Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Day Five - How I wish I was Nordic - By Mira Hall

For those of you who have been keeping tabs on my updates, I apologize for this one being late. I appreciate the interest that has been shown, and I am so happy to have been able to garner people’s interest in this experience. Yesterday, my fifth day was very full.

I started the day by attending a workshop/panel called “Going Dutch” a light hearted update on how the Dutch Government is working towards the goals set out in Beijing (the 4th World Women’s Conference.) Very seriously, however, was a discussion between the Dutch foreign minister and the executive director of HIVOS (the largest NGO in the Netherlands) around how and why the Dutch government funds its civil society. Both parties underlined the importance of critical evaluation within a society to creativity and responsiveness of the government. Without critical perspectives it would be very easy for any government to become complacent and out of touch with the needs of their people.

For instance, within Canada, it has been explained to me that no party really wants to run a campaign on access to affordable quality childcare because the problem is difficult to implement. Why would a candidate (with the exception of Jean Chretien) run an election on a promise that would be difficult or impossible to achieve? So then our politicians devise campaign strategies and frame election and general political promises around their own ideology that is influenced around what they believe they can get away with, while implementing the result of their ideology on the people of Canada.

Politicians end up painfully out of touch with their electorate, and Canadians have no organized or well funded lobbyists to strategically defend general interests. Canadian critical programs such as the Rick Mercer Report, This Hour Has 22 minutes, and the Royal Canadian Air Farce become our primary critical voices. (note these are all considered to be “comedy” programs.) In the end we have practical examples of Senators such as our own dear Senator Sibbeston, who instead of relaying the difficult and substandard living conditions of many Northerners, relay romanticized versions of little Indian villages who *choose* a lifestyle of trading natural resources for accommodation. Parliament then thinks “How quaint!” instead of “what an embarrassment to have Canadian citizens living in conditions comparable to underdeveloped countries!”

At any rate, I have digressed from the initial topic of the Netherlands. The Dutch Government believes that innovation and creativity is a direct result of diverse discussion, and in order to encourage a broad perspective in all areas of Dutch policy, they actively fund their “opposition.” And they fund them GENEROUSLY! The Dutch government just invested 60 million to NGO activity around women’s equality. Their primary concern was that the funding be distributed in such a way that was effective, comprehensive, and with the least amount of transactional cost possible. A

ctive accountability was also of prime importance to them, and fundees are required to include actions within their proposals and to account for the occurrence of the actions, and the results. This is something that is required of BOTH NGO and government projects. The Dutch government also recognizes the importance of core funding to organizations and provides multiyear funding in order to reduce insecurity, and patchwork initiatives, something that the Canadian government has dramatically stopped doing in recent years (ignoring the conservative extent it had been implemented in previous years.)

Okay. So then I went to *the only Canadian workshop* parallel event, organized by the group that brought me here- FAFIA, the Feminist Alliance For International Action. The workshop was on the gendered impact of Canadian Tax Policy. So the presenters were, Lynelle Anderson from the Canadian Childcare Advocacy Association, Kathleen Lahey who is an author and tax attorney, and Muriel Smith who is a former Deputy Premier from Manitoba who has a long history within the political arena and grass roots advocacy and education. The shocking news for me that emerged from this presentation is that we only actually have childcare for 20% of the population of children in Canada, excluding Quebec. And that the government has been actively involved in a long term plan to shift tax revenue from corporations to low income Canadians.

In Canada the tax shift is slowly occurring over many years, and therefore through governments headed by both Liberals and Conservatives. Currently Canadians whose income falls below 38 000$ bear approximately a 32% income tax burden, while corporations are found to bear around 5% tax burden. Corporations enjoy 1.9 billion each year in tax revenue. I totally expect to be challenged on this, not necessarily the numbers, but it occurs to me that because low income Canadians are more plentiful, doesn’t it create as much revenue as 5% on a big earner corporation? Well, I have to look into that further, however, this has impacted on our human development standing. We once enjoyed first place world wide for our rates of human development, and we have consistently fallen in our standing and are now in 18th place when compared to all other Nations.

The other thing that kind of shocked me was the comparative income between men and women. It should be common knowledge that comparatively, women make less money than men do in similar positions of work. I thought that the figure was “for every dollar a man makes, a woman earns 73 cents.” Unfortunately that is based on older data. CURRENTLY, *during peak earning years* for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes .67$, during other points of life (up until age 45 and after 65) a woman makes .38$. I definitely intend to read Kathleen’s assessments further, as this is an area (economics) that I am interested in.Where is the relevance?

Well, I’ve met many male non-northern residents that bemoan Affirmative action hiring practices. Actually I’ve met many female ones too. At any rate, because northerners are such a small population sometimes we see (personally) really inefficient people working for our government whereas without affirmative action and tenure protection, they would have been fired long ago due to their ineffectiveness. HOWEVER, when we look at WHERE our people are being hired, it adds a little bit to the story. How many female aboriginal women do we see in management positions in the government? Where are our female aboriginal workers hired at the mine sites (when they aren’t prevented from being hired at all by their family status?)

I don’t see any aboriginal females in government management positions. (There *might* be someone, but I don’t know who they are, so feel free to respond with an example if you have one) I only know a few ADMs and SAOs, but I can only think of one female, and no aboriginals. So where does affirmative action put people? Well from what I see, it puts them in secretarial positions, it puts them in front line positions (such as income support workers, or whatever they are currently calling themselves,) and it puts them in data entering, low level accounting, and janitorial positions. A

boriginal men seem to have things slightly better, however again, I am still not seeing many “P1s” in high level management. P2s are a little harder to place. At any rate, if we had a brave government, I believe that there would be more effort in determining the causes behind the “glass ceiling” and subsequently more effort put towards addressing those causes. Off the top of my head I would think that common sense solutions would be to increase basic amounts to Student Financial Assistance, increase the number of grants and scholarships available to students who are pursuing education that will benefit the Territory in the long term, and increase education accessibility.

I’m just guessing here, but I think going from living in Goa Haven all my life to attending University in Edmonton or Calgary might be a bit of a culture shock to me, a shock that would undermine the quality of education that I would be able to absorb. (I know that there have been efforts around this issue, such as the officer for northern students situated in Edmonton, but my experience as a Yellowknifer ells me that I should be able to access the education of my choice within my support network IN THE NORTH.) Why isn’t there more recognition and support for students who choose to be educated in the north? Is 700 dollars a month really an acceptable living allowance when in some communities milk is over 7$ a litre? Why is there no recognized support for the students who choose distance learning to remain home? (There are a minimum of 70 Athabasca University Students alone in Yellowknife right now.)

So that whole previous paragraph was a rant based on my assumption that northerners are blocked from high level management based on the presumption that they aren’t as educated, or the quality of their education isn’t as good as people coming up from the south.

Going back to the tax workshop, feminist groups are rightly concerned at the impact that income splitting will have on the economic dependence of women on men, that it favors legally married couples in the impact of taxation after separation and divorce over the Canadian stereotypical relationship that is common law. Taxation policy also favors workers the higher their income brackets goes. Essentially, from Lahey’s assessment what little public services we have are being provided off of the backs of the poor.This brings me back to understanding basic economic practice over misconceptions that Canadian and American Publics have embraced since the Cold War.

For ANY economy to survive (let alone thrive) aspects of BOTH capitalist and socialist economic practice must be included in overall policy. No current economy is simply a pure “capitalist” economy OR a pure “socialist” economy. Pure capitalism results in a wildly unstable economy swinging dramatically between inflationary periods and recessionary periods that can and have crippled societies (including our own. Both Canada and the US are not very far from the economic depression of the 1930s which was relieved by bringing in socialist measures to reestablish growth.) and we “know” that purely socialist systems result in gross inefficiency and insustainability, and a lack of innovation to bring technology forward.

So good economic practice is to ensure wealth redistribution to maintain minimum demand, have public access to education, health, and infrastructure in order to promote maximum production (defined by a production possibility curve.) At any rate this is getting really long, and I applaud anyone who has made it all the way through!

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