SWC cuts draw protest

Saskatoon will lose Status of Women Canada office and, even in Saskatchewan where a whack of Cons were elected, folks are protesting.

Women’s groups protest closure

Status of Women office in Saskatoon affected by federal gov’t cuts

Jeremy Warren, The StarPhoenix

Published: Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The closure of Saskatoon’s Status of Women office by the Conservative government is an attack on society’s social fabric, protesters said at a rally outside Conservative MP Carol Skelton’s office.

Members of local women’s groups gathered Monday afternoon to protest the closure of 12 of the federal agency’s 16 offices across Canada. They protested outside Skelton’s office because she’s Saskatchewan’s lone federal cabinet minister.

About 30 people sang Christmas carols with modified lyrics to skewer recent Conservative cuts to literacy programs, the court challenges program and Status of Women Canada.

“Stephen Harper is coming to town, he says big cash will trickle on down,” protesters sang before breaking into a rendition of We Wish You a Merry Christmas that asked the prime minister to legislate pay equity.

In April, the Conservative government cut $5 million — or about 40 per cent — of the Status of Women budget. The agency is responsible for doling out about $10.8 million in funding to women’s groups.

The agency’s offices across Canada help women’s groups work their way through government funding processes and help fund research and resource development related to women’s issues.

Jen Kim, one of the protesters and the director of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union Women’s Centre, said the closure of offices in smaller centres and the budget cuts will isolate women.

“Equality and human rights aren’t an issue for the government. The cuts will affect women already marginalized by society,” Kim said.

The victim’s advocate position at the U of S was partly funded and organized by the Saskatoon office. Without the agency’s help, Kim said the position wouldn’t have been created.

Starting sometime next spring, the Edmonton Status of Women office will serve all of Western Canada, including B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. No plans have be made to hire new staff for the Edmonton office, said an agency official.

Bev Oda, minister responsible for the Status of Women, said the administrative budget cuts are meant to streamline agency operations and won’t hinder women’s groups from accessing funding.

“If the process is too complicated, the process might be the problem. Not every federal agency has an office in every city, yet people have no trouble receiving assistance,” Oda said.

Money will be allocated to more direct services, such as the establishment of training programs for women wanting to re-enter the workforce and assistance for immigrant women, Oda said.

“Those protesting (the cuts) are misleading the average Canadian woman. We’re trying to provide more resources and we’re not stopping advocacy. Canadians want their money spent on things to help people get ahead,” Oda said.

Tamara’s House, which assists survivors of sexual abuse, has benefited greatly because of the Status of Women office, said manager Sheri Cole.

The agency gave more than $150,000 to Tamara’s House to fund research projects dealing with health, social services and legal issues involving women.

“What’s true for community based organizations is that they are forced to rely on funding from Status of Women offices,” Cole said. “But there’s still so much more that needs to be studied and evaluated.”

Kevin Singer arrived at the protest too late to take part, but he said he’s offended by the lack of understanding of women’s issues in Ottawa.

“They’re turning back the clock to the Dark Ages with these funding cuts. It’s important to remind Conservative politicians that this is the 21st century,” Singer said.

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006



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