Ottawa: Canada's finance minister unveiled a budget on Tuesday that looks to boost the number of working women to head off a looming labour shortage.
It underscores the need to knock down barriers that prevent women from fully participating in the workforce, and comes as a large segment of the population heads into retirement.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau proposed legislating pay equity, and offering parental leave to fathers "to make it easier for women to return to work sooner, if they so choose."
This is in addition to CAD 7.5 billion (USD 5.9 billion) previously earmarked to create 40,000 new daycare spaces over the next three years.
"For the first time in our history, there are now more Canadians aged 65 and older than there are people under the age of 15," Morneau said in a speech to parliament.
"Who will step in to fill the gap left as more and more seniors leave the workforce? We believe that Canada's future rests on making sure that every Canadian has an opportunity to work, and to earn a good living from that work.
"And that includes Canada's talented, ambitious, and hard-working women."
The gender gap in Canada's labour market has already seen a dramatic shift in the last 40 years. In 2017, nearly 83 percent of women aged 25 to 54 were working, up from less than 54 percent in 1977, according to the government statistical agency.
But women on average still earn just 69 cents for every dollar earned by men, a situation Morneau's initiatives seek to change.
Otherwise the budget offers a mere CAD 7.6 billion in new program spending, and put off new major initiatives -- such as national pharmacare -- until the next election cycle in 2019.
Canada's economy surged after Liberals took office in 2015 and unleashed a massive fiscal stimulus. But growth is now forecast to slow from 3.0 percent in 2017 to 2.2 percent in 2018, and 1.6 percent in 2019.
Under the government's plan, the fiscal deficit would fall to CAD18.1 billion, or 0.8 per cent of Canada's gross domestic product.
The budget includes CAD 323.4 billion in revenues and CAD 338.5 in program spending and public debt charges.
The federal debt is forecast to rise to CAD 669.6 billion (or 30.1 per cent of the economy) and keep going up, with no end in sight.