BC Budget – a step in the right direction, though leaves important questions unanswered
For immediate release
February 20, 2018
Vancouver, B.C. –On Tuesday, February 20, 2018 the British Columbia provincial government announced the 2018 BC Budget. Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) has paid close attention to this budget because of the decline in public spending on women’s equity relative to the BC economy combined with the endemic levels of violence against women in the province of BC.
Over the past several decades, BC has experienced deep funding cuts to public services, funding cuts that had a direct impact on women’s equity efforts. Funding cuts made in the name of reducing budget deficits at the time but never fully reversed even after years of massive fiscal surpluses.
BWSS responds to 11,000 requests for services annually, and some of the biggest challenges for women to leave abusive relationships include access to safe and affordable housing, access to child care and legal aid, income assistance and employment services. It was our hope that the BC budget would address these attitudinal, systemic and institutional factors impeding women’s equity in BC.
The budget announcement featured investing $1 billion over the next three years that will make child care more affordable, dedicating $18 million to services that provide outreach and counselling support for women, a comprehensive housing plan including affordable housing, and improving access to justice through increased funding for legal aid and family law services.
BWSS applauds the attention the BC government has paid to addressing women’s equity in these ways. However, we noted the budget lacked necessary detail on how the provincial government intends to increase women’s access to justice through increased funding for legal aid and family law services.
It was unclear what investment would be made toward increasing legal aid particularly for women self-representing in family law situations.
It would be our concern that the provincial government intends to pursue alternative dispute resolution models in family law instances without adequate violence against women assessments and without sufficient recognition of the patterns of power and control present when women enter the family law arena with their abusive partners. Legal aid and alternative dispute resolution have been central to our system advocacy work including addressing these problems at a recent meeting with Attorney General David Eby.
Many women who access BWSS rely on income assistance and employment services in their pursuit of violence free lives, the budget appeared to be silent on income assistance and employment services. Silent, even though the BC government has indicated they’ve embarked on a poverty reduction strategy.
In related news, late last week, Premier John Horgan announced the newly created position of Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity and appointed MLA Mitzi Dean to the position.
In 1991, Canada’s first and only free-standing ministry dedicated to women’s equity was created in BC. The Ministry of Women’s Equality (MWE), did research, advocated on equity for women, particularly in matters related to economic equity, ending violence against women, women’s health and social justice all from a gender lens. Stopping the Violence counselling for women who experience violence was created through MWE, and counselling for women survivors of violence has the ability to provide an opportunity for healing. In 2002 the ministry was eradicated and some of its responsibilities were moved into different ministries like the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services which became the Ministry of Community Services in 2005. Late last week, February 15 2018, Premier John Horgan announced the newly created position of Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity and appointed MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin, Mitzi Dean, to the position.
BWSS considers the creation of this position is a step in the right direction. However, it wasn’t clear through the budget announcement how she would achieve her mandate. Further, it wasn’t clear what the BC government intends to do with the Provincial Office of Domestic Violence (PODV) which was initiated in 2014. The PODV had a mandate to make sure the provincial government policies, programs and services related to domestic violence are effective and delivered in a comprehensive and unified way across government. There is no evidence that the PODV three year provincial plan was effective. Given these two mandates are almost identical, BWSS would be concerned that we may be starting over again. Both the announcement of the Parliamentary Secretary and the BC Budget 2018 are silent on this. BWSS needs to be certain that effective steps are taken in effort to end violence against women in BC.
For almost 40 years, Battered Women’s Support Services has worked towards women’s liberation through education, advocacy, support services, and systemic change to assist all women in its aim to work towards the elimination of violence. BWSS is hopeful with these recent announcements and seeks to work closely with the provincial government to further women’s equity in BC.
Angela Marie MacDougall