man woman handshake by close up on a blue background

Although Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the Liberals remain focused on building a strong middle class in the federal government’s third budget, tabled on Tuesday, their approach to doing so differs from that of the past two years as they’re placing a significant focus on gender equality in Budget 2018.

Morneau, in his budget speech, said that Canada’s economy is doing “remarkably well” as almost 600,000 jobs — most of them full time — have been created during the past two years while unemployment rates have dropped to “the lowest levels we’ve seen in over 40 years.”

However, Morneau added that “with a strong and growing economy in place, we believe that now is the right time to focus on the deeper challenges that hold our economy — and our people — back. That means making sure that every Canadian has a real and fair chance to work, to contribute to our economy, and to succeed … and that includes Canada’s talented, ambitious, and hard-working women.”

To do that, the government intends to take various measures. The first is to introduce “proactive pay equity legislation in federally regulated sectors,” said Morneau, noting that the government hopes other employers will follow suit and take their own steps to help close the gender wage gap.

The second measure is the introduction of a new “use-it-or-lose-it” Employment Insurance (EI) parental sharing benefit to encourage parents in two-parent families to share the work of raising their children equally. That initiative aims to provide greater flexibility for mothers to return to work sooner, if they choose to do so.

The third measure the government intends to take is “a comprehensive approach to helping women entrepreneurs so that they can scale up their businesses, create jobs, and access the mentorship and the capital they need to take their businesses to the next level.”

That measure is part of an effort to support greater numbers of women in management and leadership positions, Morneau said.

The fourth measure is to boost legal aid funding across the country, so that victims of sexual harassment in the workplace can better understand their rights and get the help they need.

The focus on gender equality doesn’t end there. Morneau noted in his speech that “no budget decision was taken without being informed by Gender-based Analysis Plus, or GBA+.” Furthermore, the government believes that this must be how all future budgets are drafted. As such, it will seek to introduce “new GBA+ legislation to make gender budgeting a permanent part of the federal budget-making process. And we will also strengthen the government’s ability to do this important work by making additional investments in Status of Women, and finally, by making Status of Women a full department in the Government of Canada.”

The reasons for doing all this are evident, Morneau said: “Greater diversity in the workforce boosts productivity and profitability, and studies have shown that increasing gender diversity alone leads to more growth.”

The budget also includes other measures to boost low-income workers and the middle class. That includes the creation of the Canada Workers Benefit, which replaces the Working Income Tax Benefit with a more generous and more accessible program.

“By making this benefit more generous, and by automatically giving the benefit to all those who qualify, we will help lift about 70,000 more Canadians out of poverty by 2020,” Morneau said.

The government also announced measures in Budget 2018 to ensure the tax system is fair for all Canadians by cracking down further on tax evasion and tax avoidance, and to improve the quality of life for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation peoples in Canada.

Innovation also represents a key theme in Budget 2018. For example, the government is making new investments in its innovation and skills plan, as well as significant new investments in science and research.

“By making smart investments today — the kind that give more people a real and fair chance at success — we can build a forward-looking economy for Canada,” Morneau said.