As a new blogger for Shameless, I should take the time to introduce myself. However, I’ve got a seriously time-sensitive issue to discuss, so I’m going to skip the formalities and only tell you as much as you need to know about me for the moment. [Ed. note: check out Beth’s profile for more!]
For the past two years, I’ve had a bit of a dream job working with the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women as a researcher and event coordinator. There are 7 other provinces/territories that have these Councils and there used to be a National Advisory Council as well. These councils exist as public agencies that are arms-length from the government; basically, they’re government-funded, but have an independent voice. These Councils came about in the 1970’s, after the release of the 1970 Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. This report asserted “continuing effort to attain and secure equal opportunity for women requires a distinct and specific agency devoted to that purpose.” Advisory Councils were born and have been advocating for women ever since!
To be perfectly honest, it’s been kickass to work with one of these Councils. I’ve basically been a professional feminist, earning a living by reading and learning voraciously, by being passionate and vocal about the things worked up about anyway. Of course, there was a lot of research and phone calls coordinating events and trying to hone my political acuity—but, ultimately, it was pretty dreamy.
And then, the Tuesday before last, the Government of New Brunswick announced a complete de-funding of the Council in its 2011-2012 budget. The ostensible reason for the decision was the province’s financial woes; the government is tightening its belt and cutting costs and the Advisory Council with its oh-so-staggering budget of $418 000 had to go.
This move effectively abolishes the Council. Of course, the government is saying that they’re not necessarily abolishing the Council, just eliminating its funding. They’re suggesting that it could carry on via fundraising efforts. When the Opposition Leader pointed out that the Advisory Council (and its funding) are in fact established by law, the government explained it was simply going to amend the law. So, according to the government, the Council isn’t being abolished, just summarily stripped it of its funding and status without so much as a head’s up beforehand.
People are righteously pissed. The province’s Premier, who only assumed office in October 2010, promised in his 2010 election platform to consult with important stakeholders if elected, mentioning the NB ACSW specifically. When asked about this broken campaign promise, the Minister responsible for the Status of Women retorted, “It didn’t say that we would continue to fund them. It said we would continue to work with them.” Sly one!
People’s anger isn’t really focused on the fact that this is a broken election promise, of course (I mean, who banks on election promises?). People are angered at what they (I think rightly) perceive to be an ideologically motivated de-funding. They’re furious that women’s independent voice in government is being silenced in order to balance the books. They’re outraged that they’re losing an agency that operates a toll-free number that women can call with questions and problems, that publishes a biennial statistical report on the status of women in the province, that provides free educational events around the province, and publishes a weekly email newsletter. To speak plainly: people are pissed because they damn well should be.
I initially broached this issue by talking about my own work with the Council, mostly for the sake of providing full disclosure regarding my involvement with the Council. But I’m not blogging about this because I’ve lost a fabulous job (though, to be clear, that part is pretty sucko), but because we—and by that I mean all Canadians, not just New Brunswickers—need to realize that we’re losing an invaluable institution and must take action to get it back.
I hope that with this brief run-down of the situation I’ve at least gotten the issue on your radar. In the next few posts I’ll be discussing the work the Council has done, the way the government is trying to spin the cut, and the amazing activities that are occurring to protest the defunding. I do hope you keep reading!