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News: “Gov’t planning women’s summit”

From the Times & Transcript: http://timestranscript.canadaeast.com/news/article/1449701:

The provincial government plans to hold a summit on women’s issues early next month after abolishing a watchdog and advisory group for women that was in place for more than 30 years.

Provincial cabinet Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney is to formally announce the Fredericton summit today, which she says will bring together women from across New Brunswick to identify measures that would give them a voice in the province.

“I don’t want women in New Brunswick to feel they don’t have a voice but I also want to make sure that we have a dialogue about what is it we need,” said Blaney, the MLA for Rothesay and the minister responsible for the Status of Women.

The Progressive Conservative government pulled its funding from the arm’s length Advisory Council on the Status of Women following its first budget in March as part of broader efforts to control spending. The move sparked protests in front of the provincial legislature in Fredericton, but the government didn’t back down from its controversial decision.

“A lot of women have said to me they didn’t even know there was an advisory council,” Blaney, also the environment minister, said in an interview.

“Other women have said to me, ‘Who will be the voice?’ And other women have said to me, ‘Do we need a voice?'”

The two-day summit on women’s issues, co-chaired by Blaney and Justice and Consumer Affairs Minister Marie-Claude Blais, will start at the Fredericton Inn on Nov. 4 with a discussion among non-governmental organizations that deal with women’s concerns. The following day, individual women, such as university students, stay-at-home mothers and business leaders, will gather for a talk on women’s issues.

“If women are feeling they don’t have a voice, I need to hear that,” Blaney said.

“I need to know what needs to be in place to ensure that there is one.”

The advisory council was responsible for promoting equal status, treatment and benefits for women and for recommending related legislation, policies and practices to the province, among other roles. The Alward government cut the group’s $413,000 in funding and folded some of its responsibilities into the women’s issues branch.

That sparked public outcry over fears the branch, part of a central government office, would not be as effective holding government to account as the advisory council, which operated at arm’s length.

“This summit is really important because it involves women from all walks of life,” Blaney said.

“And I think women have been looking for a way to talk about what’s meaningful for women in today’s society and whether we need to put another mechanism in place.”

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