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Art Galleries line downtown Edmonton’s vibrant 124th street, supporting many women who make their living in the arts. This is just one largely female profession that Kenney seems to not consider a job worth saving. (Brittany Ekelund)

Don’t tell me to smile: Kenney’s Canada leaves women out

by Brittany Ekelund

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney spent no time belittling the 2020 speech from the throne and its “endless distractions and bright shiny objects.” I know it would be a stretch to ask Mr. Kenney to look past “kooky academic theories like intersectionality.” Still, I was hoping that someone so hell-bent on recognition could recognize that at least half of Albertans stand to benefit from the policies presented – intersectionality included.

“He’s falling into the Trump pattern of using these phrases of trying to dismiss what is a large body of research at this point about intersectionality,” says Siobhan Vipond, secretary-treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “If you pay attention to [it], you get better policies that make sure that more Albertans have a better chance of succeeding.”

And a better chance is desperately needed.

A sculpture in Edmonton’s downtown makes me pause and think of the Albertan woman. How many more cuts and curve balls can she take before she disappears entirely? (Brittany Ekelund)

Many women in Alberta are in crisis. Shutdowns decimated the service industry, hurting young women the most. Schools closed, leaving women to pick up where classes left off (with fewer teaching assistants after sweeping cuts to education). Most job-losses were in female-dominated industries, with women getting hit harder and with longer-lasting effects than their male counterparts. In fact, female participation in the Albertan workforce is at its lowest level since the 1980s.

But there is hope in the form of several policies introduced during the throne speech, or as Kenney called it, a “fantasy plan for a mythical country.”

Despite introducing policies like Canada-wide affordable child-care programs, the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy, and the Action Plan for Women in the Economy – all of which would help Albertans get back to work – Kenney accused the liberal government of having “a total lack of understanding about the economic crisis through which we are living.”

I guess he stopped listening at she-cession.

And this isn’t the first time that Kenney and the UCP have turned a deaf ear to Albertan women. Even pre-COVID, we were getting the you-know-what end of the stick. Massive cuts to female-led industries like education and healthcare. The conscience rights bills threatening access to abortion and contraception. Elimination of child-care benefits. Even as we speak, a mostly-male panel considers lowering the minimum wage for the mostly-female hospitality industry.

“Alberta still has the largest income gap, and we have some of the largest amounts of children and women living in poverty,” says Vipond, who warns that the divide will only worsen with more cuts to the public services sector and austerity on the minds of many UCP ministers.

“Whether it’s about public education or health care programs or around minimum wage workers, there is an overrepresentation of women,” Vipond says. “That means when he is attacking those policies . . . it’s disproportionately affecting women.”

In 2019, 79.07 per cent of the Canadian jobs were in the public service sector, with a majority held by women. Even in Alberta, a so-called workin’ man’s province, healthcare and social assistance – another lady-led sector – provided 147.8 thousand more jobs than forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas industries combined. With only 17.7 per cent of Canadian mining, quarrying, and oil and gas workers being women, I have to wonder who Kenney is talking about when he calls the energy sector the “great engine for social mobility in this country.”

If it wasn’t clear when Kenney accused a speech that mentioned jobs 22 times of not mentioning jobs, it’s clear now. This isn’t about jobs. This is about a specific set of jobs in which women are vastly underrepresented.

I guess when talks about getting Albertans “off their knees,” he only means the men.

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