UCP, Business & Childcare: Getting Women Back to Work
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Experts pretty much agree that the pandemic hit women hard. The problem is, what do we do about it? If you ask the UCP, they might say the best solution is to do nothing at all. They’re carrying on in the same way their forefathers at the UFA did in the 1930s – Following a recovery plan that includes massive cuts and reduces wages.
When the Obstacle Is Too Big for Government, Ignore It
UCP MLA Travis Toews, Hansard, August 27, 2020
“I will acknowledge that women have been disproportionately affected by the downturn as it’s really nailed first and foremost the service sector. I absolutely acknowledge that, and I recognize the challenge that this downturn has created for so many families across this province and particularly for those in the service sector.”
He started off so well. Unfortunately, Toews immediately shot himself in the proverbial foot.
“The need is much greater than the remedy that governments can provide. That is the reality. That is the reality out there today, so I am not going to sugar-coat the challenge faced by so many businesses and the employees of those businesses.”UCP MLA Travis Toews, Hansard, August 27, 2020
The cliff notes version: Women were devastated. So, he brushed it off and immediately started talking about how much money they gave businesses. But they still totally helped women because they gave money to businesses and “employees of those businesses.” (You sense my sarcasm?)
Helping Businesses Helps Women, But Not Many
First, 98%, or 160,264, of businesses in Alberta are considered small. However, not all of these businesses would have qualified for, or received, grants. The UCP stated on July 28, 2020, 10,861 SMEs received $39.9 million. If you do the math, you’ll discover that just under 7% of Alberta’s SMEs received an average of $3,673.69. That’s sure to save a few jobs. In Canada, women own only 15.5% of all our Small-Medium Enterprises. Most of these are not in female-dominated industries, either. Retail, food, healthcare, and education are only approximately 30% of all small businesses in Canada.
Even if you ignore most of the statistics, women in Alberta didn’t get much of the pie despite shouldering a large part of the burden. Helping women was an afterthought, side effect, or happy accident when considering how it was presented in the Alberta Legislature. But at least they recognize that women were hit harder, right?
Not Much For Alberta Women in the Economic Recovery
Because they understand that women were hit harder, you would expect the UCP to focus on women’s recovery strategy. That would be wishful thinking. They seem to be sticking to the idea of a Depression-Era-style recovery. This plan appears to ignore women completely.
The investments they did make into childcare were nothing more than half-hearted attempts to address the problem. Childcare is still an unaffordable unicorn. And with COVID-19 cases rising and the risk that businesses may face increased restrictions as winter rolls in, many lack job security to return.
UCP Childcare Investments Aren’t Near as Good As They Want You to Believe
As you can see from Hansard, the UCP boldly states that it spends $400 million on childcare. This statement is technically correct, but it fails to tell the entire story.
When Rachel Notley took over, childcare spending was $311 million in 2016. When she left in 2019, spending had increased to $402 million. The UCP has estimated it will spend $393 million. This seems like a decrease to me. Since 2016, Alberta’s population has increased, and inflation is omnipresent.
Childcare did get some help ($10 million + $17.8 million) when COVID began. This money made it possible for care centers to meet the needs of front-line workers even if they were limited to half capacity or cohorts of 30. The $82 million investment in September helped, too, but $72 million of that was from federal programs, NOT provincial. Care centers were also confused about how they were supposed to spend it.
The UCP also ended the $25 childcare program initiated by the NDP. The new system means 16,000 low-income families could pay less than $25/day. However, not all of these families can take advantage of this. Some families aren’t using an approved childcare center, and there aren’t enough approved spaces, which has been a consistent problem for Alberta parents. Lastly, no one knows how long it will last. As NDP MLA Rahki Pancholi notes, there are no long-term, universal plans.
One thing I do want to mention is that the UCP projects childcare spending to be $421 million in 2022-23 — just in time for elections.
This suggests that the government will announce some new and awe-inspiring program that woos parents across the province to earn votes. If that is the case, the UCP will essentially use children and childcare as a cheap political stunt to get re-elected. (Spending their political capital in fancy political speak.) Alternatively, it could just be a suggestion to Albertans that the pain is only temporary. That’s an equally crappy thing to do. The other option is addressing inflation and increased population, but that seems like a lot. If this were the case, you’d expect it to be a consistent rise in spending, which is not the case.
Lastly, I want to mention that childcare spending isn’t the only area concerning women, children, and families. The UCP cut early childhood education by 13%. They also “streamlined” the Alberta Child Benefit and the Alberta Family Employment Tax Benefit to save a bunch of money.
This announcement sounds great until you realize that the government is actually giving Alberta families $40 million less. On top of increased personal income tax, the reduction of assistance programs (including rental assistance, income supplement, and AISH), high bus fees caused by education cuts, reductions in programs like speech therapy, and massive job losses across the board, Alberta families and mothers are going to feel the pain. I fail to see why the UCP is patting itself on the back for a job well done while justifying a refusal to examine the needs of Alberta families by refusing to look at “ideological billion-dollar plans.”
The UCP Doesn’t Hate Women. We’d Have to Be Important to Be Hated
The Alberta Government has made it much harder for any of us to go back to school or invest in further training. (If I had to describe the UCP’s treatment of education in one word, I would call it a tragedy.) If we can’t further our education, we are bound to remain behind men and will be limited to lower-paying jobs. This puts women at a significant disadvantage at a very fundamental level.
Many of the women who managed to make it through the pandemic now face massive cuts and layoffs. How many of them will find a job with equal or higher pay? Hospitals and schools are often the only places in rural areas that hire women, so it doesn’t look good. The only comfort the UCP offered to healthcare workers was that they might get work from the private companies their jobs were outsourced to. (This option is unlikely since most of these companies will operate in the larger centers and ship laundry and other services out to smaller centers.) Women working in education? You’re out of luck.
Where does that leave us? Those fortunate enough to land a job will have to be very determined. Women will have to choose jobs strategically and demand pay that accurately reflects their value. For rural women, the most viable option for many is self-employment. Throughout the last two years, women have been selling everything from craft projects to vegetables on Nextdoor, Facebook, Etsy, and other platforms. Aside from these options, however, we’re going to have to get mad, be loud, and refuse to accept less.
If you think the UCP has made an honest effort, I will urge you to think again. The finance minister must conduct a gender analysis on any policies released. However, as of August 27, 2020, they haven’t done it or released any details. The finance minister hasn’t released anything as of October 19, 2020, either to my knowledge. (MLA Pancholi asked him via social media and received no reply.)
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last year or so, it’s that the UCP love to brag about the select few things they’ve done right. They wouldn’t miss a chance to stick it to the NDP. So, instead of giving honest answers to questions about women or childcare, UCP MLAs resort to attacking the NDP, default to their initial investments in childcare, or change the subject.
UCP Values Power Over People
When you consider all of the cuts and reductions, it would be easy to take this as the UCP waging war on women. I don’t think that’s true. You see, for them to wage war on women, they would have to care about women. They would have to reduce the programs we rely on with the intent of keeping us barefoot and in the kitchen. I don’t think that’s what they’re up to at all. They don’t want to openly admit that getting out of debt before the next election is more important than looking after women or Alberta families.
In my opinion? The Alberta Government simply doesn’t give a shit. We don’t matter. And we won’t matter until just before the election in 2023. That leaves women exactly where they were before: on their own.
This is only part of my coverage on the UCP and Alberta’s women. There’s more to come, but in the meantime, read more in my in-depth look at Women and the UCP.