Tax cuts benefit men more than women 

By Jess Klassen

Previously published in the Winnipeg Free Press March 8, 2024

Have you heard of the elusive Winnipeg superhero Femme Fiscale? Almost 20 years ago, Femme Fiscale attended Manitoba budget scrums donning a shiny cape and striped tights. They used their oversized POV (point of view) goggles to look at Manitoba’s finances through her gendered lenses, surveying how the budget affected women in Manitoba. Shawna Dempsey, a long-time Winnipeg performance artist, and Lee Fraser played the part of a hero championing women in Manitoba with their knee-high boots firmly planted on the ground (while the cherubic 17-foot Golden Boy, Manitoba’s symbol of economic prosperity, had his head ‘stuck in the clouds’). They worked to bring the issue of women’s economic equality to the attention of politicians and the broader public. 

What would Femme Fiscale think on International Women’s Day 2024 if they knew that Manitoba ranks the lowest in gender equality in the country, according to a recently released Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) report? CCPA’s update on the gender gap in Canada used a 17-indicator Gender Gap Index to assess progress between 2019 – 2021. Unfortunately Manitoba reported the lowest gender parity score. Existing inequities were worsened during the acute phase of the pandemic, and women and gender-diverse people are struggling to recover.

The rise in inequality in Manitoba, both income inequality and gender inequality, isn’t an accident. It’s by design due to public policy that does not prioritize women, gender-diverse people, and families. And it has very real consequences. 

Manitoba had the second worst personal security score in the Gender Gap Index due to increases in police-reported intimate-partner violence, sexual assault, and criminal harassment targeting women. Manitoba has ranked at the bottom in this area for several years. The numbers are likely much higher as many incidents of violence against women and gender-diverse people are not reported to the police. 

Manitoba and Saskatchewan experienced the largest decline in life expectancy for women and gender-diverse people. Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit plus people in Manitoba experience unacceptably high levels of violence and early death. Indigenous women accounted for 65 percent of homicides in Winnipeg between 2018-22. 

Concurrently, the provincial government was divesting from the Manitoba Status of Women Secretariat and Family Violence Prevention programs. After accounting for inflation, expenditures in these programs fell by 8 percent between 2016 and 2022. 

Women in Manitoba earn 71 cents for every dollar men make, and the gender poverty gap continues to widen. Racialized and Indigenous women earn 59 cents and 58 cents, respectively, for every dollar a white man earns. Manitoba continues to experience the highest child poverty rate in the country, many of whom live in single-parent families headed by women.

The lack of affordable child care spaces in Manitoba is well documented and has negative effects on women and gender-diverse people’s participation in the labour market. This only worsened during the previous provincial government’s tenure with stagnant spending and few net increases in childcare spaces. 

It is promising that the new provincial government has named a Minister Responsible for Gender Equity, Nahanni Fontaine, and has committed to searching the landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, and Buffalo Woman. Fontaine and Minister Bernadette Smith are internationally recognized Indigenous leaders and have spent decades fighting for MMIWG2S and their families. The Manitoba Cabinet also includes many other feminist and activist leaders. 

Action must continue by investing in women, gender-diverse people, and families in Manitoba in Budget 2024. A budget with a gender-equity lens includes investments in health, housing, income transfers, family violence shelters, training and education, and child care. 

What a budget with a gender-equity lens does not include, however, are $500 million in tax cuts. The top earning 10% of men will receive almost 20% of the total amount cut ($110 million). This is more than the bottom, lower-earning 60% of women. These tax changes will give millions of dollars to the wealthiest men in our province while leaving women, gender-diverse people, and families with what’s left. 

Tax fairness is key to reducing income inequality and in making real gains in gender equity. CCPA’s Gender Gap Index project aims to spur conversation about the comparative challenges that women and gender-diverse people face and put forward alternatives. It is premised on the idea that it does not have to be this way. Femme Fiscale told us this 20 years ago and it’s the same today – good public policy uses a gender lens to invest in communities to break down barriers so all can thrive. 

Jess Klassen is the Manitoba Research Alliance Coordinator and is a CCPA-Manitoba Research Associate.