Harper's male bomb When you head to the polls on Monday, remember how the Conservatives have repeatedly cut funding for groups that help women.
I was glad to see the Conservatives stepping into some well-earned shit last week over women's reproductive rights. When Saskatchewan Conservative MP Brad Trost bragged that the Harper government had cut off funding to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, I thought of the Christmas episode in last season's Mad Men. A drunken Don Draper is locked out of his apartment until his loyal secretary brings him his keys. Once inside, Draper pulls her onto his couch, fucks her, then acts as if nothing had happened when he arrives at work next day. "Thank you for bringing my keys," he says handing her a Christmas bonus. Inside the envelope is a thank-you card "for all your hard work" and two $50 bills. The rampant exploitation of women during the 1960s is one of Mad Men's major themes. Fifty years ago, "women's place was in the home." In Canada, contraceptives and abortion were officially illegal, leaving women, as another saying went, "barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen."
Fast forward to the 2011 federal election campaign and it looks like the Conservative-Reform-Alliance Party is itching to roll back the clock. Trost boasted that the Harper government had cut funding to International Planned Parenthood because the agency pays for abortions in Third World countries. However, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix quoted Federation spokesperson Paul Bell as saying that its 2010 application for $6 million in federal funding specifically excluded abortion services, because the Conservative policy on funding for maternal health in poor countries forbids using federal money for abortions. Instead, the Federation promised to use the money exclusively for birth control, nutrition and health services for mothers and infants. Meantime, Bell said the Federation's 2009 application for a three-year $18 million core funding grant was simply ignored.
On the campaign trail, Stephen Harper was quick to deny he had any intention of re-opening the debate on abortion without mentioning that his government restricts abortion services overseas. In fact, the attack on Planned Parenthood International, after 40 years of federal funding, is part of a concerted Conservative assault on any agency that advocates for women's rights. A report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives points out, for example, that in 2006, government budget cuts forced Status of Women Canada to close 12 of its 16 regional offices. Worse still, the government revised its funding criteria to exclude money for women's advocacy groups. As a result, many organizations have faced funding cuts. The long list includes the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women and the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada. Federal funding cuts also forced the National Association of Women and the Law to close its Ottawa office. In its 30 years of existence, the organization had fought for and won changes in sexual assault laws, improvements in divorce law and the adoption of women's equality rights in the Constitution.
Aside from its refusal to finance women's advocacy groups, it's also worth recalling the Harper government's pathetic child-care plan---paying families $100 a month for each child under six, but making the money taxable. Not only is the scheme completely inadequate to pay for child care, it disproportionately rewards higher-income families with one parent--- usually the woman---staying home to raise kids. To help finance the child-care payouts, the Conservatives quietly abolished the $249 annual young-child supplement which helped lower- and middle-income families most. According to right-wing logic, it makes perfect sense. The Conservatives claim there's no need for universal child care because of their stingy monthly payouts, yet working families hardly benefit at all.
Canadian women have come a long way since the bad old days of the 1960s. The Conservatives pretend they're all for women's rights, but their systematic assault on women's advocacy organizations, their opposition to women's reproductive rights and their refusal to support working women, all point in the opposite direction. Here's hoping that on Monday, the voters toss them out of office.