Chapter 3. Delivering gender equality through government policy

This chapter looks at Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) and its implementation in Canada and provides recommendations to help maximise its potential as a tool for delivering greater gender equality through government policy. It also considers the extent to which the performance and results framework tracks and facilitates outcomes in relation to gender equality. The Government of Canada has a strong focus on results and has recently instituted a Cabinet Committee on Agenda, Results and Communications (ARC) and, to support it, a Results and Delivery Unit (RDU) at the Privy Council Office. The development of the Gender Results Framework as part of Budget 2018 also represents an important step forward. Further development of this Framework should focus on strengthening its upstream linkages - to specific gender equality targets set out in a gender equality strategy for Canada – and its downstream linkages to departmental results and delivery frameworks.


3.1. Introduction

Government policy is more likely to achieve overarching gender equality goals when decision-making tools, from policies and legislation to budgets, regulations and procurement take full account of the different circumstances, needs and challenges of women and men. GBA+ is the main analytical tool that the Government of Canada uses to assess the different impacts of policies and programmes on women and men. The broader results framework can also play a key role in making explicit the links between programmes and gender equality outcomes.

This chapter assesses GBA+ and its implementation in Canada and provides recommendations to maximise its potential as a tool to help deliver gender equality through all aspects of government policy. It also highlights the performance and results mechanisms of the current government and assesses their role in promoting gender responsive policy making.

3.2. GBA+ as a tool to mainstream gender considerations in policy development

GBA+ acts as a key vehicle for accelerating gender equality results in Canada through encouraging an assessment of how diverse groups of women, men and gender-diverse people may be affected by policies, programs and initiatives (see Box 3.1). Box 3.2 provides examples of GBA+. The government committed to gender mainstreaming all legislation, policies and programmes as part of the framework of the Beijing Platform for Action. GBA was developed as a response to this commitment. Over time, GBA has evolved into a modern tool of policy making, integral to gender mainstreaming in Canada. In 2011, SWC rebranded GBA as GBA+ to factor in diverse identity circumstances, such as race, ethnicity, religion, age, and mental or physical disability. In line with the provisions of the 2015 Recommendation, which aims to address multiple dimensions of discrimination, Canada is among the few OECD countries which put a strong emphasis on intersectional identity factors beyond gender. While there is no legislative underpinning for GBA+, since 2016 it has been mandatory that evidence be provided to demonstrate that GBA+ has been completed for all submissions brought before Cabinet and the Treasury Board.

Box 3.1. Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) in Canada

GBA+ is an analytical tool used to assess how diverse groups of women, men and gender-diverse people may experience policies, programs and initiatives. This means that analysts, researchers, evaluators and decision makers are able to continually improve their work and attain better results for Canadian men and women by being more responsive to their specific needs and circumstances. The “plus” in GBA+ acknowledges that GBA goes beyond biological (sex) and socio-cultural (gender) differences. It examines how sex and gender intersect with other identities such as: race, ethnicity, religion, age and mental or physical disability. There is a broad recognition in Canada that without GBA+, there is a risk of missing or misreading the experiences of a significant portion of the Canadian population and –as a consequence – risk developing policies and initiatives that can inadvertently increase inequalities. It is therefore critical that GBA+ is applied to optimise the impact and effectiveness of all federal initiatives.

SWC plays a leadership role in the government-wide implementation of GBA+. However, the commitment to GBA+ is a shared responsibility across all departments and agencies.

All federal departments or agencies are required to provide evidence that they have taken GBA+ considerations into account and to report relevant findings in their Memoranda to Cabinet and Treasury Board Submission. GBA+ can be used to inform the entire policy process, from research and early investigation through to the development of options and strategies. It should also inform implementing (e.g. MOUs, terms and conditions), monitoring, evaluating and communicating an initiative.

Central agencies (PCO, TBS and FIN) play a challenge-function in relation to the GBA+; provide guidance on incorporating GBA+ into Cabinet documents; and apply GBA+ to their internal work.

Action Plan on Gender-based Analysis (2016-2020)

In 2015, the Auditor General of Canada's Report “Implementing Gender-based Analysis" pointed to the need to do more to fully implement GBA+ as a rigorous practice across government. It recommended that SWC, the PCO and TBS work with all federal departments and agencies to identify the barriers to implementing GBA, and to periodically assess and report on progress. It further recommended that SWC assess the resources it needs to deliver on its GBA+ mandate. Subsequent recommendations were made by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO).

As a response, SWC, PCO and TBS developed an Action Plan laying out the steps that will be taken in response to the gaps identified by the Auditor General, building on progress and lessons learned. Some commitments of the Action Plan include:

  • Better identifying and analysing barriers to GBA+ implementation;

  • Mitigating known barriers by enhancing GBA+ tools, training, and resources;

  • Creating new forums for networking and collaboration on GBA+, including among senior leaders;

  • Updating guidance for developing Memoranda to Cabinet (MC) and TB submissions to include more specific direction on GBA+ ;

  • Strengthening the challenge function of central agencies through training; and

  • Developing and implementing a more robust framework to monitor progress on GBA+ capacity and implementation across government, as well as identifying GBA+ informed outcomes and results. 

Source: Status of Women Canada, Introduction to GBA+ online training []; Action Plan on Gender-based Analysis (2016-2020)

3.2.1. Strengths and weaknesses in the existing application of GBA+

Important improvements in the implementation of GBA+ have been recorded in recent years, driven by the findings of the OAG in 2015 that the implementation of GBA+ has been uneven across federal departments. In its assessment, the OAG found little evidence that GBA+ had informed and potentially steered Cabinet decision-making process, and made recommendations to address these gaps (Office of the Auditor General Canada, 2016[30]). Subsequent recommendations were made by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO) to advance the implementation of GBA+ The recommendations included: the introduction of a legislative basis for the implementation of GBA+; raising awareness on the impacts of GBA+ at the federal level; annual evaluation of the GBA+ online course; and provision of SWC with the adequate financial and human resources to support the implementation of GBA+.

Following the recommendations of the OAG and FEWO, and building on the high level political commitment to the gender equality and inclusion agenda, the regulatory underpinning of GBA+ has gradually been strengthened in parallel to the introduction of gender budgeting. In 2016, the government made it mandatory that evidence be provided to demonstrate that GBA+ has been considered and completed as necessary for all submissions brought before Cabinet and the Treasury Board. In the same year, GBA+ was integrated into the government's new Policy on Results. In 2017, the Minister of Finance advised departments that all budget proposals needed to be accompanied by a GBA+ assessment. Canada is now one the few OECD countries where gender analysis is mainstreamed within routine Cabinet policy process, in accordance with the 2015 Recommendation. Most notably, the Budget 2018 committed to introduce new GBA+ legislation. Work is also underway to make GBA+ mandatory for regulatory impact analysis. Early indications show that these initiatives have already yielded positive impacts on the GBA+ capacity within federal departments and agencies. In addition, since GBA+ became mandatory, more departments appear to be collecting gender-disaggregated data, and have increasingly put in place departmental governance structures to implement GBA+ (Status of Women Canada, 2018).

Sustaining the current momentum for GBA+ will help overcome the remaining departmental barriers to the implementation of GBA+. According to the results of the SWC annual GBA+ Implementation Survey most departments still do not have a GBA+ action plan, and are yet to develop internal governance structures for implementing GBA+. Most GBA+ training remains focussed on policy analysis with room to improve GBA+ integration in program design, delivery legislation, and other areas such as procurement. There is also scope to boost efforts in monitoring GBA+.

Another area where there is scope to improve the impact of GBA+ is the challenge function exercised by the central agencies (see Chapter 2). At present, GBA+ does not have a legislative basis and derives its relevance from a strong political-level commitment; and in practice, central agencies may be reticent to routinely send back Cabinet proposals to line ministries on the grounds of a missing or incomplete GBA+. The future GBA+ legislation, announced in the Budget 2018, provides a significant opportunity to strengthen the role of central agencies in monitoring the implementation of GBA+. The scope of the announced legislation relates to budgeting and expenditure decisions. A Cabinet directive on GBA+ could further strengthen the challenge function of GBA+ in Cabinet proposals.

Box 3.2. Implementing GBA+ in Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is the only federal department that is required to conduct and report to Parliament on GBA+. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which came into force in 2002, includes a legislative requirement to provide gender-based analysis of the impact of the Act in an annual report to Parliament. As such, the Act specifically provides that: “The Minister must … table in each House of Parliament a report on the operation of this Act in the preceding calendar year” and “the report shall include a description of … a gender-based analysis of the impact of this Act.” The IRCC has a GBA+ unit in the Strategic Policy and Planning Branch, which acts as the functional authority responsible for the department’s GBA+ policy and organisational capacity, and a GBA+ Champion who highlights the effectiveness of applying this analysis.

An example of how GBA+ improved decision-making

IRCC applied GBA+ to a sponsorship regulation. In 2016, as part of a Ministerial mandate commitment, IRCC developed a proposal to remove a regulatory requirement for sponsored spouses and partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to live with their sponsor for two years as a condition to maintaining their permanent resident status.

The analysis recognised that a sponsored spouse or partner can be vulnerable for many reasons, including gender, age, official language proficiency, isolation and financial dependence, and that these factors can create an imbalance between the sponsor and their spouse or partner. It was further assessed that the conditional permanent residence two-year co-habitation requirement could compound these vulnerabilities in situations of domestic abuse. Noting that women made up a majority (70%) of affected individuals who submitted requests to IRCC for an exception to the condition on the basis of abuse or neglect, IRCC assessed that this regulatory requirement may potentially result in vulnerable spouses and partners remaining in abusive relationships out of fear of losing their permanent resident status in Canada.

The conditional permanent residence requirement was repealed on April 18, 2017.

3.2.2. Linkages between GBA+ and Cabinet processes

GBA+ is fully integrated within the routine Cabinet policy process, and this appears to have improved the extent and quality of this policy assessment tool. These requirements have brought about a cultural change in departments whereby GBA+ is being taken more seriously. Moving forward, its sustainability and impact can be underpinned by the federal administration's willingness and ability to fully integrate the gender analysis within the results and delivery agenda.

Although there are benefits to linking GBA+ with Cabinet policy processes, a number of factors are relevant in assessing the effectiveness of the tool:

  1. Firstly, the principle of Cabinet confidentiality can place informal constraints on the ability of SWC to support departments directly in the preparation of Cabinet submissions. The principle can also make it difficult for the parliament and civil society to scrutinise the quality and rigour of gender analysis.

  2. Secondly, the Cabinet submissions are generally prepared under tight timelines. This can make it difficult for policy makers to undertake a meaningful gender analysis, especially when the data and knowledge about gender equality needs in a given sector may not be readily available. For GBA+ to have maximum usefulness, it needs to be factored in to the earliest stages of policy making, and this is not yet the uniform practice in Canada.

  3. Thirdly, GBA+ has been long perceived by the federal departments as a narrow tool, a check list, which is closely linked to discrete processes such as the preparation of Cabinet and budget proposals and Treasury Board submissions. A culture change is required to reposition GBA+ as a broader and more comprehensive instrument that can be applied to multiple government activities on an ongoing basis.

One way of boosting the impact of GBA+ on policy decisions is through careful but systematic application of the principle of transparency in respect of GBA+ analysis, in a manner that is respectful of Canada’s robust principle of Cabinet confidentiality (see Chapter 4). The instigation of broad-based stakeholder consultation at the beginning of each government term to identify general and sector-specific priorities for gender equality is another potential way forward (also see Chapter 4 on citizen consultation). There is also scope to further embed GBA+ across the different phases of the policy cycle, from problem definition to evaluation and impact analysis. The recently announced commitment to enact GBA+ is likely to help encourage this, alongside efforts by SWC to raise departmental awareness in this area.

3.3. Integrating a gender dimension into the results and delivery approach

3.3.1. The results and delivery approach

The government of Canada has outlined its commitment to evidence-based decision making and to delivering real and meaningful results for Canadians. The importance of this political commitment is underlined by the establishment of a Cabinet Committee on Agenda, Results and Communications (ARC) and, to support it, a Results and Delivery Unit (RDU) at the PCO1 (see Box 3.3). The President of the Treasury Board of Canada has also been given a mandate to ensure departments use the best available information, measure the impact of their programmes and improve parliamentary reporting.

3.3.2. Setting overarching government priorities

The government sets out its high level commitments in individual mandate letters, addressed from the Prime Minister to each minister, outlining overall expectations as well as more specific policy objectives. Consistent with the government’s emphasis upon the principles of open and transparent government (see Section 4.2), these documents were made public for the first time in 2016. In total there are 30 mandate letters containing, as of October 2017, 406 commitments (Government of Canada, 2018[33])

Box 3.3. New elements of the federal strategic planning framework

The Committee on Agenda, Results and Communications

In November 2015, the Government created a new Cabinet Committee on Agenda, Results and Communications (ARC), chaired by the Prime Minister and tasked with setting the government’s forward agenda, tracking progress on priorities, and considering strategic communications.

Results and Delivery Unit

In January 2016, a new Results and Delivery Unit (RDU), housed in the PCO, was established to support the ARC, the Prime Minister and federal departments. It has 15 staff and its purpose is to track departmental performance and report to Cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister on potential obstacles, or opportunities, that might affect key platform promises. The new unit also supports efforts to monitor delivery and address implementation obstacles, and facilitates the work of government by developing tools, guidance and learning activities on implementing an outcome-focused approach.

The mandate letters direct each minister to track and regularly report on progress against their commitments, assess the effectiveness of ongoing work, and invest resources to achieve results for Canadians on things that matter. Progress against delivering these commitments is highlighted in an online Mandate Letter Tracker2. This platform helps Canadians hold the government accountable for delivering high level commitments and, in many respects, represents advanced international practice. Commitments are aligned under one of 12 overarching priorities for government – see Figure 3.1– which are for the most part drawn from the policy-framing Speech from the Throne.

Figure 3.1. Online Mandate Letter Tracker

Source: (Government of Canada, 2018[33])

At present there is no formal link between the 12 overarching priorities and Deputy-Minister level committees (also referred to as Deputy-Minister Taskforces). These committees are generally aimed at longer-term reflection. However, there is a significant degree of alignment between these priorities and committee mandates, and related topics may be brought to Deputy Minister Committees at the discretion of the Chair. In addition, the Prime Minister has identified himself as the lead on the “Diverse and Inclusive Canada” priority and has set up a working group to deliver in this area.

Each priority has a Results and Delivery Charter, setting out a plan for delivery and a reporting framework to enable progress to be tracked. Departments set out the intended outcome and (short, medium and long term) key indicators that support its achievement. Outcomes may be cross-cutting, to help leverage joint-working between departments.

Work is ongoing to align these indicators with those of ongoing departmental results frameworks, to the extent appropriate. The existing disparity of approach can mean that departments are not yet routinely collecting the information required to report against overarching government priorities through their existing business processes (see below). Indeed, the RDU has already come up against challenges in collating information from departments for this task. In some cases over the longer term it is likely that new data, more specifically linked to the priorities, will have to be collected by departments as part of a more organised data strategy.

3.3.3. Departmental performance reporting

In 1997, Canada split its Departmental Expenditure Plans into Reports on Plans and Priorities and Departmental Performance Reports. These tools, now called Departmental Plans and Departmental Results Reports, continue to form the foundation of Canada’s current departmental monitoring structure.

Departmental Plans (DPs) are forward-looking documents that describe departmental priorities, expected results and associated resource requirements covering three fiscal years. Where the department is a chartered department, the priorities set out in the DP should show alignment with the Results and Delivery Charter. To ensure that departments have data to support the proposed indicators, they must also present a plan of how they will obtain the data to track progress.

By contrast, Departmental Results Reports (DRRs) are an account of actual performance for the most recently completed fiscal year, reporting against the plans, priorities and expected results set out in their respective DPs.

The Policy on Results, introduced in 20163, sets out the Departmental Results Framework for how departments achieve and report results. As part of this, departments must collect key performance information on each programme in Performance Information Profiles (PIPs). The Policy on Results provides guidance on how departments can use their performance information to support funding requests. The Directive on Results (2016) outlines requirements for supporting the implementation of the Policy on Results, including the identification of roles and responsibilities for Canadian federal departmental officials.

Role of the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS)4

The Treasury Board is a senior committee of Cabinet that functions as the government’s management board and, supported by its Secretariat, it oversees the operations of the entire federal government. One of the key areas where it performs this oversight role is in relation to performance management. TBS reviews DPs and DRRs and makes sure they conform to their central guidance. The RDU at PCO also now plays a guiding role in relation to performance reporting, to ensure that it is aligned with overarching government priorities.

A summary of the overall results and delivery system is provided in Figure 3.2, with the key elements explained in Box 3.4.

Figure 3.2. Federal government results and delivery system

Source: OECD, adapted from (Government of Canada, 2017[34])

Box 3.4. Elements of the results and delivery system in Canada’s federal government

Results and Delivery Charter

This is a new Cabinet document that is used as the basis for reporting progress against the 12 overarching priorities for government. For each priority area, departments set out the intended outcome and key indicators that support it.

Mandate Letters

Mandate letters, from the Prime Minister to each minister, outline overall expectations as well as more specific policy objectives for respective ministers. These letters highlight how all ministers can make a contribution to government-wide commitments.

Departmental Plans (DPs)

Departmental Plans are forward-looking documents that describe departmental priorities, expected results and associated resource requirements covering three fiscal years. These Plans are tabled in Parliament on or before March 31.

Departmental Results Framework (DRF)

Departmental Results Frameworks for each department and agency provide the structure against which financial and non-financial performance information is provided for estimates and parliamentary reporting.

Performance Information Profiles (PIPs)

Performance Information Profiles contain the key performance information that is measured and tracked for each individual government programme.

Departmental Results Reports (DRRs)

Departmental Results Reports are individual department and agency accounts of actual performance for the most recently completed fiscal year, reported against the plans, priorities and expected results set out in their respective DPs. These reports inform parliamentarians and Canadians of the results achieved by government organisations.

3.3.4. Integrating a gender lens into the results and delivery approach

Canada is already working to strengthen the linkages between its gender assessment tools and the results and delivery framework. The government’s high-level commitment to gender equality is embedded in one of the twelve overarching priorities, which provides for a “Diverse and Inclusive Canada”. In total, 14 commitments relating to gender sit under this priority and are included in the mandate letters to various ministers. 11 of these commitments are included in the mandate letter for the Minister of Status of Women, three are included in the mandate letter for the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour and five appear in the mandate letters of other ministers5.

SWC are currently developing a standardised framework of indicators for gender equality. This body of indicators will be available for use in populating charters, Departmental Results Frameworks and Performance Information Profiles (see also Chapter 1 on federal gender equality policy).

In terms of including a gender perspective in departmental performance reporting, the Directive on Results includes a number of considerations in relation to gender. Specifically, it requires that departments:

  • Consider gender-based analysis in developing their plans for performance measurement at the programme level; and

  • Provide descriptive tags for programmes that identify when they impact target groups, such as women.

TBS, as part of its “challenge” function in assessing draft departmental plans and departmental results reports, encourages the integration of gender considerations where appropriate. In addition, all Departmental Plans in 2017-18 include a mandatory GBA+ supplementary information table. SWC works with TBS and departments to support this work and ensure alignment with the indicators framework that it is developing (see also Chapter 2).

TBS has also recently issued guidance to departments on the need to include PIPs for each programme. PIPs identify the performance information for each programme and must build in gender-based analysis where relevant.

Arising from these recent initiatives, many of the tools are in place or are being developed to help departments to integrate gender analysis within their frameworks for results targeting and reporting. It remains early to assess the success of departments in employing these tools, and on delivering impactful, gender-responsive policies. A continued central guidance and oversight role will be important, particularly in helping departments to manage the institutional adaptations and mind-set changes that may be required, if the new approach is to be implemented in a uniform manner (see Chapter 2 for a more detailed assessment of institutional roles and responsibilities).

3.3.5. Enhancing the integration of gender into results and delivery

The results and delivery framework is an important and useful tool which the government can use to deliver more gender equal policymaking. The statement that a “Diverse and Inclusive Canada” is an overarching priority of government provides political momentum that is transmitted across the public administration. In principle this, combined with the new guidance in relation to incorporating gender considerations into departmental performance reporting, should be effective in ensuring integration of gender into the results and delivery approach over time. In practice, however, the Diversity and Inclusion Charter has a narrow focus and does not provide comprehensive guidance for gender equality and diversity policy (see Chapter 2). This leaves the gender approach heavily reliant on political direction. One stakeholder summed up the risks of this approach by observing that “two years of progress could be lost in two minutes” if gender equality were to lose its political support.

The introduction of an overarching framework for gender equality with key indicators is important to provide the foundations for a more sustainable approach to delivering gender equality results. The development of the Gender Results Framework as part of Budget 2018 represents an important step forward in this respect. Further development of this Framework should focus on strengthening its upstream linkages - to specific gender equality targets set out in a gender equality strategy for Canada (see Chapter 1) – and its downstream linkages to departmental results and delivery frameworks. Austria provides a leading international example in this respect (see Box 3.5). Observations in Austria point to this approach securing increased attention for gender equality inside the public administration as well as outside among target groups/stakeholders (Schratzenstaller, 2014[35]). It was also found that “Overall, increased transparency, awareness, and accountability for gender equality issues and objectives, and a richer discussion on gender equality and gender budgeting has been achieved” (IMF, 2017[36]).

Box 3.5. The integration of gender into the performance framework in Austria

Austria’s distinctive system of gender budgeting is well integrated within the performance budgeting framework. According to the Federal Budget Law 2013, the outcome objectives specified for each Budget Chapter must include at least one objective related to gender equality; and in turn, each of the “global budgets” and “detailed budgets” must include at least one gender-related output target. In this way, each line ministry is obliged to consider how its activities relate to gender equality, and to design objectives and indicators to promote gender equality in the context of the budget. Moreover, gender equality is one of the dimensions of analysis that must routinely be included in Impact Assessments of new policies. Reporting on the gender-related objectives is covered in the Performance Reports prepared by the Federal Chancellery.

Taken as a whole, therefore, the Austrian system of policy-making is designed to (a) require all ministries to consider gender equality both in their high-level goal-setting and in more detailed specification of outputs and objectives, (b) assess impacts on gender equality in the design of policies, using a standardised assessment template, and apply this assessment both ex ante and ex post, and (c) account for their achievements in gender equality goals and objectives via the annual performance reports.

For a single overview of how ministries are achieving their gender-related objectives, it is necessary to look to the performance reports prepared by the Federal Chancellery. The October “Annual Report on Budget Orientation” not only collates the individual reports from line ministries, but also reconfigures them in order to present a single Gender Statement.

Source: (OECD, Forthcoming[37])

3.4. Evaluation

3.4.1. Background

Canada has long used evaluation to support evidence-based policy development. For over 40 years, evaluation in various forms has been used to assess the performance of programmes operated by government departments. The 2006 Federal Accountability Act introduced a requirement that all grant and contribution programmes be evaluated every five years. The Policy on Results came into effect in 2016 and sets out that departments should have a five-year, rolling departmental evaluation plan (Government of Canada, 2018[38]).

Evaluation Units in each department undertake evaluation studies, but also have a broader role in relation to preparing evaluation planning reports and assessments, developing results-based management accountability frameworks and providing advice and training to programme managers on evaluation. Evaluations can also be conducted by contractors in whole, or in part, particularly when specific technical or subject matter expertise is required. Department managers use evaluation findings and recommendations to support policy and programme improvement, expenditure management, Cabinet decision making, and public reporting.

The TBS Results Division is the technical support unit for evaluations, setting standards, providing central leadership, guidance and support and using evaluation results, where appropriate, in decision making at the centre of government.

3.4.2. Integration of a gender perspective into evaluation

Many of the analytical underpinnings of GBA+ are common to the evaluation procedure: e.g. clarity of policy objectives; interrogation of data sets; questioning of assumptions underlying policy design; and assessment of alternative policy approaches. Indeed, progress in developing system-wide capacity to undertake GBA+ should be expected to have positive spill over effects for capacity to undertake evaluative, evidence-based policy making more generally.

The GBA+ agenda could still, however, be strengthened through more explicit linkages or synergies with the general evaluation framework. This might include the development of specific guidance that requires evaluation units to either systematically take gender into account when evaluating policies and programmes and designing logic frameworks for policies and programmes, or to prioritise evaluations based on the extent to which they are gender focussed. At present, the Directive on Results sets out that, in planning specific evaluations (e.g., in developing the scope and methodology), departments consider issues such as gender where appropriate. In practice, the analytical specialists who undertake policy evaluation generally work on a separate track from the policy designers who are tasked with undertaking GBA+.

3.4.3. Enhancing the integration of gender equality into evaluation

As highlighted by recent research in the OECD, results frameworks, evaluation frameworks (both ex ante and ex post), programme monitoring systems and other analytical approaches should not be regarded as standalone tools, but as part of the continuum of evaluative information that should be drawn upon by policy makers in the conception, design, planning, monitoring and review of programmes (OECD, Forthcoming[39]). By their nature these evaluative tools can span different time horizons, yield different types of data, deal with different policy domains (e.g. spending versus regulation) and may have different provenance: the task of policy makers is to understand and make use of this data continuum for the purposes of evidence-based policy making and policy review. This work also underlines that evaluation function should be very closely connected with the policy and programme design stage, in developing the necessary logical frameworks and accompanying indicators and data collection strategies to track the implementation and impact of policy choices, including on women and men.

GBA+ is an important addition to this ecology of evaluative instruments, and the results and insights from this tool should be available also to the evaluation community. Where the GBA+ relating to a policy or programme has been well-implemented at the performance measurement strategy stage (e.g. when the program is being set up or renewed), the application of a gender lens to the evaluation can be relatively routine. However, where gender considerations have not been built into a policy or programme’s original objectives, a gender lens is not easily applied to its evaluation. As departmental GBA+ and related reporting improves, a gender lens will be automatically built into the evaluation process. Steps are already being taken forward in this area by SWC in collaboration with evaluation managers. TBS has an important supporting role to play in this area. Looking ahead, in ensuring the effectiveness and impact of this initiative it will be important to track the results of such evaluation against specific gender equality targets set out in a gender equality strategy for Canada (see Chapter 1).

3.5. Spending reviews

3.5.1. Background

Since the early 1990s, Canada’s experience with spending reviews has taken a number of different approaches, driven by both fiscal imperatives and the objective of better management of public funds and improved outcomes.

Most recently, Canada’s current approach to spending review, announced in the 2016 Federal Budget, includes an ongoing commitment to eliminate poorly targeted and inefficient programs, wasteful spending, and ineffective and obsolete government initiatives. The Government began by announcing annual reductions of $221 million (CDN) in professional services, travel and government advertising, and the intent to look at ways to better align government spending with priorities. In line with this commitment, Canada launched four comprehensive departmental reviews in 2016 to ensure ongoing efficiency, effectiveness and value for money. Through Budget 2017, Canada announced three additional departmental reviews, and expanded its review approach to include horizontal reviews, including one covering Business Innovation and Clean Technology, and a second on Federal Real Property.

A departmental spending review may be initiated through a budget announcement or engagement by the President of the Treasury Board with the responsible Minister of the review department. TBS oversees the reviews and provides guidance, but it is typically the review department that is responsible for undertaking the review. Reviews typically take six to twelve months to complete, and culminate in the review Minister’s presentation to the Treasury Board. Following Treasury Board consideration of the review results, the President of the Treasury Board provides final recommendations to the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister to inform budget and Cabinet decisions.

A horizontal spending review is initiated through a budget announcement, and focuses on a specific policy or program area that is of particular interest to the government. Horizontal reviews are led by the President of the Treasury Board, and are carried out by TBS officials working closely with impacted departments. As the responsible Minister, the President of the Treasury Board reports the review results to the Treasury Board, after which final recommendations are made to the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister to inform future budget and Cabinet decisions.

3.5.2. Integrating a gender perspective into spending reviews

In the past, gender assessment was not routinely included as a dimension of spending review; but in keeping with the guidance on submissions to the Treasury Board, since 2017-18, gender considerations must be presented alongside spending review results in a mandatory GBA+ Appendix. As in the case of GBA+ more generally, improved transparency with regard to the content and nature of the gender analysis, and the mechanisms by which the assessments feed through to spending review decision-making at the Treasury Board, would help to underpin public trust in the quality and impact of this dimension of the spending review process.

The overall gender impact of a spending review exercise has also been assessed in the past by the Treasury Board when it undertook an analysis of the decisions as part of the Deficit Reduction Action Plan in 2012. However, this assessment was undertaken at the end of the spending review. Earlier timing of this assessment would ensure that it can feed into the decision-making process.

3.5.3. Enhancing the integration of gender into spending reviews

It is important that the gender-based analysis accompanying spending review submissions to Treasury Board are of a high standard. One way to spur increased focus in this area would be for the TBS to underline the importance of information from the GBA+ Appendix to the Treasury Board assessment of departmental submissions. Further, TBS could use the information provided by departments as a basis for further analysis to inform decision-making by the Treasury Board. This may involve providing an assessment of different spending review packages and how they would impact gender equality – building on the priorities of the proposed federal gender equality strategy - as part of the decision-making process. It would be similar to how, for example, the UK Government considers the impact of spending review on environmental sustainability (see Box 3.6). In parallel, if gender considerations were more explicitly embedded into the programme and policy design cycle, including evaluation frameworks, the results of these gender-sensitive evaluations of programme and policy performance could also support spending review decisions.

Box 3.6. How the UK 2015 Spending Review took account of environmental issues

The UK Government has a wide range of environmental and sustainable development objectives. The 2015 spending review was an important opportunity for HM Treasury to encourage a coordinated approach to meeting environmental targets. The design of the spending review gave departments the scope to put forward information on environmental risks, impacts and obligations as part of their bids and HM Treasury took steps to encourage departments to do so. HM Treasury asked departments to provide a summary of the impact of their bids on carbon targets and advised their teams facing spending departments to consider climate change, energy, fuel poverty and air quality legislation while assessing departmental bids. As a result, HM Treasury reported that some departments improved the way it made the case for its spend on environment objectives and were better placed to quantify the associated benefits than in previous spending reviews.

HM Treasury took the step of preparing a provisional analysis of the impact of the spending review on environmental objectives. This analysis, undertaken during the spending review, assessed the extent to which collective bids would have a material effect on government’s ability to meet objectives.

Source: (UK National Audit Office, 2016[40])


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← 1. Central government delivery units such as this are a relatively new phenomenon, first implemented in the UK in 1999, and but now adopted in jurisdictions ranging from Ontario and Maryland to Singapore.

← 2.

← 3. This replaces policies including the Policy on Management, Resources and Result Structures and the Policy on Evaluation.

← 4. The role of TBS in gender-based analysis is discussed in detail in Chapter 2.

← 5. The total does not sum to 14 as for three of the commitments, two or more ministers work together.