Premier Christy Clark says the message she received from a large group of women in Kelowna late last week was remarkably similar to what she has been hearing from women across the province—the government needs to concentrate on getting B.C.’s economy back on track.
“It boils down to people being concerned about the economy and making sure the future is secure,” said Clark.
The premier hosted 150 specially invited women at a 90-minute meeting last Friday in Kelowna, eager to hear their concerns and looking for advice on how they feel the government can help make life better for women in this province.
According to Clark, while men and women in B.C. have similar concerns overall, women have a different perspective.
“Women are a little different than men when they talk about the economy,” she told the Capital News. “Men tend to talk about how to earn more and how to take home more (of their pay), women want to know ‘how do I get more flexibility in my work life?’ It’s an interesting perspective.”
She said both men and women want to know which party will look after their interests the best, which will look after the budget both today and into the future and which will help create jobs and improve skills training.
The meeting, open only to invited female guests, is the latest in a series of women-only meetings Clark has been holding around the province in the last seven months.
Prior to the gathering, her spokesman said the reason for limiting the meeting to women was because the participants would feel more comfortable speaking out if men were not present. Clark, however, said she was more interested in hearing the different perspective the women brought to the discussion.
She said the invitees ran the gamut from local businesswomen to women who work in both the non-profit and the public sectors.
The range of issues discussed included the need to make sure B.C. is investing in entrepreneurism to help women start their own businesses, to making sure stay-at-home mothers can get training to re-enter the workforce, the need for integrated and holistic health care for women, the importance of the non-profit sector and how women can be rewarded for the work they do with non-profit groups.
The input Clark gathered here—as well as across the province—has reinforced her belief her government is on the right track in working to have B.C.’s budget balanced by 2014-15, as that will help families across the province in many ways.
She said that, coupled with her government’s jobs plan, will help improve the economy for this province and that will help both men and women.
But a left-leaning B.C. think tank, the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives, says there could be other reasons for Clark’s focus on B.C. women.
According to SFU political science and gender, sexuality and women’s studies professor Marjorie Griffin Cohen, writing for the CCPA, a recent Ipsos Reid public opinion poll showed most women are not inclined to support Clark.
Griffin Chen says that could be because women have not fared well under the Liberals during the last 11 years when it comes to their paycheques.
Women’s wages are lagging behind men’s in this province at a higher rate than the national average.
From 2002 (the year after the first B.C. Liberal government was elected) to 2010, women in B.C. saw an average increase in real earnings of 0.49 per cent per year compared with the Canadian average for women of 1.4 per cent per year.
“While earnings for women in B.C. are slowly improving, they are not keeping pace with the average for women workers in Canada,” said Griffin Cohen in her column for the CCPA.
She said in B.C., on average, women earn 65 per cent of what men do but the national figure for women’s earnings in relation to men’s is 68 per cent.
She added that women predominate among low-wage workers in B.C., either at or near minimum wage.
For the first 10 years the Liberals were in power in B.C. the minimum wage stayed at $8 per hour. Clark, shortly after becoming premier, announced her plan to increase the minimum wage in three steps up to the current $10.25 per hour.
But Griffin Cohen described it as “still far below a living wage and there is no plan for future increases.”