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Canada should elect a gender-balanced Parliament in 2019

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It was nearly a century ago that Agnes Macphail became the first woman elected to the House of Commons. Her victory in 1921 meant she represented not only the southwestern Ontario riding of Grey South East, but every Canadian woman across the country as well. Half the population had a 0.4 per cent share of the seats in the 14th Parliament.

Things have improved—if ever so slowly—in almost a century. Women now account for 26 per cent of all MPs, but at the current rate of progress it will take almost another 100 years to hit gender parity. Yet recent events at home and abroad suggest we may be on the verge of a major leap forward in this age-long struggle for political equality.

While you won’t hear it from U.S. President Donald Trump, the biggest winners in the recent U.S. mid-term elections were women. In the House of Representatives, a record-breaking 102 women won seats (89 Democrats, 13 Republicans), marking an improvement over the 85 women in the previous Congress. And many of these women represent important firsts, such as the first two Muslim women to be elected, as well as the first Native American woman. “We’ve seen important breakthroughs,” says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

READ MORE: Not your mother’s wage gap: How millennials experience pay inequality

To Canadians, American boasts of 2018 being the “Year of the Woman” may seem a bit overdramatic. Our female federal legislators already exceed their U.S. counterparts’ gender ratio 26 per cent to 23 per cent. And those historic firsts? Old news. Yasmin Ratansi became Canada’s first Muslim woman MP in 2004. And our first Indigenous female MP was Ethel Blondin-Andrew, elected in 1988. Setting aside any cross-border rivalry, however, the recent U.S. results suggest something bigger may be afoot.

Mexico’s general elections this past summer, for example, delivered a nearly perfectly gender-balanced parliament, the result of a 2014 constitutional amendment requiring parties to field an equal number of male and female candidates. Here at home, provincial elections last year in Quebec, New Brunswick and Ontario all saw record numbers of female candidates running for office. And the newly elected Vancouver city council consists of eight women and three men.

Does all this signal a permanent and rapid shift toward equal representation for women in Canadian politics? The 2019 federal election will tell the tale. The biggest hurdle typically lies at the nomination stage, since ample academic evidence suggests voters do not discriminate between male and female candidates come voting time. And each of the three main parties takes a different route to improving female representation. The NDP is typically the most aggressive in recruiting female candidates, while the Conservatives eschew a formal policy in favour of merit and mentoring. The federal Liberals now require a documented search for women candidates before open nomination meetings can be held.

RELATED: Glad you asked: Why your justification for the pay gap is bunk

There’s also evidence that mounting social pressure can play a big role in rectifying long-standing gender issues. Statistics Canada, for example, recently found that reports of sexual assault rose sharply in the wake of the #MeToo social-media movement: in the three months following October 2017, the number of police-reported sexual assaults was up 25 per cent versus comparable earlier periods. Simply bringing gender issues into the full light of day can deliver tangible results, provided society is ready to change.

Gender parity in federal politics is a means to achieving a more inclusive and responsive political system. Canadians expect the House of Commons to reflect their views and interests—to do so, it should look like Canada looks. “I want for myself what I want for all women: absolute equality,” Macphail once said. Isn’t it about time she had it?

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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