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Alberta Report  - August 3, 1998, page 6

THE BOARS WANT IN

By Chafer Parker Jr.

Men's activists push for place at the government trough

Over the past decade, public funding for the Federal Women's Program has shrunk dramatically, from $13 million annually in 1987 to about $8.5 million. While a $4.5 million reduction is undoubtedly significant, it still buys a lot of friendship. Last year the federal government gave $21.500 to advocates for abused lesbians, $50.000 to a conference on women and the Internet, and $15.000 to help women become foresters in Alberta. Overall, $2.3 million went to 93 groups involved in issues related to violence, including $250.000 to five research centers in London, Ont. to "undertake regional and national activities required to develop a national framework for violence prevention and the girl-child for the next four years."

Those expenditures may explain why, three weeks ago, Manitoba Reform MP Inky Mark, the caucus heritage critic, suddenly blurted to Ottawa reporter Chris Cobb that getting an audit of the federal government's spending on women's advocacy programs will be his personal priority when Parliament resumes in the fall. Mr. Mark was careful to avoid calling for an end to the funding; he explained he merely thought operating costs were too high. But he also suggested men's groups should have equal access to public funds. The fair-minded Mr. Mark has thereby succeeded in placing himself squarely in the line of fire between two camps: feminists who take umbrage at any critical assessment of their programs; and fellow Reformers who hold with official party policy demanding elimination of funding for all special interest groups.

Curtailing all funding for women's issues is unjustified, says Mr. Mark, because " women have made a lot of progress in our society in the past 25 years and without those government-funded initiatives, it would have taken twice as long." But he questions "whether existing organizations really represent women today," and suggest that "a lot of men feel shortchanged in divorce cases." The corollary, he says, proves programs should be funded according to need, not gender. "There are issues that need to be addressed for women and men," he says. "You can't always dismiss them as the pet peeves of a special interest group."

Mr. Mark's call for men's funding is given added impetus by Danny Guspie, founder of the Toronto-based Fathers Resources International. He is seeking to rally Canadian men's groups behind a class-action suit against Ottawa. The suit, he told the Ottawa Citizen, will set out to prove that the federal judicial system and government spending programs are biased against men. "The government cannot show that it is funding any men's programs," Mr. Guspie said. "That is not acceptable under the law." Mr. Guspie added that he was not saying funding should be taken away from women. "The rational and honest way is to make funding available to men also."

Gus Sleiman, a Calgary restaurateur and president of Men's Educational and support Association (MESA), rejects lawsuits as "something we don't like." But he, too, quickly adds that while "we're not saying stop funding women's groups, we want to persuade government to support the groups that need it, including those like ours."

Mr. Sleiman says the combined efforts of the media and government-funded women's groups have resulted in a national mindset that assumes only women can be abused. "But it's our point of view that men are abused in every way women are," he says, "physically, emotionally and financially."

Neither Mr. Mark nor Mr. Guspie are likely to find support from Reformers, most of whom reject all funding for social cause-pleaders. Calgary Reform MP Jason Kenney argues, for instance, that government funding for any advocacy group is inherently anti-democratic. "It was Thomas Jefferson," he says, "who first said, it is sinful and tyrannical to compel a man to finance the propagation of ideas he abhors." by Shafer Parker Jr.

Copyright, Alberta Report

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