Thursday, March 8

Protesters, critics line up to take shots at minister on women's day

OTTAWA (CP) - International Women's Day became Beat Up On Bev Oda Day, as politicians and advocacy groups lined up to blast the Conservative cabinet minister for cuts and mandate changes at Status of Women Canada.

Oda's constituency office in Bowmanville, Ont. was occupied for several hours Thursday by members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada protesting the moves.
A day earlier, Oda had announced a $5-million increase in grants the agency distributes for women's projects. The money amounts to a redirection of a $5-million cut to Status of Women's administrative budget last September, resulting in the closure of 12 of 16 regional offices on April 1.

The government has also changed the criteria for what projects receive funding. Advocacy and research projects will no longer be eligible for grants, in favour of groups providing direct services to women.

And perhaps most controversially, the word equality has been removed from literature related to the agency. Oda has argued that the word is unnecessary in a country where men and women are considered equal by law.

In an interview Thursday, Oda said increasing funding for service-oriented grants is part of the government's focus on delivering results for Canadians. She used the example of a project in Prince George, B.C. that works to get young sex trade workers off the streets and into meaningful jobs.

"With the more money for the programs, more women are going to be able to receive direct help in the communities that they live in and receive help in making a difference in their lives," Oda said.

But the changes in funding criteria are still a sore spot among women's equality advocates, many of whom appeared before the Status of Women parliamentary committee this winter to say their work will be profoundly affected.

Paulette Senior, chief executive officer of YWCA Canada, said her organization has been doing both service delivery and research/advocacy work for decades. She pointed to the organization's major study on women's shelters, conducted with the help of Status of Women funding, as an example of how research can actually help make services more effective.

The third phase of that study, on how to implement the findings, will likely not be funded under the new guidelines.

"All these things are inextricably linked," Senior said in an interview.

"How do we know the services we're providing are effective if we don't do any research?".

Opposition parties wrote off Oda's funding announcement as a public relations exercise.

"Taking money that they have already cut, putting it back in and labelling it as 'new' money is the most obvious ploy yet by this government," said Liberal MP Maria Minna.

"They needed something to announce on International Women's Day, and it just happens to conveniently fall before a possible election."

Said NDP MP Irene Mathyssen: "We are moving backwards rather than forwards. Instead of promoting women's equality in Canada, the Conservative government is abandoning its obligation to 52% of the population."

Oda said she finds it difficult to understand some of the "hyperbole" surrounding the changes at her agency. While some groups have predicted they'll have to close their doors because of the shift in funding criteria, Oda underlined that it has always been projects that were given grants, not organizations themselves.

"Unless the organizations were using the funds for their ongoing operations, why would the organization have to close down? It means that a particular project that they applied for would not be able to go ahead."

A new poll suggested Thursday that the Conservatives are gaining support among women voters.

The Decima poll conducted for the Canadian Press suggested that for the first time in five months as many women - 31 per cent - would vote for the Conservatives as for the Liberals.

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