"Lobby" and "advocacy" become bad words in Ottawa as funding for the Status of Women takes huge hit
At the eleventh hour, much to the dismay of the Conservative lobby, Trudeau-era women’s advocacy group Status of Women Canada received their funding… sort of.
Five million has been shaved off the Status’s funding, almost 40 per cent of their total operating budget. The cuts will have devastating effects and major reorganization is now in the works.
The Conservative lobby is currently leading what Irene Mathyssen, MP for London-Fanshawe and NDP Critic for the Status of Women, has labelled the "de-fanging of the women’s movement."
"What we are sensing is that this review will have rules that will make it absolutely impossible for advocacy, for anything political, to happen. Groups have already been advised that if they are applying [for funding] they should remove words like ‘lobbying’ and ‘advocacy’ from the applications," says Mathyssen. "This is a very clear effort to de-politicize the women’s movement, and according to the same sources it will be charitable groups that will be given the nod in the new regime."
Since the spring, right-wing women’s group REAL Women Canada and various bloggers on the same team have been grabbing headlines and lobbying loudly to dismantle the Status. The anti-feminist REAL Women’s platform, according to their website, is "to promote, secure and defend legislation which upholds the Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage and family life." According to Gwen Landolt, national vice-president of REAL Women Canada, the group based in Western Canada gets their funding from "grassroots support – we only survive by way of membership support and donations."
According to Landolt, the Status "only funds ideologically feminist women’s groups and not others."
"We would like the whole Status of Women to be abandoned or disbanded because it really is not representative of [women today] and it’s very bad and discriminatory," says Landolt. She argues that if her own group can have 55,000 members and fund its own agenda, why can’t the women’s movement? If REAL Women had their way, issues like abolishing gay marriage would take precedence over some of the issues being addressed by the Status, says Landolt. "I think that [there are other issues that] mean more to people than pay equity does."
Says Alison Dewar, treasurer of the National Association of Women and the Law, a group backed by the Status, "I think that probably Mrs. Landolt and [her organization] view discrimination in a different way from us. We are an equality-seeking and an equality-enhancing group. What we do is we fight for the rights of the most vulnerable and the most discriminated against in our country." As for funding, it would be close to impossible to be member-driven, says Dewar, especially given that the group’s main constituents are vulnerable and disenfranchised women.
Mathyssen also fears the shift towards funding charitable organizations over advocacy groups could cause setbacks for all women. "Though charitable groups do very important things, they don’t know how to fight back – by the time they realize the political implications of what they wanted to pursue it would be game over." Though the Conservatives "pretended that they had abandoned more extreme ideologies," says Mathyssen, she believes their kinder, gentler face "is just a mask for something very, very ugly underneath."
Ultimately, Mathyssen believes that the Tories fundamentally see the Status as a "nuisance," and that in principle it goes "against [...] basic Conservative ideology."
Last week Mathyssen accused Heritage Minister Bev Oda, the minister in charge of the Status of Women Canada, of "not understanding her portfolio." As far as Mathyssen is concerned, with Harper giving Oda so much to deal with at once – between Heritage and the Status – he is seeking to keep women’s groups away from more substantive issues, and Oda occupied.