Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced that he was making maternal and child health a top priority for Canada’s presidency of the G8, with a plan to be rolled out at a summit in June. He announced that Canada would champion a major initiative to confront these issues, saying in a statement “far too many lives and unexplored futures have already been lost for want of relatively simple health care”
As I read this I thought to myself, this doesn’t sound like the Harper I know.
Soon after, when pressed on the details of this initiative, International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda announced that contraception and abortion (crucial components of maternal health) would not be added to the package of initiatives for the health plan. Her reasoning was that the Prime Minister didn’t want to re-generate any debate on abortion.
Now that sounds like the Harper I know.
In response to Harper’s newfound interest in maternal and child health, a document very appropriately titled “Reality Check” was released by the Canadian Labour Congress in partnership with several other groups. The objective of this report was to question the ability of the Harper Conservatives to lead international policy on maternal health given their dismal record on women’s equality in Canada.
And what a dismal record it is, whether one looks at childcare, employment equity, women’s poverty, funding to women’s programs, or the status of Aboriginal women and children; it is clear that Stephen Harper’s socially conservative agenda has hurt women.
While I certainly agree with the critique of Harper’s record, this same report claims that there has been a “systematic erosion” in the status of women and girls in Canada going back only as far as 2004. Well, you be the judge of that claim.
The report will be presented next week at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Given that Harper’s credibility will be taking a huge hit on the world stage, it should be very interesting to see how he responds.