Now that you, dear readers, have been given a quick overview of the situation in New Brunswick regarding the abolition of our provincial Advisory Council of the Status of Women, I am going to take a deep breath, slow down and share some more in-depth information about what the Council is and what it does.
So, as I said in my inaugural post, the Council came to be after the release of the 1970 Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. This Commission was formed in 1967 to examine the status of women in Canada and how to “ensure for women equal opportunities with men in all aspects of Canadian society.” The Commission’s Report provided 167 recommendations, including a recommendation that the federal government create of an independent body that would be charged with providing consultation and research, and would act as a watchdog in regards to women’s issues. The suggested role was quite broad, as the Commission suggested that this body “would not confine itself solely to research but would be concerned with action. It would carry out a publications programme relating to specific studies, in addition to its annual report to Parliament. It would continually assess changing attitudes toward the status of women and would be concerned with identifying new needs and formulating new proposals. It would be empowered to set up pilot projects. It would maintain a permanent liaison with the numerous voluntary organizations concerned with the status of women.” The commission also urged the individual provinces and territories to create similar agencies in their own jurisdictions.
As a result of the Commission’s Report, the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women was formed in 1973. In 1975, the government of New Brunswick introduced legislation to create a provincial Council and appointed the Council’s first members and gave the agency a budget in 1977. By the end of the decade, most other provinces and territories had Councils as well.
Since its creation, New Brunswick’s Council has always operated on a small budget with few staff members. The Council itself comprises 13 members, appointed by Cabinet, from different regions in the province (the members receive compensation for expenses and a small per diem). According to law, the Council was able to:
- receive and hear petitions and suggestions from individuals and groups concerning the status of women
- undertake research on matters relevant to the status of women and suggest research areas that can be studied by governments, voluntary associations, private business, and universities
- recommend and participate in programmes concerning the status of women
- propose legislation, policies, and practice to improve the status of women and
- publish from time to time such reports, studies and recommendations as the Council deems necessary.
The feature that makes the Council unique and valuable is that although it is publicly funded, it carries out the above functions with an independent voice. The Council consults with the provincial Minister responsible for the Status of Women but is not subject to the Minister’s control; the Council has the ability to voice dissent, to bring up issues not yet on government radar, to address controversial topics, and owes allegiance only to the interests of the women of New Brunswick.
When it was first established, the Council was the only government agency, board, office, or commission with the mandate to promote equity for women in all sectors of New Brunswick society. The Council took the mandate and ran with it, forming strong relationships with grassroots organizations, service providers, and researchers while conducting their own research and advocacy work on women’s issues. The impact of the Council’s work was not limited to New Brunswick women, but affected all Canadian women. For instance, in the 1970’s the Council’s toll-free line received a staggering number of calls about domestic violence, a taboo subject at the time. In 1979, the Council produced a brochure on the subject, the first of its kind in all of Canada. The Council was also at the national forefront of developing a system for gender-based analysis.
Other provincial government departments have been established to address women’s issues, but none have had the same mandate or independent status as the Council. Early in the 1980’s, the Women’s Directorate was created as an internal government department (meaning, no independent voice) to promote employment equity in the civil service. The Directorate was abolished in 1993. In 2006, a Women’s Issues Branch was created in Executive Council (as with the Directorate, it’s an internal department with no ability to speak out against the reigning party).
The creation of the Women’s Issues Branch did not render the Council obsolete, as the Branch does not carry out the same mandate or functions as the Council. Here are a few of the things the Council does that the Women’s Issues Branch does not:
-runs a toll-free number that women can call for information about services and organizations in the province
- produces a biennial statistical report on the status of women in the province (includes a section entitled “Questions We Wish We Could Answer” that draws attention to what statistics, such as those relating to intimate partner violence, aren’t available)
- partners with grassroots organizations to present educational workshops
- takes stances on issues based on what is best for women rather than partisan politics
- criticizes the government as necessary
- and publishes a weekly column in the Times & Transcript commenting on women’s issues
And what are the issues that the Council has tackled, taken stances on, or conducted research on? For the sake of brevity, I’ll stick to naming just a few of the issues the Council addressed during my time with them: pay equity and trends in women’s labour force participation, the lack of adequate, affordable, and accessible child care, violence against women (including rape culture, street harassment, youth dating violence, elder abuse), poverty, trans acceptance, sexist and heterosexist language, the dearth of women in positions of power (particularly elected positions), proportional representation, sex work/prostitution, human trafficking, Harper’s maternal health initiative, the high rates of violence and murder Indigenous women face, and bigotry against Francophones and Acadians. Like I said, those just a few of the issues that the Council worked on while I was with them.
Finally, I would like to point out that the Council has always done all this good work, in both French and English, for less than half a million dollars a year. When the government announced the de-funding of the council, its budget was a mere $418 000 a year and the Council hadn’t seen an increase in its budget in over a decade.
Next post I’ll be talking about how the government is justifying its decision and trying to spin coverage of the de-funding.