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Federal Budget aims to Boost the Number of Women in the Work Force.

A broad suite of initiatives, from giving more aid to female entrepreneurs, to enhancing parental leave benefits, is designed to increase women’s contribution to the economy.

The federal government unveiled a broad suite of initiatives in its budget Tuesday to promote equality and diversity in the work place, aid female entrepreneurs, and make it easier for underrepresented groups including women, visible minorities and immigrants to enter and stay in the work force.

But the specific details of those efforts may prove less significant than the approach the Liberals took to the budget-making process, applying gender-based analysis in shaping most of their spending and policy decisions, and announcing their intent to make such analysis a permanent part of how the budget is made.

“We are, in this budget, taking measures to ensure women can be successful,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said. “These are important measures when thinking about the long-term health of our country.”

The Liberal government has made gender equity a key theme since taking office. Women comprise half of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet — and roughly half the electorate — and last year’s budget the Liberals first nods towards gender-based analysis, which tries to determine how spending measures impact men and women differently.

In this years’s edition, however, it was the dominant theme.

The initiatives unveiled Tuesday include making $1.4 billion in new financing available for women entrepreneurs through the Business Development Bank of Canada over the next three fiscal years. In addition, a $70 million commitment to women-led technology firms over the next five years through the BDC’s Women in Technology Fund is being increased to $200-million.

Funding and loan products from Export Development Canada and Farm Credit Canada are also being put in place to assist businesses owned or led by women in those sectors.

Citing RBC Economics, the budget document contends that Canada’s GDP could see a gain of as much as 4 per cent if men and women participated equally in the work force.

“Women entrepreneurs face unique barriers in accessing capital, supply chains and export programs compared to their male counterparts,” the government said in the document, which noted that fewer than one in six Canadian businesses (16 per cent) is majority-owned by women.

“The government believes that with greater support, women-led businesses could enter, compete and win on the world stage, boosting economic growth and creating more good, well-paying jobs here at home.”

Doug Porter, chief economist at Bank of Montreal, said the government’s multi-faceted plan to boost the participation of women in the economy could some dividends over the next five to 10 years, while others impacts are expected to be “a bit muted.”

“These policies can have an effect. The question in whether they’ve hit the right policies,” Porter said. “Each one of these policy changes is a bit of an experiment.”

He said Quebec is clearly a model for Trudeau and Morneau in terms of policies that encourage women in the workforce, and that province has a fairly good economic picture with low unemployment.

“From a broad macro standpoint, it looks like a fully positive experiment,” Porter said.

Tuesday’s federal budget includes a $100 million financial commitment over five years to Status of Women Canada to “support more initiatives that build the capacity of equality–seeking organizations, reduce gender inequality in Canada, and promote a fairer and more productive society.”

The financial commitments are combined with changes to parental leave to allow women to return to work earlier if they choose, and other initiatives meant to close the wage gap between men and women.

Ottawa announced a five-week “use it or lose it” addition to parental benefits, at a cost of $1.2 billion over five years, meant to encourage fathers to stay home with their children (leave must be claimed by both parents in order to be eligible for the additional time).

The budget includes targeted grants and other financial commitments to apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs totalling $65.9 million over five years. These are meant to encourage underrepresented groups to explore careers in skilled trades, particularly higher paying jobs and those that are male-dominated.

Just shy of $20 million of the fresh financial commitment will be allocated to increase the number of women in male-dominated trades such as welding and pipe fitting.

“There is a substantial gender gap in apprenticeship training, with women accounting for only 11 per cent of new registrants in inter-provincially recognized Red Seal skilled trades,” according to the budget document.

Fifty-six trades, including bakers, welders, agriculturalists, and hairstylists, come under the umbrella of the Red Seal program, which is the Canadian standard of excellence for skilled trades.

Nearly 90 per cent of the Red Seal trades would be eligible for a new Apprenticeship Incentive Grant for Women. The program would give women training in male-dominated trades $3,000 in each of their first two years of training. Combined with an existing apprenticeship completion grant, this would mean $8,000 in support over the course of their training.

A pre-apprenticeship program will receive a $46 million commitment from the federal government over the next five years, with an additional $10 million a year after that. The program work in partnership with the provinces, territories, post-secondary institutions, unions, and employers, and will encourage exploration in the trades and “develop the skills needed to find and keep good, well-paying jobs in the trades,” the budget document says.

The government is also reallocating $17.8 million previously committed to Employment and Social Development Canada over the next three to five years to get more women into construction jobs, and to help vulnerable people – including indigenous peoples, newcomers, and Canadians with disabilities – access government funding.

Source: http://business.financialpost.com/