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Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks to news media before unveiling her first fiscal update in Ottawa, Ont. on Nov. 30, 2020.

BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

Avvy Go is the clinic director at the Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. Debbie Douglas is the executive director of Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. Shalini Konanur is the executive director of South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.

On Monday, Canada’s first female Finance Minister delivered the fall economic statement (FES), and appropriately, she declared that Canada’s pandemic recovery “must be feminist and intersectional.” But while Chrystia Freeland’s proposed mini-budget arguably meets the former aspiration, it does not seem to meet the latter.

The FES provides a modest increase in child-care investments, additional dollars for the child-care work force, and a promise to make these increases permanent. The Liberal government deserves praise for making child care a priority for economic recovery.

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But a feminist budget must also be anti-racist, or else the government would end up privileging a certain segment of the population while leaving groups that already experience pre-existing structural inequities in worse shape.

The government gave an encouraging nod to supporting anti-racism initiatives with $50-million over two years to expand the anti-racism action program and multiculturalism program. It also allocated funding to expand the anti-racism secretariat, restated a previously announced pilot program to build opportunities for Black-owned businesses, and promised to review the Employment Equity Act as it is applied to the federal public sector.

However, it lacks an overall anti-racist framework for budgeting, or targeted investments for communities of colour. The FES does not state how the government plans to redress long-standing racial gaps in the labour market, which have significantly widened during the pandemic.

Statistics Canada’s most recent labour-force survey confirms that Canadians in Arabic, Black, Chinese and South Asian communities experienced much higher unemployment rates and much higher increases in unemployment rates over the past year compared with white Canadians. The government promised to create more jobs through massive infrastructure investments, but it did not guarantee these jobs will be made equitably accessible to those under-represented in the labour market due to structural racism and other forms of discrimination.

It’s also worth noting that the government earmarked $238.5-million to be spent on body cameras for RCMP officers to “respond to concerns about policing from racialized communities.” That money could have been used to strengthen programs for racialized youth, or more directly combat systemic racism within Canada’s national police force.

The government rightly decided to boost the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) for low-income families, but has again failed to repeal the discriminatory provision under the Income Tax Act that links CCB eligibility to immigration status. Low-income racialized women with precarious status who dutifully file income tax still cannot access the CCB, even for their Canadian-born children.

They are the same mothers, along with others, who are denied access to almost all COVID-19 emergency benefits, including the CRB and CERB, because they lack permanent status in Canada – despite disproportionately being the ones who put their and their families’ lives at risk by doing essential work.

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The FES promises long-overdue investment in long-term care to improve their infection control, but does nothing to enhance the sorely needed culturally appropriate long-term care facilities for racialized seniors.

The pandemic has amplified major racial inequalities in employment, health care, access to senior care, housing, justice and education.

While the government works on a “feminist and intersectional” pandemic recovery plan, we must also reimagine what a society founded on justice, equity and dignity should look like.

Let’s not revert to the common refrain of austerity and deficit fighting that will only benefit the privileged few at the expense of everyone else. We have here a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make government spending count.

The government can start by making anti-racism more than just the “plus sign” of its gender-based analysis and elevating it to equal footing with its stated feminist agenda. Specifically, it should create a national action plan against racism, with concrete strategies, actionable goals, measurable targets, timetables and necessary resource allocation to address all forms of racism including anti-Indigenous, anti-Black and anti-Asian racism, as well as Islamophobia.

The government claims to want to proceed with a recovery for all. Strengthening employment equity for the federal public sector, attaching employment equity measures to all federal investment and recovery programs through mandated Community Benefits Agreements (which would give racialized and other under-represented groups equitable access to any new jobs created and equal benefit from all investment), and eliminating immigration status as a gateway requirement to accessing federal benefits would be the place to start.

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