Trudeau emphasizes women's issues in new budget

OTTAWA, (Reuters) - Canadian federal budgets will focus more on women in a bid to lift their job prospects, improve their quality of life and narrow the country’s wide wage gap between the sexes, the government said on Wednesday, a move that underscores the feminist credentials of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau walk from Trudeau's office to the House of Commons to deliver the budget on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

The latest budget, unveiled on Wednesday, included for the first time a separate gender statement detailing the main challenges facing women.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau told Parliament that fewer women joined the workforce than men, and noted they found it harder to reach senior roles in Canadian companies.

“That means as a country we aren’t taking full advantage of the talents, insights and experience of more than half of our population. It seems unfathomable, but it’s true,” he said.

“It’s why we need to do better.”

Trudeau, who took power in November 2015, has stressed the importance of gender equality and made a point of appointing a cabinet with the same number of men and women.

While women account for 47 percent of the workforce compared with 38 percent in 1976, Canada has one of the highest gender wage gaps - 19.3 percent - in the 35-nation Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The budget contained two measures spread over 11-years that the Liberals said should help address the issue - a program to boost early learning and child care and one to build more affordable housing.

The budget statement said women were disproportionately represented in lower-paying occupations and noted that mothers were less likely to work full-time thanks to challenges such as child care.

It also noted that women and girls were more likely to experience poverty, violence and harassment and have trouble finding affordable housing.

Morneau said the statement “ensures all budget measures - not just those aimed specifically at women - help us advance the goals of fairness, workforce participation and gender equality.”

The 2016 budget increased child benefits, included measures to make post-secondary education more affordable and committed more money to affordable housing. Ottawa is also looking at flexible working arrangements for federally regulated employees.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Dan Burns