The 2021 Vancouver City Capital and Operating Budget is a unique and urgent opportunity for the city to take meaningful action on the intersecting crises being experienced by women.
This is not the time to reduce the size of the budget by $17 million. In fact, it is a time to allocate and enable all possible resources to address the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Indigenous, Black and racialized women.
Women Transforming Cities stand with the women of Vancouver to demand that the Council and Mayor be proactive at this time of crisis for women. The United Nations has stated that without appropriate intervention, the COVID-19 crisis could set women’s rights back decades.
Women are experiencing unprecedented job losses at a much higher rate than men, a huge increase in domestic and racialized violence, increases of unpaid work and lack of affordable child care. The majority of those on the front line of the healthcare system are racialized women.
Whilst the ‘strategic analysis’ on page 7 of the budget papers states that the hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is being taken into account in the budget, WTC believes that the analysis and proposals are inadequate.
This budget has not been created using a gendered or intersectional lens, despite this being requested for several years and it being standard practice by the provincial and federal government.
As a result, the budget proposals are not equitable and will not be effective in addressing the urgency of challenges being experienced by women in Vancouver.
WTC is making the following suggestions for the Mayor, council and city staff to consider:
The budget must fund city wide strategies to address the systemic racism experienced by equity seeking groups in the City of Vancouver. The budget must address systemic racism against Indigenous, Black, Asian and other racialized women and against gender-diverse people. Before the pandemic, racism, hate crimes and violence against cis and trans women, Two-Spirit and gender-diverse people was already a crisis. This has only increased during the pandemic. The city needs to propose and fund actions related to addressing this crisis.
Allocate funding to the recommendations of the MMIWG Inquiry. Funding must be allocated to support policies and programs that are guided by recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry (MMIWG). It is concerning that the staff person dedicated to work on the MMIWG is only budgeted for six months of work. Why would there only be six more months of work given the ongoing violence against Indigenous women and girls in the City of Vancouver?
Support populations most impacted by changes in work due to the pandemic. The city should consider policies and funding to support workers with disabilities who are unable to work at all or unable to work full time due to risk associated with COVID-19 and other systemic barriers. Because women workers are concentrated in low-paid jobs in retail, hospitality, tourism, restaurant and services industries, as well as in part-time or temporary work, they suffered disproportionately from job loss when the pandemic hit. Canadian women aged 25 to 54 experienced a decline in their employment rate that was twice that of men, and their employment is returning at a slower rate.
Support the care economy. The budget does not address the gendered nature of care work, both paid and unpaid. Prior to the pandemic, women in Canada were already doing 1.5 more hours of unpaid domestic work per day, on average, less than men. During the pandemic it has been more likely for women to take time off work to provide care to children, the ill and the elderly. The city must increase investment in the care economy, including addressing issues related to affordable child care, paid care work, and unpaid care work.
Funding to offer targeted support to small business owners from equity seeking and underrepresented groups. Women and other underrepresented groups may find it especially difficult to re-establish business during the economic recovery. While only 16% of SMEs are owned by women, these businesses tend to be concentrated in retail and service sectors—sectors that have been most impacted by lockdowns.
Provide and fund appropriate and tailored support for seniors in Vancouver. The budget seems to completely ignore seniors and the support they need. We propose that the taxes be reconsidered for anyone above 65, and that the city look at funding to help build senior housing.
Support free transit for essential workers. We propose the budget accommodate a fund to help workers who are providing essential services who rely on 24 hour transit to safely reach work or obtain essential services.
Address the urgent need for affordable housing for women. Women are the lowest paid workers, have disproportionately lost jobs and over 50% of single older women live below the poverty line. Young women are forced to leave the city for housing. Women need the keys to affordable housing in their names and designated housing built to meet their safety, childcare and design needs. The city budget must address the urgency of this issue.
Collect disaggregated data to assess whether post-pandemic recovery policies are equitable. The lack of gender-based as well as intersectional analysis in shaping post-pandemic recovery policies thus far is deeply concerning. The City of Vancouver must mandate the collection of disaggregated data on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic along multiple dimensions of social identities. This data would allow the city to assess whether post-pandemic recovery policies are having intended effects, or if they are widening inequities. They could also allow policymakers to pivot programs and policies to better reduce inequities.
Support workplace health and safety. Of the 15 job classifications with the highest Physical Proximity Index scores — which we can take as a measure of the risk of contracting COVID-19 as our economy re-opens — all but three have higher proportions of women workers than men. The Mayor must advocate with the Federal government as part of the C40 Mayors group to guarantee paid sick leave, mental health support, and financial and legal aid for those who are on the front line of the pandemic.
Advocate for support for undocumented or new immigrant workers. The City should advocate to the Federal government for front line workers who are immigrants, with conversion of their status or provide them conditional temporary work permits while their paperwork is in process, so they can at least earn a minimum wage as they continue to provide essential services for the city.
Close the gender gap at the City of Vancouver. This includes ensuring city contractors are required to pay their workers more than a living wage, and the rehiring of city workers such as those who work in libraries and community centres, the majority of whom are women.
Increase the voice of women at the recovery table. Women Transforming Cities wrote a letter to the Mayor and Council asking for a Feminist Green Economic Recovery Strategy with women and women’s organizations at the strategy tables as they are at the Federal and Provincial tables. As we are now experiencing the second round of COVID-19 with more job losses and more unpaid work, it is even more important to have the voices of those most impacted at the table.
Support for diverse women to run for elected office. The budget should include funding to ensure the city has in place training and support for women from equity seeking communities to run for elected office before the 2022 city elections.
Revenue generating options
We acknowledge that what we are suggesting will require additional funding. We propose the following to increase revenues for the city and cover any deficits that are preventing the city from tilting the balance in favor of a more equitable, fair, gendered, racialized and just budget:
Institute a wealth tax. A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ B.C. office, found that Canada’s top billionaires have gained $37 billion since COVID-19 began. We propose a 5% Vancouver tax on anyone with net worth over 20 million.
Increase the empty home tax from 1.25% to 5%. This funding should be put towards affordable housing initiatives.
Reallocate the increase to the Vancouver Police Department budget. The increase of $4.5 million to the VPD budget should be re-allocated to essential budget items as listed above, including initiatives that address systemic racism, domestic violence, the mental health crisis, and the implementation of the recommendations from the MMIWG Inquiry.
Apply an equity lens to commercial property taxes. A blanket increase in property taxes is inequitable, given how negatively small businesses have been hit in Vancouver, especially small businesses owned by equity seeking groups. We proposed a tiered property tax based not on the value of the property but of average quarterly income (compare 2019/ 2020).
Draw down the Property Endowment Fund to address the immediate crisis. We are in a crisis, and decisions the City makes now will be felt for decades to come. This is the time to allocate all possible resources.
Consider projects that are obsolete where funding could be re-allocated. We propose that the Director of Finance ensure that decisions on the new budget are factual and match the ability of the current staffing to provide much needed impact and change, especially ensuring that the marginalized and groups that are most negatively impacted by the pandemic, receive the most equitable response.