KAIROS’ response to federal budget 2021
Heralded as a shift from the Washington Consensus, a doctrine of free-market economic policies that prioritizes austerity over social support, Budget 2021: A Recovery Plan for Jobs, Growth, and Resilience outlines $101.4 billion in new spending targeted at those who were hit hard by pandemic – specifically women. While KAIROS applauds the shift to greater social spending, it was disappointed to see the government focus almost exclusively on the domestic realm with scant support to those in need abroad. COVID-19 and its impacts know no borders, reminding us that we are as vulnerable as the most vulnerable among us.
While there is much to be encouraged about in the budget, as always, much more must be done to fully bring about the transition to a just and sustainable Canada and global community.
On migrant justice
In its 2021 budget, the federal government builds on its recent support for temporary foreign workers in recognition of their essential role in Canada’s economy and communities. We applaud the government and offer the following recommendations to further benefit these critical workers, especially in the food and care sectors.
First, this support is directed to valid work permit holders only. Left behind are the thousands of undocumented workers who came to Canada legally and were laid off due to the pandemic or fled abusive employers and lost their legal status. Many struggle to find work or renew their work permits, falling through the cracks because of bureaucratic requirements and often forced to work underground. They are vulnerable and are excluded access to health care and other benefits.
The 2021 budget allocates $6.3 million over three years to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to support faster processing and improved service delivery of open work permits for vulnerable workers to help them find a job. While this is a welcome step, we strongly recommend the government grant status for all as an efficient response to support vulnerable workers recognizing the tedious process workers undergo to prove that they were abused. The Open Work Permit for Vulnerable Workers is only a bridging solution – workers still must find a new LMIA (Labor Market Impact Assessment) based employer to continue to work in Canada.
The government has offered a time-limited pathway to permanent residence for valid work permit holders, which ends on November 5. For a detailed response to the federal plan, visit: KAIROS responds to federal plan to grant permanent residency to temporary foreign workers. The government can help make this truly meaningful to migrant workers by removing the end date so workers have more time to meet the requirements and gather documents to apply for permanent residency.
For these workers who are now undocumented, we ask the government to put in place a regularization program that will grant them permanent residency. Canada has successfully done this in the past and in the current context of the pandemic, it is crucial and compelling that the government re-introduce this program.
KAIROS is encouraged to see the government commit $49.5 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to support community-based organizations in the provision of migrant worker-centric programs and services through the new Migrant Worker Support Program. KAIROS is currently working with the Department of Employment and Social Development (Service Canada) through the Empowering Temporary Foreign Workers (ETFW) during COVID-19 project – in which KAIROS and our grassroots partners are delivering much needed resources and services to migrant workers during this critical time.
In our experience, supporting community organizations through the government’s Migrant Worker Support Program to provide support and services to migrant workers is a very sound investment and will yield long lasting results through the relationships and trust built during the process.
KAIROS is also encouraged by the federal investment of $54.9 million over three years to increase inspections of employers and ensure that temporary foreign workers have appropriate working conditions and wages.
We would like to see more collaboration and coherence between Service Canada and IRCC. An integrated vision and strategy will improve efficiencies and service delivery, and address the many gaps and loopholes in initiatives designed to support temporary foreign workers.
KAIROS also notes that the $15 minimum wage will positively impact temporary foreign workers, including those who earn more depending on their national occupation category. They will – we expect – see an increase in their earnings. They certainly deserve it!
On ecological justice
The interconnected facets of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to demonstrate that we cannot separate human health from planetary health, nor the health of our economy from the health of the environment. KAIROS is encouraged that the federal government made climate action a priority in its pandemic recovery budget.
Budget 2021 puts Canada on a trajectory to exceed its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target. However, the latest target set by the federal government at the Biden Earth Summit (April 22) to reduce GHG emissions by 40-45 percent by 2030 is not enough. Any target to reduce emissions less than 60 percent below 2005 levels is inadequate and does not reflect Canada’s fair share. The latest National Inventory Report indicated that emissions in Canada have only gone down by 1 percent since 2005. Canada has set several targets since 2005 and missed them all. While KAIROS welcomes more ambitious target setting and investments to support them, we call for climate accountability legislation to ensure we never miss another target.
KAIROS is also encouraged that carbon pricing continues to be a mainstay of the federal government’s climate strategy. We cannot see the reductions in emissions necessary without a rising carbon price. Budget 2021 also includes many welcome investments to public transit, deep retrofits in residential homes, regenerative agriculture, and disaster mitigation and climate adaptation. Even commitments to conserving 25 percent of our lands and oceans by 2025 will go a long way toward protecting biodiversity and sequestering and storing carbon.
However, KAIROS is deeply concerned that the federal government has made these commitments alongside measures to support the oil and gas industry. In total, the Canadian government provided at least $1.91 billion in fossil fuel subsidies in 2020 and Budget 2021 shows a continuation of this trend. Investments of $319 million over seven years in carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and new tax breaks for high-emitting sectors including $5 billion over seven years to the government’s net-zero accelerator only serve to deepen our addiction to fossil fuels. These commitments lock us into further emissions for decades. They signal the federal government’s lack of understanding of the severity of the climate crisis and the transformation required to address it. A net-zero strategy must focus on reducing real emissions first. KAIROS Canada continues to call for a managed decline of Canada’s oil and gas sector, which requires significant investment for renewable energy and support for affected workers and communities.
Budget 2021 reiterated Canada’s promise to support climate finance for the Global South but made no clear commitments. It is understood that these commitments will be announced in the coming months in the lead up to COP26. KAIROS has called on the federal government to increase its climate finance contribution to CDN $1.8 billion annually, fund a dedicated grants-based Women’s Fund for Climate Adaptation, and support an integrated, feminist global approach to the climate crisis.
On reconciliation in the watershed
KAIROS is hopeful to see the federal government make commitments to fund the development of a Canada Water Agency. A national body to protect the health of freshwater and transform how water is governed in Canada is long overdue. KAIROS urges the federal government to increase funding after its initial commitment to ensure the Agency is well-equipped to resource the co-governance of shared waters with Indigenous Nations, undertake data collection efforts, and support the protection and restoration of freshwater ecosystems.
On gendered impacts, Indigenous rights and corporate accountability
The Government of Canada is right: “Women, children and youth, and Indigenous peoples…. are at relatively greater risk of human rights violations, including human trafficking, child labour, forced labour, and other abuses with negative implications for health and safety” due to extractive operations linked to Canada-based companies.
The federal government’s approach to dealing with the problem is seriously flawed. A budgetary increase of millions of dollars to the office of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) will be inconsequential if the office remains without legal teeth. These additional funds will not meet the needs of impacted communities around the globe; more money to an ineffective CORE can do nothing to protect and redress the rights of women environmental rights defenders from the colluding actions of some industry and governments, which include criminalization of and physical attacks against land and water protectors.
From Colombia to the Philippines, the gendered impacts of resource extraction continue to reverberate. What the CORE’s office needs is the mandate, as originally promised, to compel documents and testimony to conduct effective investigations rooted in internationally recognized human rights frameworks.
As KAIROS wrote to Minister Ng late last year: “With its refusal to grant the CORE investigatory powers, Canada has allowed economic and corporate interests to obstruct its commitment to human rights, the environment, and feminist principles.”
KAIROS is equally concerned that despite the funds allocated to implement the Calls to Justice of “The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,” it remains unclear how the Government of Canada plans to address the Calls for Extractive and Development Industries specifically. Allegations of human rights abuses linked to the extractive sector are not just a matter of foreign policy. Domestically, there is much work to do, and this budget’s silence on the issue amounts to erasure of the problem.
On gender justice and international assistance
Canada’s federal budget 2021 proposes to allocate $165 million in 2021-22 to Global Affairs Canada “to provide international humanitarian assistance to save lives and alleviate suffering resulting from conflicts, food insecurity, and other crises in developing countries.” The necessary and urgent annual increase in international assistance called for by KAIROS, humanitarian and human rights organizations and partners around the world, was disappointingly absent. Though the finance minister refers to the budget as a feminist plan, it falls short on providing the necessary resources to effectively execute the government’s own the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP).
Gender-based violence and sexual exploitation continue to be a significant barrier to women and girls around the world, preventing fulfillment of their rights and participation in all aspects of society, including peacebuilding. Yet, resilient women human rights defenders and grassroots women´s organizations continue to work with communities and do so despite unpredictable and diminishing funding. Canada can and should be more responsive to ensure that women’s rights organizations, and the communities they serve and represent, do not continue to be threatened. In fact, most Canadians agree that Canada should be more generous and show more leaderships in its international response. According to a recent Abacus Data poll, 74 percent of respondents want Canada to either play a leading role in our international response, or at least match the contributions of similar wealthy countries.
Despite having a feminist international assistance policy with a focus area on women, peace and security, and despite growing evidence that peacebuilding is more sustainable, inclusive and effective with the participation of women, Canada continues to prioritize funding militarism over international assistance and peacebuilding. This budget commits $900 million more for the administration of NATO over the next five years (on top of expenditures on military operations), compared to the $165 million for international humanitarian assistance this year.
On the international COVID-19 response
The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to women, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized in conflict situations. It has compounded existing humanitarian crises and exacerbated global inequalities, threatening to roll back hard-won achievements. While we welcome the investment of $1.4 billion in international assistance, including a $375 million investment in Canada’s international COVID-19 response, this budget allocation falls desperately short of what is required and significantly limits long-term global recovery. The $375 million stands in sharp contrast to Canada’s commitment last year which amounted to an estimated $1.2 billion. With almost 100 million people pushed into extreme poverty and 270 million facing hunger worldwide as well as the need for long-term investment in global health, social protection and recovery, this figure is woefully inadequate.
We recognize the efforts of the Canadian government to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines in Canada, with priorities shown for vulnerable communities, as well as international financial support for COVAX. We also appreciate Canada’s efforts among the G20 nations and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to release U.S. $3 trillion of global reserve funds (“Special Drawing Rights”) to support a crisis response and recovery efforts – especially related to public health systems — in medium- and low-income countries.
But Canada can do more to ensure equity and justice in the access, distribution, and administration of vaccines around the world. Canada must also play a leadership role on the issue of vaccine accessibility and production by joining efforts within the World Trade Organization for a temporary COVID-19 vaccine waiver, removing barriers to lower cost generic production of COVID-19 vaccines. This waiver will lead to dramatic increases in vaccine supply that is not wholly dependent on supply donations from wealthier countries.
By contributing to the global effort to provide equitable access to vaccines, treatment and tests, Canada can help stop the spread of COVID-19. Ending the pandemic will also help stop the rollback in progress towards gender equality.
Throughout the COVID-19 crises, women and women’s civil society organizations have been at the front line of response, building community trust and engaging marginalized communities with public health messages. Even in conditions of threatened or shrinking civic space, conflict and displacement, a growing food crisis and increased gender-based violence, local women’s organizations have remained devoted to changing systems that perpetuate the conditions for gender-based violence. We cannot build back a better, more equitable and safer world if international partners – particularly grassroots women-led organizations – continue to be underfunded.