As promised, I’m going to discuss how the NB government is spinning its decision to abolish the N.B. Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Warning: The content of this post may make you want to pull your hair out.
Dizzying Spin #1: We’re not abolishing the Advisory Council!
From the start, the government has said many times that it isn’t abolishing the Advisory Council, just defunding it. The government is actually actively taking issue with people referring to the closure of the Council as abolition and stated that the Council may carry on via fundraising. When it was pointed out that defunding the Council is rather serious, as the Council and its funding are written into legislation, the government acknowledged that the defunding does fact conflict with the law and they intend to change the law when they have a minute.
The Council has been stripped of its funding without notice, had its office closed down, had its staff let go/offered new positions in a different department, and will see the legislation that mandates its existence amended. If that isn’t abolition, I don’t know what is.
Dizzying Spin #2: This is about saving money!
The government has consistently insisted that the decision to abolish the Council was strictly a financial one, as NB is in serious financial trouble and belt-tightening had to happen. It’s hard to believe that when an arms-length agency with an independent voice to criticize government had the entirety of its measly $418,000 a year revoked while other departments were asked to cut 2% from their budgets.
Dizzying Spin #3: The Council and the Women’s Issues Branch overlapped!
One minute, the government is saying that there was duplication in services between the Council and the Women’s Issues Branch, so they are simply consolidating the two departments to eliminate overlap. The next minute, government is saying that the functions of the Council are being transferred to the Women’s Issues Branch, implying that the Council does, in fact, do things that the Women’s Issues Branch didn’t. Maybe the government meant that for the most part these two offices did the same work, and that the few things the Council alone did, the Branch will be doing from now on? Cool! Except for the fact that the Council and the Branch really do have very different mandates and really do carry out different work. Of course, the big thing that the Council does that the Branch can’t do is speak independently.
Dizzying Spin #4: No services will be lost!
It ultimately doesn’t matter if the offices fully overlapped or if they had completely different mandates because the government promises that, in the end, no services will be lost! So who cares about who-did-what-before and blah-blah-mandates! Except we haven’t seen plans for how the Women’s Issues Branch is going to take over the concrete services the Council provides or evidence of how that that whole independent-and-non-partisan-voice thing is going to work in a department that is directly charged with supporting a Minister who is appointed by a Premier.
This reminds me of how we were told Status of Women Canada would take over the role of the National Advisory Council on the Status of Women when that Council was dismantled in the 90s. Status of Women Canada has ceased to support research or advocacy work.
Dizzying Spin #5: We can only fund services or advocacy!
To seem less villainous, the government has said that it came down to a question of funding front line services that are delivered via the Women’s Issues Branch or funding the Council. Of course, I have to wonder how this came to pass: did they set aside a certain amount of money for the ghetto that is lady-issues and find that it wasn’t enough? Or did they go through everything in the budget in order of importance and found that the two items at the very bottom of the list both happened to involve women?
So, while I clearly don’t find “there wasn’t enough money!” comforting, what I really take issue with is the government telling women that they can have services or advocacy, not both.
Dizzying Spin #6: Ladies, don’t fight each other over this!
The government doesn’t want to see this decision cause a rise in girl-on-girl crime. They don’t want to see this play out as Council versus Branch (though they kind of set it up that way when they talked about how they came to their decision); they don’t want to see female citizens pitted against the female Ministers and MLAs that are being pushed to the forefront to defend the defunding. They want to foster a good relationship between the Women’s Issues Branch and grassroots women’s groups, whom they’re counting on to forget that the whole “pshaw, advocacy is work that is less important than services and should be done for free” thing. By “let’s get along!” they mean, “can’t you Council-supporters quiet down?”
Dizzying Spin #7: The non-abolished only-defunded Council can totally carry on, like all those other amazing women’s groups!
Here’s the thing about this angle: there are many wonderful, fantastic, admirable women’s groups that operate without government funding. But how many government agencies operate without any public funding? Okay, okay, I know what the government means is that the Council can carry on as a non-governmental organization. But would it be the same Council? The thing that sets the Council apart from other government departments was its independent voice; the thing that sets the Council apart from other women’s groups was that its funding was guaranteed and public. The Council didn’t have to spend its time on applying for grants, on mounting fundraising campaigns, etc. The Council had the luxury of being able to focus completely on its work. It didn’t have to worry about its (small) budget and often partnered with cash-stricken NGO’s in order to help disseminate their research and work. When agencies like the Council are cut, it makes it even harder on those “other” women’s groups.
Dizzying Spin (and my personal favourite) #8: The Defunding of the Council proves that women are totes equal now!
The merging of the Council and the Women’s Issues Branch is a step forward! In fact, this is just like when women were first allowed to vote/considered persons/able to run for office. Just like it! People will initially be confused and angry, but closing the Council advances the cause and proves that women are closer than ever to equality. It’s exactly like the story of women’s enfranchisement!
I’m not even going to unpack what’s wrong with this one, but you can watch the offending video here.
Next time, I’m finally going to get to the good stuff: the grassroots mobilization we’ve been seeing in support of the Council and in opposition to its abolition.