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Affordable housing, childcare among topics at gender-responsive budget town hall

Last Updated Jan 19, 2018 at 7:04 am EST

For the second year in a row, city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam hosted a town hall on gender-responsive budgeting.

The event, held Thursday night, was also attended by Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

“We want to make sure the services that the City of Toronto delivers is going to be accessible transparent and accountable to residents,” the Ward 27 Councillor said, minutes before hosting the event inside the 519 Community Center.

“Regardless if they’re men or women, boys or girls.”

In 2016 and 2017, Wong-Tam put forward, and successfully passed, a motion to city council to change the lens of the city of Toronto. It directed staff to work on collecting data to study the impacts of this strategy and take steps to build the gender equity lens. But, one year later, that work hasn’t been done.

“Staff didn’t do that work. Interestingly enough, it’s the second year they’ve been directed to do the work,” the councillor told CityNews.

“I think it’s just important to call out and say ‘look you didn’t do the work.'”

During both town halls, experts and attendees identified areas in the budget where women’s voices were absent, such as affordable housing, day-care and accessible transit. There’s also a discussion around how these policies impact people from different backgrounds – black women, disabled women, indigenous women, Trans women, and women living with disabilities.

Among those in attendance was Toronto mom of two, Akio Maroon who, during a chat between the councillor and the minister, stood up from the audience and shared her story.

“I’m letting you know that there are other people who are worse off than I am and your money isn’t going to us,” she said.

“Whatever benchmarkers you’re making they’re not making their mark, cause none of it is trickling down to people like me who need it.”

Maroon said the bills are piling up and it’s impossible for her to work while providing for her family. She told the room one of her daughters is deaf and lives with a physical disability, which means she has to pay for and access resources like hearing devices, therapy sessions and services needed for her care.

Maroon also added that the cost for daycare is over $1,000, and she’s been waiting on a priority list for housing for over a year.

“If we talk about gender equality, we have to talk about resources for young girls and women in our society who are strong enough to speak up,” Maroon explained.

“It’s really difficult for me, so as a result I’m living in dire poverty and the resources, policies and programs they have in place, aren’t sufficient.”

Minister Morneau told the crowd acknowledged the difficulties that exist in trying to solve the city’s affordable housing crisis.

“We know as we try to create affordable housing spots, we don’t solve the problem for everyone,” he said.

“In fact, in many cases our population, especially in places like Toronto centre, is growing at a pace that’s hard to keep up.”

Maroon’s story isn’t unique.

A panel of experts speaking at the town hall said in Canada, well-educated women aren’t participating in the labour force in expected numbers due to barriers. Experts said chasing the lens of how the budget is created, can have significant effects on the labour market participation.

According to Kate Bezanson, the associate professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at Brock University, tax cuts also have different effects on different groups of people, and disproportionately benefit higher income earners, who are mostly men.

“We actually see 30 per cent of women who aren’t engaged in the labour market or who don’t have full-time employment not benefiting from those,” Bezanson explained.

“So it’s not just the spending side but also the revenue side of the equation that has significant budget impacts.”

Bezanson, who is also a member of the university’s Social Justice and Equity Program, said using gender-budget assessments isn’t a new concept.

In 1995, the United Nations World Conference of Women put forth a set of recommendations for the advancement of women and of gender equality in twelve areas of concern.

Though Bezanson said governments, including Canada’s, were quick to adopt these recommendations, they fell behind.

Fast forward to today, Minister Morneau said the federal government was asked to apply a gender equity lens to the 2018 budget year. He said data gathering is needed to continue tracking the outcomes of this implementation to ensure its impacting all Canadians fairly.

The director of advocacy and communications with YWCA Toronto said they’ve been asking the city for number of years on how gender equity is translated into budget, and they’re not seeing any indications that it is.

“We know that gender equity and poverty go hand-in-hand. They’re intricately tied,” Colette Prevost said.

“So what we’re talking about is making sure issues affecting financial sustainability for women are articulated in such ways that strategies and funding formulas and funding tools are able to support the women and their interest in the city of Toronto.”

When considering future budgets, the YWCA states it would like to see an investment in social housing. That’s something Wong-Tam said will make people’s lives better, adding that she will continue to apply pressure to make sure the city responds.

“Giving up is not an option,” she said. “Giving up means that 52 per cent of the population who are women and girls in Toronto, will get left behind.”