Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Something for the Ladies?

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, Golden Tacks (Wednesday November 29, 2006 at 7:15 pm)

The unfortunate thing about contentious issues in Canadian society is that the more important the issue is, the less likely it is that reasoned debate will prevail. The nation debate is but one example. A more obviously mishandled one is the Women’s Program.

This program is a nationwide distribution system for grant money designed to focus on promoting women’s equality through social development programs. It was created in response to suggestions by the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1973.

And now, the Conservative government has moved to close twelve of its regional offices as part of its plan to cut $5 Million from Status of Women Canada.

Naturally, this has produced a vocal outcry from the opposition:

Canadian women are still only earning 71 cents to every dollar earned by their male counterparts, more and more women are living in poverty, and we are still waiting for the government to create child-care spaces. With the closure of these regional offices, the government is taking away one of the very few remaining resources for women.

Which are all serious problems. What’s not certain is what they have to do with the closures.

And there’s no excuse for that. After all, the current government’s proposals for restructuring the agency can easily be compared with the previous government’s review of the agency just last year.

Key points from that report:

  • Overall, stakeholders perceive the design and delivery of the WP to have several important strengths. These include . . .its social development approach. . .its decentralized structure and presence in communities. . .
  • . . .the Program’s decentralized delivery model can also contribute to increasing the costs associated with providing this form of assistance [social development funding]. . .
  • . . .program staff and managers believe that the WP suffers from poor internal communications and information sharing among the regions and the national office.
  • Staff from several regions stressed the importance of in-person contact with organizations in their own communities and said that they lack the personnel, as well as the travel budget, to serve all communities and groups within their region equally

In summary, then, a few key points emerge:

  • Women’s groups value the program’s local representation as well as local officers’ help
  • Local offices are costly and aren’t well integrated with the national office, resulting in poor coordination and redundancies

Which means what for the government’s proposal?

Whether they’re doing it well, they are addressing legitimate concerns about the expense and inefficiency of running so many offices. But the fact that the officers are going to be relocated to Heritage Canada offices raises further questions:

  • Will these officers remain exclusively officers of the Women’s Program, or will they be officers shared between the two agencies?
  • Will they have better resources and communication with the national headquarters at Heritage Canada offices?

In a best case scenario, the officers are simply relocated to larger regional offices and Heritage Canada facilities in the same communities and others begin to provide more local service. In that case, more communities will have a local presence, though the staff in each community won’t have as much time to work locally. On the other hand, more work will be done to coordinate efforts on a larger regional base. What that means is broader, if not better, community presence, the same amount of work in the agency and better agency performance.

In a worst case scenario, the officers will be shared between Heritage Canada and the Women’s Program. In that case, the resources for women’s groups will be reduced, and there’s no guarantee that these dual-use officers will have the time to conduct the kind of effective national communication which the report recommended. That would be a serious problem.

Of course, it’s not clear which of the two it will be. Not from the government and not from the liberals. From one, we get uninformative rhetoric, and from the other, well, more uninformative rhetoric. The NDP, if you’re wondering, have gone further still, suggesting that the closures will result in staff cuts.

What no one is doing is asking what point on the range between the best and worst-case scenarios above the proposal falls. Partly, perhaps, this is because it’s not possible to be certain before the changes are implemented; but the simple explanation is clear: because while every one of them truly cares about women’s support, not one of them truly cares about supporting women.

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