OTTAWA — Twenty-two years ago, Canada signed on to a United Nations agreement committing itself to analyze the country’s policies and legislation to see whether they would affect men and women differently.

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Opinion

OTTAWA — Twenty-two years ago, Canada signed on to a United Nations agreement committing itself to analyze the country’s policies and legislation to see whether they would affect men and women differently.

That agreement, in 1995, it should be said, came about 10 years after Canada made it illegal to discriminate against anyone because of their sex, and 11 years after Australia became the first country in the world to implement a women’s budget to examine the impact of federal, state and territorial budgets on women and girls.

On Wednesday, Canada for the first time included a gender analysis of sorts in the federal budget, devoting one 25-page chapter in the 278-page budget to what is called a "gender statement."

Gender-based analysis is supposed to be a tool to help governments assess whether there are gender-specific impacts from a policy, new law or new program being considered. The idea is to tweak policies or programs if they adversely impact one gender over another.

Status of Women Canada asks departments and government agencies to ask several question when developing new programs or initiatives. Those include whether the initiative affects men and women differently based on age, education or culture; whether it supports equal treatment of men and women; and whether it has unintended impacts for some people or creates barriers for specific groups of women or men.

In 2015, the auditor general said Canada was falling down at pursuing its obligations to gender-based analysis, noting few departments were doing this entirely and some weren’t doing it all.

That the main fiscal policy book for the federal government had never specifically, or at least publicly, looked at the impact of fiscal policies on men and women underscores the auditor’s findings.

The gender statement in the budget is not that detailed. It looks at the discrepancies that exist in the Canadian economy for women, and goes chapter by chapter in the budget to examine how some of the initiatives affect women.

There is no doubt there are gaps. Women make up slightly more than 50 per cent of the population, but 47 per cent of the workforce. Men earn 59 per cent of taxable income and pay 66 per cent of the taxes.

Women are far less likely to study or work in high-demand, higher-paying jobs in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, and are disproportionately represented in lower-paying, less stable jobs in retail and food services. Although women are 47 per cent of the workforce, they hold less than one-third of senior management positions, and one-fifth of the seats on boards of publicly traded companies. There is only one female CEO among companies on the TSX 60.

Women are behind almost half the new business start-ups in Canada, but men still own two-thirds of the small and medium-sized businesses in this country.

All of this is to say that figuring out whether there are national policies and actions contributing to inequity, or whether government can do anything to close these gaps, is a worthwhile exercise. Everyone benefits when women make more money. Families, children, the economy and governments alike.

There are many who see what Ottawa did with its gender statement as a good start, a first step toward something that may take several tries to get right. Others argue it was so poorly executed it may as well not have been done at all.

Mostly it was, as is the entire budget, a public relations exercise for the Liberals, picking out the positives and shading or entirely ignoring the negatives.

A case in point: Morneau was perfectly content on page 233 to use investments in public transit infrastructure as a benefit to women because studies in the United States and the United Kingdom show women are more frequent users of public transit than men. Seven pages later that fact is of no use to them, when the cancellation of a tax credit for a public transit pass is not even mentioned among the effects of tax policy.

The fact remains: the day after the budget there are at least some people talking and thinking about the gender statement. That alone is more than there ever was before.

Mia Rabson is the Winnipeg Free Press parliamentary bureau chief.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @mrabson