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Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question after delivering the 2020 fiscal update in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 30, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the creation of a task force on women and the economy Monday and said better child care must be part of an economic recovery plan.

Timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, the minister launched the 18-member task force and played host to the opening discussion at a two-day federal conference called Canada’s Feminist Response and Recovery Summit.

Discussions during the summit focused on how the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are disproportionally affecting women. Panelists urged the government to recognize this in crafting a promised recovery plan for the 2021 budget.

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Ms. Freeland said she views early learning and child care as “an economic triple play” because it increases women’s participation in the work force, creates jobs in the child care sector that tend to be held by women, and supports childhood development.

“Early learning and child care, I really believe, is a feminist issue. It is a mothers’ issue. It’s about caring for our children and giving them the best possible start in life,” she said. “It’s an economic driver, too.”

The women on the new task force include chief executive officers, child care advocates, economists, academics, and labour and Indigenous leaders. The task force will be co-chaired by Ms. Freeland and Associate Finance Minister Mona Fortier.

The panel will begin meeting this month in advance of the 2021 budget, which has not yet been scheduled.

The Globe and Mail reported Monday that the Liberal government has ruled out releasing a budget in March or early April, meaning more than two years will have passed since the previous federal budget was presented in March, 2019. It is the longest gap between federal budgets in Canadian history, according to research by the Library of Parliament.

Ms. Freeland’s press secretary, Katherine Cuplinskas, confirmed in a statement Monday that while the government is not planning for a March budget, “we look forward to presenting one in the spring.”

In the fall economic statement, Ms. Freeland said the 2021 budget would include a plan to spend up to $100-billion over three years on supporting Canada’s postpandemic recovery. The update pledged to “build back better” by including social issues as part of an economic plan. It also said the 2021 budget would outline a plan to provide affordable, accessible and high-quality child care.

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Monday’s panel discussion included Armine Yalnizyan, an economist and Atkinson Fellow who has popularized the term “she-session” to describe the pandemic’s impact on women. Ms. Yalnizyan is also on the new task force.

In her comments, Ms. Yalnizyan urged the minister to deliver on promises to support women.

“Everything we’re talking about with ‘build back better’ could end up being lip service and you could be breaking millions of people’s hearts. But no pressure, minister,” Ms. Yalnizyan said. “But it’s also true that you could change the future, with us standing behind you and pushing you every step of the way.”

In a report this month, Royal Bank of Canada economists Dawn Desjardins and Carrie Freestone warned that the effects of the pandemic will mean that women are more likely than men to face an extended period of joblessness this year.

The RBC report found that almost half a million Canadian women who lost their jobs during the pandemic had not returned to work as of January.

“Women have shouldered a heavier burden when the pandemic added home-schooling to their load,” it said. “In the last year, 12 times as many mothers as fathers left their jobs to care for toddlers or school-aged children.”

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Conservative MPs criticized the government this week for going two years without releasing a budget as this year’s deficit approaches $400-billion. Conservative MP Raquel Dancho said in a statement that an economic recovery plan for women is “vital,” but the Liberals aren’t taking action.

“One year into the pandemic, women across Canada are still waiting for the Liberal government to develop a real plan for women’s economic recovery,” she said.


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