The Alward government has pledged to distinguish between wants and needs in provincial budgeting. This is wise. In making such evaluations, politicians must take the time to ask, “whose wants? and “whose needs?”
Consider the government’s decision to cut all funding from the Advisory Council on the Status of Women. In effect, government has traded the social goal of guaranteeing a strong voice for equality between the sexes for the fiscal goal of saving $413,000 a year.
This is not a good deal.
The council’s budget is a pittance, compared to the millions wasted through duplication in departments such as health care and education. Moreover, government’s contention that the advisory council’s work can be performed elsewhere does not hold up to scrutiny.
The Advisory Council on the Status of Women is not a branch of the provincial government. It is an independent watchdog and advocacy organization that serves the legislature, with functions comparable to those exercised by New Brunswick’s Child and Youth Advocate and the Commissioner of Official Languages.
Each of these offices advocates on behalf of specific groups in society which have been – and continue to be – disadvantaged. Each monitors government’s compliance with the principles espoused in key acts of legislation, such as the New Brunswick Human Rights Act, and reports the results, while working to educate citizens and legislators about issues of concern.
Since the Alward government has made no move to cut funding for the Commissioner of Official Languages or the office of the Child and Youth Advocate, it is reasonable to assume that cabinet is not opposed to advocacy in principle. So why is the Advisory Council on the Status of Women being eliminated?
It’s not as though New Brunswick has achieved the goal of equality. While there are fewer barriers to women’s participation in the economy and politics today, significant obstacles still exist. Legislators need only review the gap between men and women’s wages, the disproportionate percentage of New Brunswick women living in poverty, or the number of women killed or assaulted by their partners each year to see that equality of opportunity remains beyond most women’s reach.
The Advisory Council on the Status of Women was created to fulfill a public mandate, by a Conservative government that understood the need for an independent legislative watchdog.
That pressing need still exists – and it cannot be addressed by legislators who regard gender equity as a problem that has already been resolved.