Last week, Ontario released its 2021 budget. The budget focuses on protecting people’s health and the economy, and it charts the Province’s plan to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. With a deficit expected until at least 2029, it is clear that Ontario is facing historic economic pressures – and so too are women.
Women have experienced disproportionate impacts of COVID-19. This is especially true for women who are racialized, recent immigrants, and working in low-wage jobs, along with other intersecting inequities. They have borne the brunt of job losses, sustained our essential workforce, assumed additional household duties, and endured a catastrophic rise in gender-based violence.
So how does Ontario’s budget fare when it comes to supporting women?
The good: Recognition of the pandemic’s impact on women
Ontario has recognized the gendered impact of COVID-19 within the budget, with dedicated sections on the economic challenges faced by women and the need to support victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. The budget presents new funding pools for violence against women, including $18.5 million over three years to support victims of domestic violence to find and maintain housing and $18.2 million over three years to support ending violence against First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women and girls. In addition to these investments, the budget commits to the development of a task force to address the economic impacts of the pandemic on women.
The bad: A focus on individual finances over system investments
Many of the budget’s new investments administer funds directly to Ontarians. For example, the Province is enhancing its childcare tax credit, doubling its COVID-19 child benefit, and introducing a jobs training tax credit to help workers grow their skills. While employment and childcare are critical components of women’s economic recovery, these individual-level investments are not solutions for system-level problems. They won’t create more childcare spaces, they won’t sustainably lower childcare fees, and they won’t create the tailored supports that women need to re-enter the labour market. Moreover, tax credits are not an accessible option for the many women and families who cannot afford upfront costs. Some funding has been allocated at the system level for women: $2.1 million over three years for victims of violence, aimed at expanding programs in underserved communities, increasing access to legal support, and improving integrated service delivery. However, this amount is clearly insufficient to respond to the ‘shadow pandemic’ of gender-based violence that we’ve seen intensify over the past year.
The missing: Support for Ontario’s renters and workers
Throughout the pandemic, advocates have called for two key investments to address the impacts of COVID-19: residential rent relief and paid sick days. The budget is notably silent on both of them. The budget is also lacking any clear investments to increase Ontario’s limited affordable housing stock. Stable tenancies and paid leave policies are critical for women-led households and survivors of domestic violence to secure financial independence and avoid homelessness – especially during a pandemic – making this budget omission a setback for gender equity.
Unprecedented impacts call for unprecedented investments. This budget acknowledges the challenges ahead for women, but offers few bold actions to address them. As Ontario enters a third wave of COVID-19 and begins to put recovery plans into motion, it needs to prioritize an equitable way forward. Immediate investments that enable women to build economic security – like accessible and affordable childcare, fair wages and working conditions, and affordable housing options – will put us on the best path to truly protecting our health and economy.