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Budgeting backwards

As the dust settles after the much-anticipated delivery of Budget 2009, one troubling feature is emerging:

As the dust settles after the much-anticipated delivery of Budget 2009, one troubling feature is emerging:

Despite the fact that women constitute 47.4 per cent — almost half — of the national workforce, the vast majority of the billions of stimulus dollars targeted for job creation favours men. And the margin is huge — whether in housing, construction, forestry, autos, or manufacturing.

But it’s not just women who should be concerned: By failing to address the worst economic crisis in decades within a fair and equitable framework, the budget illustrates a serious lack of forward-thinking at a time when we need to restructure the Canadian economy around industries based on innovative technological advances and our vibrant service sectors — major employers of women.

Budget 2009 has been called everything from “historic” to “inadequate” to “excessive” to “the end of conservatism.” It is none of these things. It is vintage Stephen Harper: A mishmash of mainly short-term job creation and credit-easing initiatives aimed at holding onto power and responding to the most basic expectations of frustrated Canadians who most certainly did not want an election or a repetition of the pre-Christmas hysterics.

To the extent the budget even considers the future, it does so through a rearview mirror: Shortsightedly subsidizing — rather than transforming -- declining sectors like the auto industry; failing to adequately adapt employment insurance and other social security provisions to the current challenging environment; and concentrating the stimulus spending primarily on physical infrastructure, however important.

Yet our social infrastructure — underpinning our all-important service sector where the vast majority of women (and Canadians) work — requires just as much attention as our decaying physical infrastructure.

At a minimum, significant new long-term public investment is required in scientific ­innovation and basic research, in education at all levels, in child care, geriatric care, community and social services. This will go far to support our most important national asset — our human capital — and ensure that we pull out of this crisis with a greener, more sustainable economy, and an educated, more productive workforce employed in 21st-century industries. Moreover, investing in women is smart economics according to participants at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, from Nike’s chief executive, to the head of UNICEF, to Melinda Gates. This holds true as much for developed countries like Canada as it does for developing countries.

Let us hope the women of Canada, who represent not only half the workforce but also half of the electorate, remember the inadequacies of this budget and this government at the next election.

 
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