Liberals’ budget doesn’t crack through favoured performative veneer

    Apr 13, 2022
    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland

    OTTAWA—What a patriarchal budget from a so-called “feminist.” It just goes to show you can’t girl-boss your way out of neoliberalism.

    On Thursday, April 7, Canada’s first female minister of finance, who bathes herself in the feminism identity, rose in the House of Commons to deliver her second budget. And it’s abysmal. As YWCA’s statement on the budget reads, “In the thinner 2022 budget, the word ‘women’ is mentioned only 22 times and ‘feminist’ is mentioned twice. It seems to send the message of a return to a siloed approach when it comes to integrating a Gender Based Analysis+ lens across the budget—mentioned 386 times in the previous budget, but once only in the 2022 budget relative to the Canada Pension Plan.”

    Apparently, that was last year, and since thenthe Liberals have single-handedly fixed patriarchy—and its concomitant structures of discrimination—with childcare.

    CBC News reported that according to the government’s own report this budget has benefitted men more than women: “A statement and impacts report on gender and diversity that accompanied the budget says nearly half of the budget’s measures—44 per cent—are expected to benefit women and men in equal proportions, while 42 per cent are expected to directly or indirectly benefit men.” CBC News goes on to note that only 14 per cent of budget measures either directly or indirectly benefit women. Well done.

    One could argue that the budget’s overall package benefits women, as Katie Telford, the prime minister’s chief of staff, did when she dropped into my mentions on Twitter, citing the same article I referenced above: “also in the story: ‘So the fact that there were a significant number of new initiatives benefiting men in the most recent budget doesn’t change the fact that the overall budget package…benefits women as much as, if not more than, men.’” Sure, if you add in childcare, on average, one can make that argument. However even with childcare and dental care, the projection of program expenses-to-GDP ratio in 2022-23 is expected to be 15.8 per cent, which is close to Harper’s actual levels of 13.6 per cent in 2015. This gives an indication that there may be more fiscal room than non-economist, economic pundits would have you believe.

    Ultimately, this is not a “prudent” budget, it’s a pre-austerity one. The Liberals have already proposed a strategic review for the federal bureaucracy in the middle of an ongoing pandemic.

    According to the Canada Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, “women workers are disproportionately represented in precarious work that is underpaid, hourly, and non-unionized, with either limited benefits and protections in their contracts, or with no contracts at all, jobs which have been significantly affected by the crisis.” As I responded to Telford on Twitter, “Which women? Because I don’t see much for marginalized women. Additionally, without structural change which you refuse to acknowledge, these benefits will accrue to the most privileged women. If you’re not addressing the inequities exposed by the pandemic then this budget is a failure.” Where are these women represented in the budget? Nowhere, because the Liberals’ feminism is only for upper-class white women, assuming you can find the feminism.

    And I haven’t even started to talk about that wretched excuse for GBA+ analysis, presented by the Department of Finance. It’s obvious that the department doesn’t know what it’s doing when it comes to implementing an intersectional analytical framework upon which GBA+ is based.

    Firstly, the analysis was spun off as a separate document, which invariably means it reached fewer eyes. As an annex in previous budgets, it was treated as part of the formal process and elevated with equanimity to other budget annexes. This year, when you clicked the link, it originally resulted in a 404 Error message. How fitting considering the quality.

    Secondly, one of the first errors in this document was continued usage of the term “visible minorities.” Um … what? This is offensive and equates non-white people to being “minor” to white people, by construction. In the year 2022, in a post-George Floyd world, the Department of Finance is using aged, colonialist language to describe human beings as “less than.” Seems like none of that anti-bias training took. In addition, for all of this analysis, they didn’t even have the decency to disaggregate racialized groups, even though they have access to data. This is the Department of Finance—if they aren’t competent enough to handle disaggregated racial data, they should farm it out to someone who can.

    How is Michael Sabia running that department if they can’t handle an analysis of Canadians? If your executive, decision-making class is comprised of white, heterosexual, upper-class men, it’s no wonder they can’t analyze women or racialized or 2SLGBTQIA Canadians properly.

    Here’s the problem with how the government does GBA+: it doesn’t. It is a checkmark exercise. I was GBA co-ordinator for the federal budget when I worked in fiscal policy at the Department of Finance and it was treated like an irrelevant checkmark exercise, so I can’t imagine GBA+ garners a better response.

    Second, the government assumes identity is additive, when it’s intersectional. It also assumes that that primary identity is as a cis-gendered, heterosexual woman (this assumption is touching on transphobia, by the way). The analysis doesn’t highlight the intersecting barriers or discriminations, instead it focuses on the benefits. That’s not intersectionality, upon which GBA+ is based. Intersectionality focuses on the intersecting oppressions faced by marginalized people, based on their identities. And in that, it fails to acknowledge that identity goes beyond gender; it fails to centre gender, race, and class in its analysis and therefore misses the point.

    Thirdly, and most importantly, government GBA+ analysis fails to understand systems of oppression, historical context such as colonialism and power differentials. And we can see this borne out in policy. Take the Black Entrepreneurship Program. All the government did was throw money at the problem, instead of fixing the structural impediments to Black businesses in the lending market. As a result, the program is a mess. As The Globe and Mail reported: “the scattered approach means there is no national standard for how to reform access to credit—a long-standing concern of Black entrepreneurs—and little transparency concerning what the various programs have to offer.”

    As usual, the performance is more important than the substance.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.