’ I’m sorry, that’s not gender-responsive. That’s gender-exploitive.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has proudly declared himself to be a feminist, is said to have pushed for more rigorous gender-based analysis around the cabinet table — helped along, several senior sources have said, by Labour Minister Patty Hajdu, who was until last month the minister responsible for status of women.

They have a lot of catching up to do. Ottawa committed to using gender-based analysis in 1995, as part of ratifying the UN Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, but the auditor general revealed last year that relatively few departments and agencies were using it to its full potential — or at all.

The commitment to incorporate gender-based analysis into the federal budget could be seen as the next natural step in that process. But no Canadian finance minister has ever agreed to do it before and experts describe it as an ambitious — even if long overdue — goal.

Source: Feminists watching closely for gender-based analysis in Budget 2017 – Politics – CBC News