Opinion Column

First 'feminist' budget has women all wrong

By Ada Slivinski, 24 Hours Vancouver

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Dave Abel/Postmedia Network)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Dave Abel/Postmedia Network)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has no idea what women really want. In last week’s federal budget, much touted as the country’s first “seen through a gender-based lens,” he muddled up mat leave and insulted stay-at-home parents.

Women are not helplessly waiting for more child-care spaces to open up so they can go back to a desk job. They are going back to school, starting businesses, taking care of their children and making it all work.

Instead of making meaningful changes to parental leave – allowing parents to keep the supplementary income they make while on leave, for example – Trudeau’s 18-month-long leave option mostly benefits upper-middle-class parents who can afford to survive on 33% of their salaries. This comes at a cost of $152 million over five years for the taxpayer. The policy could actually hurt mothers in the workforce as employers now have to potentially fill positions and offer top-ups for longer periods of time.

In post-budget interviews, Finance Minister Bill Morneau chirped about how this budget would allow women to be successful, how child-care spaces would make it possible for more women to work outside the home. This narrow definition of success implies that women who stay home with their kids are not “successful” and completely ignores the fact that most women define success for themselves as work/life balance, and having more time to enjoy with their kids.

More work outside the home is not what the majority of women say they want. A 2013 Abingdon Research poll for the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada actually found that 69% of parents with children under the age of six wanted to stay at home with them. This is a stat that's reflected in conversations I have with other parents in the schoolyard. Maybe women are taking more flexible, part-time jobs so they can have more time to spend with their kids. Women who choose this lifestyle do not need to be “helped” by the government and pushed into more lucrative, high-profile work.

Not all women define success only in terms of career and financial accomplishments and the latest federal budget does nothing to make it easier for those parents who want to stay at home to do so, nor does it create more affordable child care for those for whom it would really make a difference. Women don’t need Trudeau and Morneau riding in like white, feminist knights pretending their policies will save us. We just need them to get out of the way.