Tory legacy leaves little to attract women voters
TheStar.com – news/Canada/politics/insight
Published On Fri Apr 01 2011. By Antonia Zerbisias, Feature Writer
Could the hand that rocks the cradle be the one to rock the vote?
That’s what some political scientists maintain as they consider the possible outcomes of the May 2 federal election.
“Over the last two decades, there’s been a gender gap on the left favouring women and one on the right favouring men,” says Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, a professor of political studies at Queen’s University.
“The Conservatives are trying to close that gap on the right. Chasing women voters is very smart because we’re a very numerous part of the population. Even a one-and-a-half percentage swing would give them a majority.”
Based on a 2008 Ipsos Reid online poll of 33,000 Canadians, 37 per cent of women outside Quebec voted for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, along with 44 per cent of men. Many more women than men marked their ballots for the NDP (27 per cent to 20 per cent).
In the last election, equal numbers of men and women showed up at the polls.
But are the Tories chasing any but the most traditional, and wealthy, women? And are there enough of them to make the difference between a minority and majority?
Consider last week’s announcement on income splitting, which the Conservatives dubbed the “family tax cut.” Once the promised program goes into effect — in 2015-16 — dual-partner, single-earner families will be able to divide their income for tax purposes.
But only 13 per cent of all Canadian families are headed by couples with a single earner making enough to meet the guidelines, so only the richest among them will accrue any significant tax savings.
“Extending income splitting would not help the people who are most in need: Single parents, unattached individuals, and families with no employed members or with self-employed members would not be eligible,” noted Erin Weir of The Progressive Economics Forum.
What’s more, the program, which could cost $5 billion a year, would end up draining funding from much needed social services that lower income Canadians rely on. Imagine how many daycare spaces that money could create for the 64 per cent of Canadian working women with children under age 3.
“Not that the previous government had moved on its child-care plan, but remember that Harper’s very first gesture was cancelling the Liberal childcare strategy,” notes Caroline Andrew, director of the University of Ottawa’s Centre on Governance. “He is not looking at the new realities of families.”
“This really buys into a kind of romantic nostalgia for a family that people think existed and worked better than families today,” observes Linda Briskin, a professor at York University’s School of Women’s Studies.
“But in fact it never really existed for most working people, and the dual-parent, single-income earner is virtually disappearing all over the world.”
This isn’t bad just for women, it’s also affecting men, says Briskin.
“Here are these men struggling to find their own place and defining themselves as workers, breadwinners heads of households and all of that language that Harper invokes — but it’s not possible for men any more.”
According to a YWCA Canada report, in 2009 the number of women in the workforce surpassed that of men.
But women still trail behind economically.
“With the highest levels of working mothers in our history,” the report states, “23 per cent of mother-led families still have incomes below the poverty line . . .
“The median income for single moms remains more than a third lower than for single dads.”
The YWCA also reported that, in the last Conservative budget, 93 per cent of the stimulus spending was aimed at sectors — construction, transportation, trades — that all but shut out women.
Not surprising, since the Tories have systematically attacked women’s rights from the moment they got into power.
Dozens of advocacy organizations, including the Court Challenges Program, which helped women gain constitutional equality, have been defunded and dismantled. Harper, in a closed door meeting with followers in 2009, called those who sued for equal rights “left-wing fringe groups.” And when women spoke out, they were warned to “shut the f— up” by a Conservative senator.
The government shuttered 12 of 16 regional Status of Women offices.
It attacked pay equity for federal workers.
Three Conservative private members’ bills aimed at curtailing abortion rights all had Harper’s support. But then, Harper’s closest advisers have included social conservatives such as Guy Giorno and Darrel Reid, past president of Focus on the Family Canada
There has been a concerted effort to scrap the long-gun registry, ignoring women’s fears that the move will lead to spousal homicides.
Despite its law and order agenda, the Conservative government has not dealt with the more than 500 missing, and presumably dead, native women.
The one and only sentence it dropped from the long-form census was that on unpaid work, effectively killing an effective measurement of how much women do in the home and as caregivers.
As for Harper’s line-up of Status of Women ministers — Bev Oda, Helena Guergis and Rona Ambrose, who dismissed the Liberal daycare strategy as something from “some old white guy” — nobody argues that they were strong advocates for women’s equality, despite their department’s mandate.
Last, but not least, Harper proposed a maternal health initiative in 2010 that did not include contraception, let alone abortion. That despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of women die of maternity-related causes every year around the world, while another 70,000 die from illegal abortions.
“He doesn’t seem to get gender equality or that it’s important,” says Andrew.
The result of five years of Harper?
Women, say critics, have effectively been shunted to the sidelines, silenced during this election campaign, with no organizations to stand up for their rights.
“We’re not hearing women’s voices,” says Briskin. “The lack of democracy inside the Harper government, its way of running the country, its socially conservative ideological agenda, specifically affects women. It is a great disservice to hearing women’s experiences.
“The whole message that we can’t fund social programs, that there isn’t enough money, is really a direct attack on women and families,” she continues. “Take the money to be spent on jets and jails, it’s an enormous amount against what’s being funded into social programming initiatives.”
All of which makes it hard to believe that Harper’s campaign is trying to woo Canadian women away from the NDP and Liberal parties.
So what’s going on?
Andrea Perrella, director of the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy, suggests goal may in fact be to push more men to the right, a direction in which they started heading in the 1990s as traditional gender roles began to change.
“If you look at the workforce, the traditional male workplace, the union job, the blue collar job, that has taken a beating over the last several decades,” he says. “You’ll find that men who once would have worked at these relatively high-paying jobs are now working at places like Wal-Mart.
“That hurts economically,” Perrella says.
“But it can also make some men uncomfortable. It may make them angry. If men have turned angry in larger numbers, they tend to vote for that party that best articulates anger. And in the last generation, it’s the Reform/Alliance/Conservatives that have articulated anger quite well.
“So the question isn’t so much going on with women. It’s what’s going on with men, the block that has moved away from their traditional voting pattern. It’s because we have a united right.”
SOURCE: Voices-voix.ca, a non-partisan coalition of organizations and individuals “defending democracy, free speech and transparency in Canada.”
A partial list of women’s organizations that have been completely or significantly defunded:
• Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women
• Conseil d’intervention pour l’accès des femmes au travail
• New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity
• Réseau des tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec
• Alberta Network of Immigrant Women
• Centre de documentation sur l’éducation des adultes et la condition féminine
• Association féminine d’éducation et d’action sociale
• Ontario Association of Interval and Transitional Houses
• Womanspace Resource Centre (Lethbridge, Alta.)
• Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation
• Feminists for Just and Equitable Public Policy (Nova Scotia)
• International Planned Parenthood Federation
• First Nations Child and Family Caring Society
• National association of Women and the Law)
• Native Women’s Association of Canada
• Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care
• Riverdale Immigrant Women’s Centre (Toronto)
• Sisters in Spirit (native women)
• South Asian Women’s Centre (Toronto)
• Women’s Innovative Justice Initiative (Nova Scotia)
< http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/967714–tory-legacy-leaves-little-to-attract-women-voters >