Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me today to rise to support this motion.
The motion deals with an issue that is extremely important to all Canadians: equality for women.
Budget cuts affect us all, but mostly the very vulnerable in our country.
The Treasury Board president defends his government's cuts by referring to the cuts to social programs made by the Liberal government 10 years ago. However, we cut spending in a successful effort to deal with a $42 billion deficit resulting from the fiscal mismanagement of the previous Conservative government. The Conservatives had reduced Canada to what the brokers on Wall Street described as a third world economy.
Today's cuts are being made despite the fact that we have a $13.2 billion surplus, thanks to the prudent fiscal management of the recent Liberal government.
We are heading down the meanspirited path of Mike Harris in Ontario. Two former Mike Harris hatchet men are leading the charge in their new federal roles as finance minister and Treasury Board president.
Soon there will be no funding and no services, and it will take a generation to fix. The most vulnerable groups are affected first, including women.
It is all in the cuts. The list includes: $5 million from status of women; $45 million from housing, we were fighting for housing just two minutes ago and here we are now cutting; volunteerism, now the government is punishing volunteers; youth international internship programs; youth employment; literacy; court challenges program; and important support programs for the most vulnerable in our society. The government is hammering women, aboriginals and youth. This is totally unacceptable.
It is targeting equality seeking groups because this government believes that they are a threat to its voter base.
A government with only 125 seats out of 308 in this House has absolutely no mandate to make such major changes to the social fabric of Canada.
Let us not forget that this , during the recent election campaign, signed a commitment to “ensure that Canada fully upholds its equality commitments to women”.
How do we square that with the Draconian cuts to women's programs that this government has just made?
I have news for the folks across the aisle. The government must address the needs of all Canadians not just its favourite ones.
Our democratic system has to support the fight for equality rights for all citizens, including: minority language groups, immigrant groups, religious groups, disability groups, same-sex rights groups, and women's groups. They all need the resources to ensure their arguments are heard when their rights are trampled on.
We are approaching the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It should be a cause for celebration. Instead, this government dishonours that by shutting out equality seeking groups. Women were only included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, and that was only after they marched on Ottawa to demand recognition.
The court challenges program established under the Liberal government was meant to implement this kind of thing. That program was dismantled by the Brian Mulroney Conservatives. It was then reinstated by the former Liberal government. Now, this Conservative government has chopped this program yet again.
What does the court challenges program really do? It seems to me that people think it is a waste of time fighting for people's rights. Let me give some examples.
One example is ESL for immigrant women. In the late eighties the policy of the government was that immigrant women should not receive subsidized English language training because they were not deemed to be going to work, whether they did or not, it did not matter. They did not need English language training. Only men could get training.
It was as a result of a court challenge, which I personally, by the way, was involved with, that women were able to get that turned around.
I have here another charter challenge. The Canada pension plan was extended to include on reserve workers after a status Indian, employed on reserve for many years, was excluded from CPP simply for working on reserve, funded by a court challenges program. This was another aboriginal woman again.
The other example is the rape shield. We all know the famous decision on that one, the protection of therapeutic and confidential files of sexual assault survivors in the context of criminal proceedings. These are only but a very few examples. I have many others if the members opposite are interested. The elimination of the court challenges program is just the beginning of the Conservative plan to cut the legs out from under all equality seeking groups.
The cuts that have just been announced are yet another example of the government's lack of compassion for ordinary Canadians. Women have many roles in today's Canada and face many problems of discrimination and violence. The government has to be there to protect. It has to be there for the people of Canada. Instead, the government guts the funding to equality seeking groups that help raise awareness and fight discrimination.
We are saddled with a minister who will not rule out the possibility that Status of Women Canada might wind up on the Conservative chopping block. Does the minister not see the important role this agency serves in promoting gender equality and the full participation of women in the economic, social, cultural and political life of Canada? If, as she has shown so far, she is not prepared to fight for Canadian women, she should resign today.
My colleagues were taken aback, as I was, to hear the minister say:
Our government is not a government that just keeps institutions alive in any of its areas...just for the sake of keeping an institution alive.
What planet is she living on? Maybe it is Pluto. Her attitude is offensive to all Canadian women struggling for decent affordable housing, a decent income and retirement years free from poverty. The minister has no heart in this case and no clout.
The minister says that money spent on women's programs can be farmed out to other departments. The other solution is to hide the problem. By mainstreaming responsibilities, she will be ensuring that no one is responsible for guaranteeing women's equality rights, rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution. When nobody is responsible, there is no accountability.
Without a full department under a real minister, the rights of women under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will be non-existent. That is what the Status of Women Canada is, which is why it is so important that it be preserved and supported as a lead agency for all government departments in the ongoing quest for equality for the women of Canada.
The knowledge and experience that it has gained in such areas as pay equity, gender based analysis, just name it, must not be sacrificed on the altar of the REAL Women ideology. Canadian women are still marginalized within key political, social and legal institutions. These are still the realities of today. They must have a strong and independent women's movement to promote recommendations in support of women's rights. We must have that to support equality before the law, an adequate standard of living, to fight for meaningful employment and access to justice.
The government must demonstrate leadership and vision on women's equality on all those issues and many more and it must increase the women's budget and make it sustainable, not cut it.
The government must ensure that core funding is available to sustain day to day operations of women's groups. This is what is demanded and this is what is necessary. Instead of this, the President of the Treasury Board says that the government is cutting fat. For the Conservatives, parental leave is fat, affordable housing is fat and women's health is fat.
As we all know, we established the National Centers of Excellence in Women's Health all cross Canada, which was never done before and did not exist. I guess the present government considers the research centres of excellence to be fat. I guess the ESL for immigrant women that I mentioned earlier, which, under a charter challenge, were given the right to access programs, is fat.
The says that Canadian men and women of the armed services coming home in coffins is the price we must pay for bringing freedom and equality to Afghani women. Meanwhile, his government is slashing spending on hundreds of programs upon which Canadian women depend for an improved quality of life. He is prepared to leave them voiceless.
Does anyone follow the logic of committing military force to protect the rights of Afghani women while, at the same time, slashing spending on programs designed to promote and protect the rights of Canadian women? I certainly cannot.
We need to further strengthen women's rights to equality and security of the person, not weaken them as the minority Conservative government is doing. The Conservatives are simply caving in to the pressure of right wing radical groups, such as REAL Women, that believe a woman's place is in the home, barefoot in the kitchen.
Women's groups still have a long battle ahead to achieve equality in this country. We are not there. The fight is a huge one. Women in this country were well on their way until the present minority government came along and removed equality from the national agenda altogether.
Liberal governments, on the other hand, are known for their commitment to women's equality. Building on the Liberal achievements from 1993 to 1994, the former Liberal government continued to take action. The following are only some of the things it achieved: first, Parliament established the Standing Committee on the Status of Women in September 2004, which the Conservative government tried to eliminate at the beginning of this Parliament.
In October 2005, an expert panel was created to provide advice and options to strengthen accountability mechanisms to advance gender based analysis and gender equality issues.
In 2000, parental benefits were extended to one year. National Centers of Excellence in Women's Health and the Institute for Gender and Health were created to work on health policy issues unique to women.
Thirty-two million dollars were committed on an annual basis to the national crime prevention initiative and $7 million were committed to the family violence initiative. Of that money, $1 million over four years is being provided to address violence against aboriginal women.
In the fall of 2005, trafficking in persons was added as an offence to the Immigration and Refugee Act,
In response to the sisters in spirit proposal, the Liberal government provided $5 million over five years to the Native Women's Association of Canada. These funds support NWAC's work with other aboriginal women's organizations and the federal government on activities aimed at ending violence against aboriginal women.
To help make post-secondary education more affordable for lower and middle income Canadians, $2.1 billion over five years were committed to improving student financial assistance. There were $1.3 billion over five years committed to improving settlement and integration services for new immigrants to Canada.
Budget 2005 ensured that senior women would benefit from a $2.7 billion increase over two years to the guaranteed income supplement and a $15 million increase to the new horizons for seniors program.
Despite the progress that we have made, women still only make 71¢ for every dollar a male earns in Canada. The government, in conjunction with women's organizations, must deal with the growing problem of women's economic security.
The National Council on Welfare research shows that women, especially lone parents, stay in poverty longer than others. Poverty costs all Canadians in many ways: increased health care costs, social disintegration and associated crime, untapped potential and labour market activities.
Women are still disadvantaged by the employment insurance program. The program was supposed to be reviewed to assess the inequities for women. Still today, women are less likely to qualify and less likely to get full benefits. Part time workers, mostly women, are excluded. Maternity and parental benefits are least accessible to those mothers who need it the most.
Senior women and caregivers are among those most severely at risk of poverty. The old age security and the GIS benefits are below the poverty line and do not factor in actual costs of living, such as rent in Toronto.
EI must be reformed. Hours needed to qualify must be reduced. Self-employed women must be able to contribute and qualify for maternity and parental benefits.
CPP is very important for senior women as well. This is another part that is based on employment but could be interrupted because of violence, child rearing and caregiving. This affects women in a totally different way than it affects men. Taking time out is something that affects women.
The poverty level of seniors is increasing. Unpaid work for women is a major cause of poverty, as I mentioned earlier, because of having to take time out. Caregivers of today are the poor seniors of tomorrow. Women making 71¢ for every dollar made by men is not acceptable. That has to change.
The way we structure the CPP has to change to allow women to deal with taking time out for caregiving, as we do when we have children, because, quite frankly, they are the backbone of our nation. They are holding up the nation right now and are saving us billions of dollars in caregiving. However, because they are pitching in they will pay the price when they are seniors and that is not acceptable.
Increased education levels for women have not changed and this is appalling.
The report from the Standing Committee on the Status of Women clearly shows that the current system does not work.
We need new pay equity legislation. The Liberal Party committed to introducing this legislation in the House but the Conservative government's response to the standing committee, which basically says that it will not introduce pay equity legislation, is further proof that the present government is dead set against equality for women. It has chosen to keep in place an archaic system that has not worked for the last 30 years and has refused to introduce pay equity legislation that would give women some semblance of income security. It is quite obvious that the government does not intend to respect and promote women's human rights. That is yet another clear reason why it is so important to ensure the ongoing federal funding for advocacy groups that defend women's rights.
The government's response to gender based analysis is that it will make sure it is adhered to but it is not prepared to put in place a process or legislation to ensure its use by every department, especially the Department of Finance and other departments that have traditionally resisted integrating gender based analysis of all programs into their systems, which would address the issues of inequalities. This could be identified up front before policies are made and before they impact on women in a negative manner. This is another area that the government completely refuses to act on. We are supposed to trust it on everything but it will eventually get rid of the Status of Women. It seems that it is on the chopping block and that will completely obliterate women's rights.
With respect to pay equity, it is absolutely unacceptable that pay equity is not part of the government's program. When we were in government, we committed to bringing in legislation because the departments were not prepared to function. The only place where we were successful was at CIDA and maybe one other ministry. We actually led the way in training the World Bank with respect to gender based analysis because we had the expertise in the Status of Women Canada department. However, we are not able to use that expertise in our own departments because there is no will to force it. We were prepared to push that with legislation but the present government has refused to do that.
I am proud to inform the House that the Conservatives received only 18% of the vote in my riding of Beaches--East York. My voters understood what the Conservatives would do if they ever came into power. These latest budget cuts demonstrate that my constituents were right when they concluded that the Conservatives were most definitely not fit to govern.
Hon. Peter MacKay: What a meanspirited speech, totally mean-spirited.
Hon. Maria Minna: Yes, it is a meanspirited government when it goes after children, youth and women. It has a surplus of $13 billion which means, of course, that it has to cut services because, my goodness, it does not have the money to pay for them. This is a very sad day indeed.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
As the , I am opposed to the motion brought forward by the member for , first of all because of her misleading use of the facts.
However, before I proceed, I want the House and all Canadians to know that neither I nor any member of this new Conservative government believes that all Canadian women by nature are weak, frail or vulnerable. They are strong, determined and industrious individuals who want a chance to contribute to their families and their communities and succeed in their ambitions and dreams.
Society will have those who will need the help of others and this government will be there for them, but this government will not characterize all Canadian women as the frail and the vulnerable. We will recognize their abilities and vision and enable them to take charge of their lives and realize their full participation as Canadians.
This government has gone further to help women fully participate in the economic, social and cultural life of Canada than the previous Liberal government. We have gone beyond the talk and have taken action.
We all know that women account for over 50% of Canada's population. Women are single mothers, stay at home mothers, presidents, CEOs, business owners, students, and farmers, and the list goes on.
If anyone questions our commitment we have for women, they need only look at our actions. Contrary to what the member opposite would like, actions speak much louder than words.
For example, statistics show that nearly half of all Canadian small and medium sized enterprises have at least one female owner, and since 1997, on average, women have started small and medium sized businesses at twice the rate of men.
In budget 2006, we took action to benefit these businesses. We raised the threshold for small business income eligible for the reduced federal tax rate from $300,000 to $400,000. Also, we reduced the 12% rate for eligible small business income to 11.5% in 2008 and 11% in 2009.
All new Canadians, including immigrant women, are contributing to society. I am proud that this government has provided for increased settlement funding, funding that will enable these women to more quickly become part of the wider Canadian community.
Traditionally, aboriginal women have played key roles in their communities, but it is unacceptable that Canada's record over the past decade on aboriginal women is shameful. Canada, in October of 2005, was cited by the United Nations committee on human rights as failing to adequately address the high rate of violence against aboriginal women. These women and their children deserve safe communities where their economic, social and cultural lives can flourish.
I have met with first nations, Métis and Inuit women's organizations and their message was clear. They are looking for a government that will deliver change. We must continue to support those in the aboriginal community, like Sisters in Spirit, who are taking action.
Aboriginal women are strong leaders in their communities, leaders such as Tracy Gauthier, the Chief of the Mississauga of Scugog Island in my riding of Durham, who has ensured that the needed social and child care needs of her community are being met. Also, there is Leslie Lounsbury, who started the first ever youth magazine in Winnipeg. She is seen as an inspiration for aboriginal women across Canada and, indeed, for all women across Canada. These women are vibrant reminders of how vitally important they are to their communities and how women can make a difference if given a chance.
I would also like to remind the House of the measures this government has taken to strengthen Canada's response to the unique needs of the victims of human trafficking, victims who are often women and children.
In the past these women and children were treated not as victims but as criminals to be detained and deported. The Canadian Council for Refugees has been calling for policy changes for several years under the previous Liberal government. This government responded within months of taking office.
As we move into this new century and as the diversity of Canada grows, women are faced with increasingly complex challenges: how to invest in their education, whether to start a family, caring for their elderly family members, or managing the time demands of this new era. The key to helping women and families is to provide the opportunities and choice.
We have implemented new programs that support families such as the new universal child care benefit. In 2007 we will be creating an additional 25,000 new child care spaces across the country each year. These measures reflect the government's commitment to support both women and men as parents in the workforce. We will ensure that all the policies and programs of the government reflect our commitment to the equality for all Canadians.
As the House knows, Status of Women Canada is the federal government agency that promotes the full participation of women in the economic, social and cultural life of our country. I am pleased to inform the House that yesterday the terms and conditions for the women's program were renewed with a mandate focused on achieving results for Canadian women. The women's program will continue to assist organizations such as Single Women in Motherhood Training Program in London, Ontario, which works to help young single mothers to get out of the cycle of poverty and gain access to education, training and employment.
We will also support the Community MicroSkills Development Centre in Etobicoke, Ontario, which is designed to improve the economic and social opportunities for immigrant, racial minority and low income women in that area.
The new terms and conditions are consistent with our commitment to accountability and value for money. Canadian women know the value of a dollar. They know what good use of hard earned money means.
The government wants to make a real difference in Canadian women's lives. We know they want accountability. We know they will test our results in that area because they have to budget every day and every week for their families, and we will meet that challenge.
As the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women, I would like to reiterate the commitment of the entire government, the new Conservative government, to the full participation of women in the economic, social and cultural life of Canada.
The government was elected on a promise to deliver efficiency and accountability. The government was elected to deliver change. The government was elected to stand up for all Canadians and not marginalize any sector within the Canadian population. The government will deliver and we will deliver so that we make a difference in the lives of Canadians, Canadian women, Canadian children, Canadian seniors, all Canadians in the future as we move forward.
Mr. Speaker, as the vice-chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, I must commend the members of the committee, particularly the minister in charge of the Status of Women for her work, for their work in considering the issues facing women now in Canada.
The Standing Committee on the Status of Women was struck for the first time in the 39th Parliament in 2004. In the last several months we have begun to approach a wider spectrum of issues facing women in our society today.
As members of the House, we bring forth varying opinions on issues from accountability measures for gender equality, to pay equity funding, parental benefits for self-employed workers, and the importance of providing all Canadian women with equal opportunity. As our minister has stated, Canadian women are Canadian citizens and they contribute in a major way to the Canadian economy and social aspects of our country.
The committee continues to expand and does not limit itself to a parameter of issues facing women, as all are important when they deter from one's capacity or capability, and we are making giant strides to explore, research and make change.
More recent, we brought forth discussions on the topic of human trafficking, or as some refer to it, modern day slavery. Many people may not be aware that Canada is a receiver of trafficked persons as well as a transit country for trafficking victims intended for the United States. The key aspect that distinguishes trafficking from other types of migration is the aspects of coercion and exploitation. Confiscation of travel documents, violence, threats to harm family members and debt bondage are used as tactics of intimidation and control over trafficked women. In the case of trafficking, the consent of a victim is irrelevant because of the coercion. The majority of transnational victims are trafficked into commercial, sexual exploitation.
Trafficking of women and children is the third largest illegal money making venture. According to Interpol, a trafficked woman can bring in between $75,000 and $250,000 a year for her captors, while costing as little as $1,500 to purchase.
The connections between the demands for prostitution, legalization of sex work and the trafficking in and exploitation of women are being explored. In countries, where sex work and prostitution are legalized, there is an increased demand for the services of trafficked women. This is unacceptable. This is the difference between our government and members opposite. We do not support the legalization of prostitution.
Our new government has recognized the need to respond and address human trafficking. Countries around the world are battling the same issue. We cannot turn a blind eye to the severity of cruelty to women in our own backyards. This is a woman's issue. This is a worldwide issue. We are partnering with organizations such as the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress in Canada to share ideas, stories and legislation, so, together, human trafficking will no longer be tolerated on our soil.
In the last couple of years the RCMP has produced a video to train officers on how to handle situations in human trafficking, which clearly shows that it is aware of this problem. Committees, people, organizations and NGOs are all getting involved to put a stop to this crime.
The motion put forward before the House is incorrect when it states that “the House objects to the government's partisan and discriminatory cuts in federal support for women's programs and services”. We take the issue of human trafficking very seriously.
Earlier this spring the announced new measures to help victims of human trafficking. First, victims of human trafficking will receive temporary resident permits for up to 120 days so they can recover from their ordeal and decide if they want to help in the prosecution of their traffickers. Second, the government will give these victims medical support and access to counselling services to help them begin to recover.
Does this sound like a government that is cutting funding for programs and services? I think not. Under the leadership of the minister, the status of women is going in the right direction for all Canadian women.
Human trafficking is a horrific crime and a very serious issue. It is an issue that affects women and children. Therefore, I strongly disagree with the motion put forward by the member opposite, which suggests that the Conservative government fails to recognize the many roles of women in Canadian society and the importance of providing all Canadian women with equal opportunity.
Equal opportunity has to do with what the minister just previously said, building business, supporting women, putting money into programs for single parents, and action plans. Not spending 30¢ on the dollar toward those action plans but putting that whole dollar directly toward women's organizations. That is exactly what our minister is talking about today and that is what we are proud to talk about on this side of the House.
I also strongly disagree with the member for who stated at the status of women committee:
If we deal with only trafficking, which is a small slice of the real issue--an important slice, no question at all--we will not address the real issue, and again we will be diverted to something that is really nice and sexy. It's high-profile, it will get attention and what have you, but it won't address the core problem, it won't.
In view of the fact that on April 6 there was a trafficking ring taken down right in Ontario, this is something that the member opposite should be very aware of and be really ready to study. This is the direction that our government wants to take. We believe, on this side of the House, that there is nothing nice and sexy about abuse, period.
I conclude by saying that we recognize that the many roles of women in our society unfortunately include victims, and by identifying and assisting them with support, we are providing them with equal opportunity. I am proud to be part of a government that continues to explore albeit traditional issues facing women but also those who fall outside of the traditional box. We are working to expand and set precedents.
Mr. Speaker, October is almost here, and October means not only Hallowe'en but Women's History Month. Unfortunately, as we will show, October 2006 will be a sombre month for women in Canada and Quebec.
Since 1992, Canada has celebrated Women's History Month annually in October. The highlight of the month comes on October 18, Persons Day, which commemorates the historic “persons” case in 1929, a decisive victory in Canadian women's struggle for equality.
This year is also marked by an important anniversary, the 25th anniversary of the ratification of the United Nations convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. How can the government of this Prime Minister act in this way on the eve of this historic anniversary? It makes no sense.
Do I have to remind this House that social and human progress has been made largely through the efforts of women's movements? Women's struggle has always been humankind's struggle. Women have demanded rights not just for themselves, but also for children and for men the world over. I will give you a few examples of this.
Access to education: I do not think that education here in Canada is just for girls; it is for everyone. There is also women's right to vote, the right to own property, freedom of choice, the adoption of pay equity legislation in Ontario and Quebec, the institution of public day care and the introduction of an outstanding accessibility program in Quebec. Women in Quebec even helped set up a department of the environment under Bourassa. There again, the environment is for everyone. Those are but a few examples.
For over a century, women's struggles have led to major advances. Women have helped change social, economic and cultural conditions and, as a result, have enabled women to become full citizens, but they have also made an extraordinary contribution to all humankind.
In Quebec, we also recall milestone events, such as the bread and roses march that took place on May 26, 1995. At the time, women demanded a number of things from the Quebec government, including a tuition fee freeze—which Quebeckers now pretty much take for granted and do not want to see changed—more money for scholarships, a minimum wage above the poverty line and at least 1,500 subsidized housing units per year. They sought these things not just for women, but for everyone. I feel I need to clarify this, because people sometimes think that women's movements fight only for women's rights. That is not true; they fight for everyone's rights.
Throughout history, women have demonstrated the true meaning of the words solidarity, equality and justice. These are more than just words; they are concrete actions.
Women's groups in Quebec also helped found the World March of Women, a worldwide network of 6,000 feminist organizations in 163 countries and territories fighting poverty and violence, especially as they affect women and children.
Women have gradually been taking on what has become a crucial role in Canada and Quebec's political, economic and social landscape. But the fight is not over yet. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that we are far from achieving equality. There is still much work to do.
Life for women in Canada is far from perfect and the situation remains worrying. In a report commissioned by the federal government dated December 2005, entitled Equality for Women: Beyond the Illusion, the Expert Panel on Accountability Mechanisms for Gender Equality sounded the alarm on the situation for women in Canada.
The report stated that women are underrepresented in the federal, provincial and municipal governments. This is not news; just look around this House. Less than 25% of the members are women. Girls are more vulnerable to sexual assault against minors; some 80% of victims are girls; 51.6% of single mothers are poor; 35% of single women live in poverty. Visible minority women are more often victims of job discrimination. New immigrants, 24 to 40, with a degree who work full time earn $14,000 less than people born in Canada and Quebec. We know that full-time salaried women in all categories earn 71% of what their male colleagues earn.
These figures speak volumes about the work that still needs to be done, at a time when this government is cutting funding for Status of Women Canada. During the election campaign, on January 18, 2006, the signed a letter in which he said:
Yes, I'm ready to support women's human rights and I agree that Canada has more to do to meet its international obligations to women's equality.
If elected, I will take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the United Nations, to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitments to women in Canada.
You can see where I am going with this. Signing this declaration and making such cuts does not make sense. It defies logic. On September 18, 2006, the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Justice of Canada denied the request of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women to have the government introduce legislation on pay equity. This request was based on a lengthy report by the Pay Equity Task Force tabled in May 2004 after three years of work. This report found that the current legislative provision—section 11 of the Canadian Human Rights Act—was insufficient and that what was needed was federal legislation on pay equity, such as is currently on the books in Quebec and Ontario.
On Monday, September 25, with a surplus of over $13 billion, the Conservative government announced cuts of $5 million over two years to the $24 million budget for Status of Women Canada, representing just over 20% of its annual budget, excluding funds allocated to specific programs.
What has Status of Women Canada done to deserve these cuts?
Status of Women Canada focuses on three areas: improving women's well-being and economic autonomy, eliminating violence against women and children, and advancing women's human rights. We support their mandate. It is a huge undertaking.
This government has made cuts after the Prime Minister promised in the election campaign to support women's human rights and to take immediate and concrete action.
What more can I say? I just do not understand it and I leave it to the members to come to their own conclusions. On Monday, September 25, this government also abolished the court challenges program.
Not only has this Prime Minister cut funds to programs that are already underfunded but, in addition, he is eliminating citizens' means of defending themselves. I would like to quote Mrs. Shelagh Day of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, who denounced this odious action, with just cause. She said, and I quote:
This program was the only means available to women to have their constitutional rights to equality recognized. The right to equality does not mean anything in Canada if women and other Canadians who are victims of discrimination cannot exercise them.
I would like to remind my Conservative party colleagues that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended, in item 356 of its report, that Canada:
—find ways for making funds available—
And not that it take away funding.
—find ways for making funds available for equality test cases—
I would like to remind this House once again that the Prime Minister signed a declaration whereby he undertook to protect and support women's human rights and to take more—the word “more” is there—immediate and concrete action. The government has refused to implement legislation on pay equity, has cut funding to the Canadian Feminist Alliance and has abolished the court challenges program.
In regard to the specific steps taken by this government—yes, these are specific steps—people are entitled to wonder and now they can pass judgment on these kinds of specific steps. They can pass judgment not only on the steps but also on the value of the Prime Minister’s signature and, by extension, his word. Here we see that the right-wing ideology innate in this government takes precedence over its promises. That is too bad and very sad. As the old adage goes, a leopard cannot change its spots.
A number of women whom I have met today think that the Prime Minister was hiding his true intentions during the election campaign. In view of his January 18 statement, many women are telling me that they feel deceived.
During question period, we have heard the Prime Minister and his ministers offer all kinds of explanations, utterly preposterous ones in my view, in response to our reproaches. Nothing, however, absolutely nothing can change the facts and the truth about the incredible and unacceptable disparity between what the Prime Minister promised and the steps he has taken since the last election.
In view of the current budgetary situation, in view of the $13 billion surplus—we must remember—nothing could justify such cuts to Status of Women Canada or the actual abolition of the court challenges program. What the Prime Minister should have done instead, in order to show his good faith, is what the Standing Committee on the Status of Women asked: increase the budget of the women’s program. That would have been a very good step.
The people are never wrong, but they can be wronged. Once again, this has been proved in spades.
What will be the effects of these cuts? First, it will likely be hard for Status of Women Canada to operate, especially as it was already underfunded. This agency is important to the women’s movements. The government did not actually cut the women’s program; it cut Status of Women Canada. In case this government does not realize it, in order for a program to operate, it needs someone to manage it. So if the administration is slashed, how can the agency be managed? It is a non sequitur.
Any organization can be improved of course. But improved does not mean cut. To the contrary, improved means more funding and studies of how it operates in order to improve it.
I think that what is happening now to Status of Women will slow women’s progress toward real equality from the standpoint of physical safety, economic security, and democratic and political rights. Whether intentional or not, when there are cuts, groups cease to exist, in this case the groups that advocate on behalf of women.
I have been closely involved in international policy and am therefore able to say that after having tarnished 50 years of Canadian diplomacy on the international scene—I saw it when I was in Lebanon—the Prime Minister now apparently wants to destroy more than 40 years of Quebec and Canadian feminism.
As an aside, I would like to speak for a moment about the word “feminism”, an over-used word that it has become a catch-all. Some people have only negative things to say about feminism. What is feminism? Feminism is to believe in the equality of men and women and to seek that equality. Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you believe in gender equality, and you are therefore a feminist, like myself, and like everyone else in this House who also believes. To be a feminist is to believe in equality for everyone, including men and women. We should be proud of being feminists. I hope that the is also a feminist. If he believes in gender equality, then he is a feminist.
During question period two days ago, I asked the a question regarding these cuts, and she replied:
Mr. Speaker, I will reiterate that the women of Canada made their decision when they elected this new Conservative government and put it into power.
While it is true that Canadian women voted for the Conservative government, they did so based on false representations. That is how I see it. I think that women in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada voted for the Conservative Party because the Prime Minister, on January 28, 2006, signed a document affirming that he would defend the rights of women.
Since I only have a minute left, I will conclude by adding that the women's movement will not be defeated.We believe in peace, equal rights and access to justice for everyone. Long before any of us in this House was born, this country was being built by women who deserve our respect.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for
I rise in support of the motion, but it is a sad comment that we even need to be debating it. I will give the House a little context.
I had the privilege of serving on the very first parliamentary committee on the status of women. I want to acknowledge the very good work done by the member for and the member for in making sure that committee became part of the parliamentary standing committees. It was the very first committee on the status of women. It was something for which the NDP had fought long and hard over a number of years. We were very excited about having that committee in place to tackle the very critical issues that were coming before women.
Let us have a little context. Back on January 18, 2006 while campaigning for the job of prime minister, the current signed a pledge which read:
Yes, I'm ready to support women's human rights and I agree that Canada has more to do to meet its international obligations to women's equality. If elected, I will take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the United Nations, to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitment to women in Canada.
I wonder how that commitment to women's equality translates into a $5 million cut to the status of women and how it translates into cuts to programs like court challenges.
On the other hand we have the Liberals. I will talk a fair bit about the very sorry Liberal record. Although I applaud the member for bringing this important motion forward, I question why in the 13 years the Liberals were in government they failed to address the crisis in women's communities from coast to coast to coast.
In Canada 20% of women live in poverty. Senior women face double the poverty rates of men. Shelters and crisis lines have closed from coast to coast to coast. Although some of those are provincial responsibilities, there were cuts in funding that came from the federal government to the provincial governments to fund these critical programs.
Unless people think we escaped international notice, CEDAW, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, in 2003 cited numerous issues that the federal Liberals of the day had failed to address: women's shelters, poverty, aboriginal women not having access to all kinds of services. A very critical piece that the parliamentary committee on the status of women addressed was gender based analysis, how the Liberal government of the day had failed to consider the impact on women of programs and services across the board. We could cite any number of programs and services where the impact on women was not even considered, despite the fact that somebody may have checked a box that said they had looked at how it might impact on women.
One program in particular was the employment insurance program. When the parliamentary committee on the status of women looked at the impact on women on employment insurance, it found that women were disproportionately disallowed when trying to make claims. It found that the number of women who were eligible for maternity benefits was falling.
We had a government that failed to consider the needs of over half the population in this country.
In addition, another body, the United Nations Economic and Social Council, in May 2006 issued a report that talked about making some recommendations around extending the court challenges program to permit funding of challenges with respect to provincial and territorial legislation and policies, provide civil legal aid with regard to economic, social and cultural rights, take into consideration the right of women to work and the need for parents to balance work and family life by supporting care choices through adequate child care services.
We have a current Conservative government that has ripped up the court challenges program and destroyed the child care initiatives that had been signed with provincial governments. However, the Liberal government, when it had the opportunity, failed to enshrine in legislation a national child care act and failed to recognize the recommendations around legal aid that made sure that women and their children had access to legal aid.
During the very good work that the first parliamentary committee on the status of women did, it heard from women from across Canada. There were times when committee members were in tears when they heard the tragedy of the lack of funding for women's organizations and for the women on whom this impacted.
One of the things that came through loudly and clearly in hearing from these women's organizations was the issue of funding. I am going to quote for members from the first report the committee put together:
The Committee has heard that the women's movement has played an important role in keeping equality issues on the public agenda, but that these organizations have been weakened over the past decade as a result of decreased funding as well as a shift away from core/program funding toward project-specific funding.
That was under the Liberal government. Now what we see is the Conservatives further eroding the ability of women's organizations, equality-seeking organizations, to adequately bring forward the needs of women in this country.
Again, I have a quote from a representative of the YWCA of Canada. She said:
The last fifteen years...have seen a marked decline in the visibility of equity issues on the Canadian social agenda. This decline is directly correlated to the significant funding cuts experienced by women's groups in the early 1990s.
As a result of hearing from women across the country, the committee had a unanimous report that went before the government, calling for a 25% increase in core funding to women's organizations. It called for 25% and what the committee recognized was that this amount of money was actually inadequate, but we thought that was a good first step toward ensuring that women's voices were at the table, that women's needs were met across this country, and that women actually had an opportunity to step into their full capacity and be full, active, participating members in our country.
When the committee was looking at its position, we recognized that with a total female population of close to 16 million, the funding disbursed by the women's programs to groups working toward gender equality is less than $1 per girl and woman. The committee thought that we actually needed $2 per girl and woman in this country, but we took a more reasonable step at that time by recommending only a 25% increase in core funding. That was not put in place by the Liberal government of the day. Now we have the Conservatives further eroding our ability to have women join their rightful place in this country.
In May 2005, the parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women tabled another report, “Funding Through the Women's Program: Women's Groups Speak Out”. I will read three parts from this report for members. The first states:
Many women's organizations today are financially fragile because they depend on a web of unpredictable, short-term targeted project funding.
That is from a brief submitted by the Child Care Coalition of Manitoba.
The brief submitted by the Women's Economic Equality Society states:
Women’s organizations have a wealth of knowledge about project-based as well as core operational funding. They should be involved in the design of a new model.
The brief from Danielle Hébert, general coordinator, Fédération des Femmes du Québec, on May 10, 2005, states:
What is needed is mixed funding that better reflects the actual circumstances in which these groups work, by making sure they have the infrastructures they need to carry out their projects.
One of the things we have learned both internationally and domestically is that if we want to make sure that we have successful, effective programs and services, and successful, effective laws that address the needs of the people they are going have an impact on, we need to have the people at the table.
We had a Liberal government that failed to do this. Now we have a Conservative government that has just cut that $5 million with no consultation and no debate.
I want to read a statement from the Women's Centre in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. These women are pleading for the Conservative government not to ignore their needs. This is their statement:
As a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the political, social and economic equality of women, the Nanaimo Women's Resources Society opposes the [Conservative] government cuts. In particular we are concerned with the $5 million in administrative reductions to Status of Women Canada, and the elimination of the Court Challenges program.
It is disappointing to see federal support for women diminished, particularly after the severe cuts to women's centres throughout British Columbia. Status of Women Canada is the federal body responsible for promoting gender equality in Canada.
To wrap up, I would urge each and every member in the House to support this opposition motion before the House to ensure that women can achieve all they are able to achieve in this country, through having access to programs and services and through having access to the things that make them able to participate in this society in a full and equal way.
Mr. Speaker, it is very important for us today to put on record and give voice to the concerns of Canadians who are deeply disturbed by the developments of the last couple of days, the decision by the Conservatives to arbitrarily, without any attempt at transparent and democratic government, slash $1 billion from programs and to in fact allow for another $13 billion to go straight against the debt.
I hear the Conservatives clapping, and I was hoping the Conservatives would clap again, as they do every time for their $13.2 billion going against the debt, because we have seen the display from both sides of this House, with both Liberals and Conservatives vying for who can screw Canadians the most. That is precisely what has been happening in this place over the last few days. It is time, through this debate, that we actually address the impact of those decisions and the costs we are incurring as a result of that kind of imbalanced approach.
There is no one in this House, and including women in this House or women across the country, who does not believe that we should not put some money against our debt. The question is, what is the appropriate balance? Women know more than anyone else that if we put all our money toward paying off a debt such as a mortgage, to the point where our kids go to school hungry or we do not have the ability to provide for fees to play hockey or buy pizza at lunch, we are cutting off our nose to spite our face. That is exactly what the government is doing. The government is refusing to present a balanced approach that would actually benefit all Canadians, especially women.
There is no question that the cuts of the Conservatives are very ideological. They do believe, and we have heard this time and time again, that in fact women should be home, barefoot and pregnant. They do believe that Status of Women should not exist. They have implied that. They have insinuated that. They have stood in this House and suggested that they know what is best for working women, that they know what is best for me in terms of my decisions around my children. They are going to limit my choices and the choices of women, which is contrary to everything that is part of this country and the values that built this country.
They in fact are supported by the likes of REAL Women, who just presented at the finance committee two days ago. I want to just Diane Watts from Real Women, who said, “Yesterday's announcement of long-overdue elimination of inefficient government programs, including...the status of women, is an excellent beginning in what we hope will be the eventual elimination of status of women”.
Is that not what the Conservatives want? Is that not who they are working with? Are the Conservatives and REAL Women not working together to ensure that in fact we get rid of any kind of program which ensures that women are able to pursue their fullest, to be who they are as individuals and to offer this country their talents and their abilities?
I was reminded in committee and I am reminded again today of just how much we have to battle that sentiment day in and day out. My son Joe, who is 17 years old today, was in a schoolyard at his local school when he was nine years old when somebody in the playground said, “Feminists are all women who kill children and divorce their husbands”. He stood up in that playground and said, “No, feminists are people who fight for women's rights”.
That is why Status of Women funding is important. That is why it is important to ensure that every group in our society has the benefit of some support to help themselves. That is what the government is destroying.
I think it is time, in fact, that we look at what real women are. Who are real women? These are women, whether they are in the home, trying to provide for the needs of their children and make a proper home with often limited resources. Real women are people trying to put their professions to use and contribute to this country. Real women are everywhere in all walks of life. They are not in one category.
I want to reference a real woman's story by referring to an email I just received from Christine Robinson in Winnipeg. She tells me that she just had a daughter in March and that she has been searching for quality day care since before her daughter was born but that she cannot find any. She says that she is on a list for day care but that there are no guarantees she will get a spot for her daughter. She says:
I am starting to become very disgruntled and in turn am stressing so much about who will care for my daughter when I return to work, that it is beginning to get in the way of me enjoying my time at home with my precious girl.
I am a working woman who has great pride in her career as a teacher. I don't have to go back to work. I choose to. I love my job and helping to shape tomorrow's leaders. I find it very disturbing that the current Conservative government has made going back to work more difficult for me, and also developed institutional bias towards those of us that do choose to go back to work.
That is what is wrong with the Conservative's decision. That is why we are perceived to be ideological. That is why it has no place at all in this place or in Canadian politics at any time.
I began working in the field of status of women 30 years ago as a women's organizer for the federal NDP. The first thing we did was to encourage women to run for politics and this has reaped rewards today. Forty-one per cent of our caucus are women. At that time we put out a t-shirt that said “A woman's place is in the House of Commons”. The first t-shirt was worn by our beloved Stanley Knowles as a way of signalling to the world that we in the House had to deal with the disparity and the inequalities in Canadian politics.
During those 30 years I spent most of my time battling the Liberals. I spent most of my time trying to get them to be true to their words and to live up to the spirit of what status of women means, which is to treat people as equals and recognize what feminism really is. Every step of the way we have battled and lost.
As the Liberals stand today and question why we are talking about them in this debate, I must remind them that they did not build the foundations to ensure we have something to work from. In fact, under the Liberals we lost what we had gained 30 years ago. We lost in many ways.
I would remind Liberal members about unemployment insurance and what they did to a woman by the name of Kelly Lesiuk. She had just had a baby by c-section and needed EI. She was a part time worker but she did not have enough hours to qualify for EI. She took this to every level she could and won her case at the adjudicator. However, what did the Liberal government do? It rejected the decision and decided to appeal Ms. Lesiuk's right to have some access to EI, which she paid into, so she could look after her baby at home.
We can look at Kelly's case or we can look at what Anne McLellan did when she was minister of health. She denied a motion at committee to have 50:50 representation on a committee dealing with reproductive technologies. Not even at that level, in matters pertaining to women's health, did the Liberal government agree to gender parity?
Let us look at the question of funding. Where did this problem start? It started under the Liberal government when it took away core funding for women's organizations. Why do we have this huge problem today? The National Action Committee on the Status of Women pleaded with the Liberal government for years to restore those funds. Here we are today with the Conservatives taking what little bit is left and just frittering it away and leaving nothing at all.
I blame the Liberals more than anyone for the state of affairs in terms of women in Canada today. I hope they understand what kind of damage they have done to this country. I blame them for not acting on their child care policy in 1993. I blame them for creating the longest running broken political promise in the history of this country. I blame them for not taking action when the dangers were known about breast implants. I blame them for cutting back on health and education, which had a disproportionate impact on women. I blame them for suggesting that all we had to do was to get rid of the debt and the deficit and everything would be fine and we would build from there. I blame them for what they did to women in that process. I blame them for not recognizing that women need to pay off some of their mortgage while at the same time putting food on the table for their kids. Women still have to get their kids to school while trying to build their own future. If all their money is put toward their mortgage, then there children will have no future. We need to balance things out.
I will end with a definition of what we are talking about so people will understand that we are not biased and we are not trying to support one group of women over another.
The following was said by Gloria Steinem 30 years ago:
We wish for all of us the courage to hold on to a vision of a world in which children are born wanted and loved, with enough food and care and shelter to grow up whole. The vision of all people as perfectible and transcendent -- free of social prisons of sex and race--and remarkable for the hopes and dreams and capabilities that exist in unique, unrepeatable combination in each of us
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
Monday was an enlightening day for Canadians. We learned an awful lot about this Conservative government on that day. Let us take a closer look at what happened and what it says about the and some of his colleagues.
On Monday the government announced a budget surplus of some $13 billion. I am sure that like me many Canadians found it rather amusing to hear the make it sound as though he actually had something to do with achieving that surplus. He seemed to be fishing for a pat on the back. Perhaps the ones he was giving himself were not satisfying enough.
The surplus was welcome news in this House and across Canada. It reflected a legacy of responsible management that put an end to deficits in this country of almost a decade ago. It represented another impressive example of what we can achieve together as Canadians.
However, that was not the only announcement the government made on Monday. The Minister of Finance also revealed a series of cutbacks. This was truly an instructive moment for anyone keen to understand the motivations and beliefs of those who so steadfastly refer to themselves as Canada's new government.
The true colours of a government can be seen in each of its decisions, both large ones and small ones, not only in how it spends its billions but how it spends its thousands. The true priorities of a cabinet can be seen in each of its choices, not merely those of grave significance that alter a nation's course.
The true measure of a can be taken not only from how he treats premiers and dignitaries but in the manner in which he treats the less fortunate, the disadvantaged, those whose voices are not always heard, and those whose place in our society is not always one of comfort, but often one of need.
What have Canadians learned about this government? On the very same day that it announced one of the largest financial surpluses in Canadian history, a windfall of billions upon billions, this government celebrated by turning its back on women, turning its back on those who cannot read, and turning its back on those of modest means who would seek to defend their rights as guaranteed under our charter.
On the same day that the government announced one of the largest financial surpluses in our nation's history, Parliament and Canadians were witness in this House to the exercise of cold ideology and the unmasking of this government's true colours, this cabinet's true priorities and this Prime Minister's true measure.
One of the biggest targets was the Status of Women Canada, which has long been on the hit list of hard core social conservatives. Its budget has been cut deeply. Its ability to do its important work has been compromised.
There will be a price to pay and that price will be paid by individual Canadian women in communities across our country: women who strive to escape violence; women who seek nothing more than the opportunity to participate fully in the economic and cultural bounty of Canada; and women who work so hard to advance the rights of other women and girls around the world.
As is true of many of the departments and programs that were cut, those who benefit from the work of the Status of Women are in many cases Canadians who lack the voice or the resources or the political influence to stand up for themselves, to stand up for their needs and fight back. It falls to progressive minded members in this House to speak on their behalf.
If it was not clear before, the Conservative perspective on women is clear now. This government has slashed funding to the department charged with helping women who need it the most. This government has turned its back on a plan that would have created hundreds of thousands of new and affordable child care spaces, in favour of a token payout that totals a few dollars a day, helping few and creating new spaces for none.
Also on Monday, this government again, showing its social conservative inclinations, announced its intention to eliminate the court challenges program. This is not a program that most Canadians will have ever heard of. Canadians will know its legacy and the social programs that it has helped bring to our country.
The court challenges program has helped minority groups, including women's groups, launch and fight, and win a series of historic court victories during the past three decades. It is a program that has helped to define Canada as one of the most progressive nations in the world; a country determined to protect the rights of all, not just some; a country that respects its history, its standing as a nation of minorities; and a people who see that history and that modern reality as a strength.
In terms of the budget, the court challenges program is a small expenditure, a few millions dollars a year, but it has delivered tremendous value in helping Canadians to expand and to protect their rights and their freedoms. More than that, it is a symbol of the kind of country that we are.
More than 30 years ago we in Canada had the courage not only to enshrine a great Charter of Rights and Freedoms but to also dedicate a modest amount of resources to allow individuals and groups to launch court challenges to ensure those rights are being respected and correctly interpreted in today's context.
What good are rights if there is no way for someone to challenge those who would violate them? What good is the promise of equality if only those people who have the means and the abilities to ensure that promise is kept? These are important questions, but they are questions on which the government chooses not to dwell because they are inconvenient. They reveal more about the character of the government than the government would like Canadians to know.
Overall, the Conservative cuts announced on Monday were small in terms of the overall government expenditures and yet devastating to those who were affected. They were a surgical strike to the heart of our progressive society, a lashing out that spoke plainly and harshly to the government's uncompromising politics and its ideological agenda.
I have sat for long enough across from Conservative members and for more than long enough in their company to understand what motivates them, what their goals are, and what they seek to achieve in this round of budget reductions. The cuts brought down on Monday are not about budgetary matters or meeting financial demands. They are a triumph not of fiscal reason but of social conservative thinking. They are a jarring symbol of the hard and narrow perspective of the Conservatives and their fundamental distrust of the very institution that they fought so hard to lead.
The members of the Liberal Party understand the power at the government's disposal to help ensure Canadians are afforded equality of opportunity. The members of the Liberal Party believe in the government's ability to do good, to help raise people up, to improve their lives, to find their way, and so do members of the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois. Government cannot do it all, nor should it do it all, but there is a progressive role it must play if we are to ever achieve the ideal of our nation as a truly just society.
The true colours of a government can be seen in each of its decisions, large and small. If we look beyond the numbers on a budget sheet, there are people, lives, homes and dreams. The Government of Canada represents all Canadians, not just the privileged. It represents all Canadians, not just those who voted for its members. A government achieves no progress for the people, no progress for any citizen when it isolates the vulnerable and subjects them to an ideological toll.
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to speak in favour of the Liberal Party motion. The House objects to the government's partisan and discriminatory cuts in federal support for women's programs and services, for one very clear reason: we are not there yet. The real attitude of the very new Conservative government comes through in this week's budget cuts.
Currently, while the rest of the world recognizes the importance of equality for women and young girls in achieving health and quality of life objectives, Canada is going to regress.
We are not there yet, not here in Canada, not anywhere in the world.
It is somewhat ironic to see that the very new Canadian government, which is so proud of the work of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan to promote and protect the rights of women and young girls, wants at the same time to destroy our programs that are essential for doing the same here in Canada.
We are not there yet.
The year 2006 is particularly significant for women in Canada as it marks 25 years since Canada ratified the most comprehensive treaty on women's human rights, the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, CEDAW. By ratifying CEDAW, the federal government has agreed to play a lead role in upholding women's equality rights. Unfortunately, however, without a more concerted effort by the federal government to fulfill its obligations under this UN convention and the Charter of Rights and Freedom, full equality will elude many women in Canada, particularly those of us confronting multiple oppressions.
There were six times as many female victims of sexual assault as male victims in 2004. More than a million women reported that they had been stalked in the past five years in a way that caused them to fear for their lives, safety or the safety of someone known to them. Male violence against women continues as a terrifying daily reality in Canada, preventing the equality of all girls and women. Feminist centres reveal that one in four women endures sexual assault in her lifetime and one in 10 women is beaten. Statistics Canada confirms that 51% of women have been criminally assaulted.
The UN has recommended that Canada ensure that all provinces provide necessary government and non-government services to those who suffer violence. Instead federal dollars have been withdrawn from women's equality driven advocacy groups. Further welfare cuts, disqualifications and workfare force women into dangerous dependencies on abusive men. Cuts to legal aid and legal services leave women without lawyers or advocates in custody and access fights after leaving dangerous men. Cuts to immigration settlement services, education and health services limit women's access to help.
Canadian women have built and developed networks of women's organizations and have worked tirelessly to ensure that women's issues remain on the public agenda at the local level and nationally. Further, women's groups have offered critical direct services to women and children and have sensitized all sectors among the public and the government to women's concerns.
The fact that violence against women and children has become an item on the public policy agenda is just one noteworthy example that shows the extent to which women's opinions and experience have shaped laws, policies and programs. Recognizing that women's participation is essential to the socio-economic and cultural health of Canada, the federal government has supported these groups with core funding.
Cutting funding severely weakens the ability to organize, to lobby, to do research, to offer services to women, in short, all things women need to achieve full participation in society. Given this situation, women's political participation will stagnate and there will be fewer opportunities for women to consult with governments on the many issues that affect their lives.
Since its inception in 1985, the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund has intervened in over 140 cases, which have helped establish landmark legal victories for women on a wide range of issues. LEAF has been funded by the court challenges program, which is also being cut by the government.
It is also a bit ironic, as the member for has said, that the government seems to be listening to special interest groups and have capitulated to their campaign of REAL Women, an organization based on ideology, when Liberals are asking for real research from real women, the single women, the victims of violence, those in the shelters. The motto of REAL Women is “women's rights not at the expense of human rights”. We have a small secret for them. Women's rights are, indeed, human rights or “les droits des femmes sont les droits de la personne”, as the member for has so eloquently said, one of our favourite members of women's caucus.
The refused to come to the 2006 conference on AIDS. Perhaps it was because he would have heard the eloquent words of Stephen Lewis when he said:
Finally, in my view, as delegates doubtless know, the most vexing and intolerable dimension of the pandemic is what is happening to women. It's the one area of HIV/AIDS which leaves me feeling most helpless and most enraged. Gender inequality is driving the pandemic, and we will never subdue the gruesome force of AIDS until the rights of women become paramount in the struggle....
I challenge you, my fellow delegates, to enter the fray against gender inequality. There is no more honourable and productive calling. There is nothing of greater import in this world. All roads lead from women to social change, and that includes subduing the pandemic.
Two weeks ago in La Presse, Nathalie Collard wrote:
The fears of feminist groups are fuelled, among other things, by the REAL Women association lobby (an anti-feminist group with deep roots in western Canada that promotes the traditional role of the woman). This association has received subsidies from the very women's program it is denouncing today. It is hard to say whether this group, which could not be more vicious toward feminists, has a real influence in Ottawa.
In fact, the parliamentary committee on the status of women has asked for these groups to have their funds increased by 25%. Again, the government refuses to understand that the government reports to Parliament and we hope it will understand that next week when this motion passes.
I was once on the member for 's cable show. When he asked me what the most important thing was facing the women of Canada, I said gridlock. Everything we care about rests in two or three different government departments, in two or three different jurisdictions, and we have been unable to account for the results. They are not measured in the silos of each government or across jurisdictions.
It is, therefore, extraordinarily important in the issue of the rights of women is that there be organizations that do the real research. As we say in management: if it is measured, it gets noticed; if it gets noticed, it gets done.
The critic for the Conservatives does not understand that gender based equality is not going directly to programs. She keeps asking the same question and she does not understand. The failure to have gender based equality is what the government does, as well as funding programs. She keeps insisting and mixing that up.
In fact, the justice minister has said, “I don't care what the research shows, this is what we are doing”. The government continues to use research like it is a swear word. Even having an understanding of people like Florence Nightingale, surely real women would understand the basic premise that she was a statistician who kept good records and understood the clusters of disease. This is exactly what the Status of Women Canada and all such organizations across Canada do.
It is so important to us, as Liberals, when we look at all the organizations that now compare themselves to the world. Monica Lysack from Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada has said:
When you look at women in Canada and their human rights compared to international standards, we have a long way to go.
We are not there yet.
We have to get going on all of the things that matter in terms of practice based evidence, and that is the role of government.
In closing, I would like to quote from my friend Nellie McClung. I think some of the members opposite should sit at her little table on the parliamentary precinct. She said:
Disturbers are never popular--nobody ever really loved an alarm clock in action-no matter how grateful they may have been afterwards for its kind services.
She also said:
I am a firm believer in women—in their ability to do things and in their influence and power. Women set the standards for the world, and it is for us, women of Canada, to set the standards high.
Next week, when the motion passes, I hope the government will do the right thing by funding the alarm clocks and those that set for the standards for Canada and for the world, in honour of those great Albertan women, the famous five.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am very proud to stand today as a member of this new Conservative government, for it is this government that is ensuring all women have the opportunity to meet their full potential, realize their dreams and aspirations, and to be recognized for the contributions they make to their country.
It is interesting that the party opposite would choose this issue to debate when it has failed so miserably to stand up for the real needs of Canadian women. While the Liberals are busy electioneering and writing the so-called pink book, proving once again that they are completely out of touch with the needs of Canadians, our new government has already taken concrete measures that directly benefit and improve the lives of all Canadians. Over 51% of our population is female. Finally, Canada has a government that appreciates this important fact. This government recognizes that improving the lives of Canadians, ridding government of corruption, and delivering on commitments are what Canadian men and women want, not more empty promises in a pink book.
Women are strengthening our economy, providing for our families, and leading successfully in their communities. That is why this government has put forward new measures to enhance the everyday lives of Canadian women. What have we done?
We have implemented the universal child care benefit, which provides all families with $100 per month for each child under the age of six. We will create 25,000 new child care spaces a year. This is something that we will deliver on. We will not talk about it for 13 years like the Liberals did. We will deliver it.
We have delivered a budget with more tax cuts than the last four federal budgets combined, including a cut in the one tax, the GST, that every Canadian pays. We have provided tax relief for low income Canadians, pensioners, and families taking care of a child with a disability, not to mention a new tax credit worth up to $500 to cover eligible fees for physical fitness programs for each child under the age of 16.
We have introduced important legislation that will strengthen our criminal justice laws for serious offenders, thereby creating safer communities for women and their families. We have introduced human trafficking initiatives that will help victims of human trafficking, who are all too often vulnerable women and children, and men as well. We will make available over the course of next year $1.4 billion for affordable housing across the country. While respecting cultural tradition, we will set up a new agency to expedite the recognition of foreign credentials so women new to Canada can more quickly contribute to Canadian life.
Canada's new government is committed to advancing equality and to the full and equal participation of all Canadians in the economic, social and cultural life of Canada.
Next month is Women's History Month. On October 18 we will celebrate the lives of the famous five. In 1929, Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Nellie McClung fought for women's rights to be legally recognized as persons. These women are an inspiration to us all. Thanks to them I am not recognized just as a woman, but as a person. One of the famous five, Louise McKinney, said it best when she said, “The purpose of a woman's life is just the same as the purpose of a man's life: that she may make the best possible contribution to the generation in which she is living”.
I have met with a number of women from diverse backgrounds, and what I hear from them is that there is a genuine need for real action and real results. For this reason, each minister is working to improve policies and programs to better the lives of all Canadians. Thus, rather than making more empty promises in an election-style pink book, we are listening to the needs of Canadians and delivering on our priorities and our commitments.
Take for example a recent rant by the member for who was outraged about the imaginary Conservative slights to women. The House will be interested to know about a very real and recent Liberal slight to women. It was a boys only weekend held by the Liberal leadership candidate who is supported by the member for Beaches--East York. That is right; women were excluded from this event. We do not have that in the Conservative Party. Before Canadians listen to trumped up claims thrown at the government from the other side, they might want to look at the Liberal Party attitude toward women's issues and its record of the last 13 years where there has been no success.
Why should Canadian women so readily trust a party so riddled with scandal and corruption? The Liberals had over a decade to improve the lives of Canadian women, but they did nothing, so why should Canadians depend on them?
The member for says that she speaks on behalf of all Canadian women. This is just another example of Liberal arrogance. The Liberal Party assumes it speaks for everyone, but just takes the support of Canadian women for granted.
Unlike the Liberals, we know we cannot take women's support for granted. We must work to ensure that every program, every service and every department must use the taxpayers' dollar in the most effective way, because these are taxpayers' dollars for women as well as men.
Unlike the Liberals, we do not characterize our daughters and our granddaughters as weak and vulnerable. Rather, we know that they are confident and full of potential. When I look around the House I see many strong and successful women who worked hard to get where they are today. What I have been hearing from so many women is that they are fed up with being portrayed as victims.
Canada's new government knows that Canadian women are a diverse population. Canadian women are single mothers, stay at home mothers, CEOs of some of the biggest companies, business owners, farmers, caregivers and much, much more. Canada now has a government that recognizes this reality and that this means women need the flexibility of choice that will allow them to meet their full potential.
Women are fed up with broken promises too. Canada's new government was elected to clean up the corruption and scandal that plagued the Liberal Party and still does to this day. We acted. We promised to act on child care; we acted. We promised to create safer communities; we acted. We promised to get rid of corruption and scandal; we acted. The fact of the matter is, the Liberals talk and we act.
Women want to see results rather than listen to more rhetoric and fearmongering. Every day, women more often than not manage the family budget. They ensure that their families and children get the best they can with their budget. They do this every day. They know how to get value for their money and they expect the government to act in the same fiscally responsible manner.
The accusations of the Liberal Party are completely false. In fact, the reality is the exact opposite of what the Liberals claim. We are delivering programs and services, not in a Liberal spending spree fashion, but with careful consideration of what is most effective and what is best for all Canadians, for Canadian women.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, the hon. member for Simcoe—Grey, for sharing her time with me. I also congratulate her on her excellent speech.
I am pleased to rise today in this House to reiterate the commitment of our government to supporting not only the equality, but also the emancipation of women, and women’s full and entire contribution to the prosperity of this country.
I would also like to disagree with the partisan motion introduced by the hon. member for Beaches—East York, which is contrary to sound management principles and would deprive not only women, but all Canadians, of the funds wisely invested in our social programs.
Let us make this clear. We are talking today about an administrative measure, and no fund for grassroots programs that benefit women will be cut. I can therefore tell the people in my riding, and organizations like Jonction pour elle, which does excellent work, that our government supports their initiatives more than ever.
Our government is entirely committed to supporting the emancipation of women. For example, after 13 years of inaction on the part of the previous government on the question of pay equity, my colleague the Minister of Labour has taken the bull by the horns and has finally taken concrete steps to ensure compliance with pay equity in undertakings under federal jurisdiction. The reason why our minister does not have to propose legislation is that the law already exists. We have the law, but the previous government unfortunately did not enforce it. What we have is therefore a concrete step taken by the Conservative government, which is committed to supporting efforts on the ground to enforce pay equity.
I would like to cite some examples of our government’s commitment to ensuring that there is a role for women and for all newcomers in our society. In the riding of Lévis—Bellechasse, where there are workforce shortages, we need workers, to encourage our businesses to continue expanding.
We are therefore aware of the importance of providing all Canadians, women and men, with equal opportunities, and that is what we mean to do. This is why Citizenship and Immigration Canada is required to analyze the impact of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and of the regulations under that act on gender equality, and to report to Parliament on that question. This is a requirement in the act itself, and it is unprecedented in the whole of federal legislation.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada is thus the first entry door for immigrants arriving in Canada. Because it is important to uphold the humanitarian tradition of this country, our government’s programs place special emphasis on protecting people who have special needs, and in particular women and children.
For example, certain groups of refugees have special needs when they arrive here. Working jointly with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees at the pre-selection stage, we analyze potential problems associated with gender and diversity. In that analysis, we look at women in danger, households led by single women, the risk that family members will be permanently separated, and age issues. All these criteria are examined in order to alleviate problems associated with the resettlement process, with gender and with diversity. Of course, we also look at single women and women heads of household, to assist them in integrating.
I have yet another example. Certain federal government immigration programs deal specifically with the problems of violence against women. For example, the Women at Risk section of the refugee and humanitarian resettlement program is designed to meet the needs of refugee women in situations where it is impossible to guarantee their safety. Since 1988, through Women at Risk, Canada has provided new and safer places to live for thousands of women and children.
As we have mentioned today, the problem of violence against women does not exist only among immigrants. It also exists in our communities. This is why we need community agencies that can provide support to women in need. It is also why I submitted a private bill to help spouses whose lives are threatened by their former spouses. This bill is making its way through the various parliamentary stages. The purpose of this bill is to ensure that, when a woman feels threatened, society is responsible for protecting her. This is extremely important. There are various programs and mechanisms for doing so. The witness protection program, an RCMP program, enables women who request it—and this is the purpose of the bill—to receive protection without their identity being revealed. This is essential to ensuring people’s safety.
These measures are necessary to make sure that our country enables women to be properly integrated in our society and to go on playing their exemplary role.
Another example is human trafficking, which often involves women and children. For anyone wondering what human trafficking is about, it is about people who have had their papers taken away before they arrive in our country. Their legal identity is taken away. They come here under repression and coercion. So it is a woman, a child or any other person who is a victim of human trafficking. It is the third largest illegal market in the world. So it is not insignificant. As a country that sees itself as a defender of democracy and the promotion of women’s equality, we have a moral responsibility, not only to people who are victims of trafficking here, in Canada, but also to all countries.
Our government has taken measures to improve Canada’s response to the unique needs of victims of human trafficking. They are often women and children. They used to be treated like criminals who had to be detained and deported. It was one humiliation after another.
Our new government has ordered immigration officers to issue short-term temporary resident permits to victims of human trafficking. Thanks to these permits, victims have 120 days to recover from their frightful experiences and decide whether they want to apply to remain in Canada or whether they would rather return to their country of origin. These are important measures that are temporary but directly benefit women and children, who are the most vulnerable. The Canadian Council for Refugees has been requesting this basic change for years and our government has responded.
I would also like to point out that, under the interim federal health program, this government also provides asylum seekers and protected persons—many of whom are women—with basic emergency health coverage for as long as they do not meet the requirements for provincial health insurance. All these people are entitled to receive essential care.
As we know, immigration will pose a major challenge to our country, and in order to ensure that we benefit from what newcomers have to offer, it is important that they be successfully integrated into Canadian society. A lot of work needs to be done here, for example with professional associations as well as with our own values and ways of perceiving newcomers. That is why our government has established integration programs that are essential to provide a helpful environment for newcomers, including women. We also developed a new budget with $307 million in additional spending over the next two years for new arrivals, including women, so that they can integrate into the system. One specific example is that a woman who comes and settles in Canada will now be able to have day care for her children.
As a francophone, it is very important to me that new immigrants adapt to their surroundings, and that new immigrants speak French if they settle in Quebec or in the francophone minority regions. That is one specific example of action that our government is taking to help newcomers, including of course, women with children.
There are a lot of other examples of this kind. I could go on almost all afternoon, but what I basically want to say is this: it is important for everyone to realize that the savings we are making today on behalf of Canadian taxpayers, whose money we manage, are not to the detriment of women, for example. Quite the opposite, the money we save will be reinvested in social programs to continue supporting our country’s growth.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am indeed pleased to speak on the motion that the opposition has put forward today on equality and opportunity for women in this country. While there are many different aspects to speak to on this motion, I am choosing to speak on the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, the concerns expressed by women there and what it meant to them, on advocacy, and, because I know the program well and because it is located in Winnipeg, the court challenges program.
Many in this House will know that the Standing Committee on the Status of Women was struck in the fall of 2004. It came about on the initiative of three of the parties in the House and the concurrence of four parties. As an aside, I think it is important to note in the discussion that there was a request by members opposite to eliminate this committee this year, which gives me great cause for concern.
I was pleased to serve as the first chair of this committee. In order to establish its work plan, the committee heard from women from across Canada as to their priorities. Many appeared before the committee. We heard from 38 witnesses representing a wide spectrum of views and priorities. They included the YWCA, the Quebec Native Women, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, REAL Women, and the list goes on.
The committee heard that there was a concern over the lack of attention given by the government to women's issues and to substantive equality. We were urged to look at systemic barriers to women, most particularly those for women of colour, immigrant women and aboriginal women. We heard about racial discrimination. We were challenged to address a number of ways of improving the well-being of women.
Some organizations felt that the interests of women were best served by addressing women in the family unit. Other groups focused on a rights based approach to equality.
We heard much about the concerns of aboriginal women. We heard about the legal and jurisdictional mazes they had to wend their way through. We heard about the issues of particular concern to Métis women.
Four major themes arose from the six weeks of public consultation.
The first overriding theme was the matter of federal funding to women's organizations and the equality-seeking organizations, and their ability to provide service and advocate for equality.
The second theme dealt with poverty, with the incidence of poverty, the lack of access to pension benefits, social assistance, the wage gap, and affordable housing, and the list again goes on.
The third theme was the critical need to increase the capacity of the federal government to deal with the whole issue of gender based analysis, the analysis of policies, programs and budgets put out through federal programs.
Finally, the overriding theme was the issue that we heard about, violence against women, a significant factor in the lives of women from coast to coast to coast.
These women came to the committee in good faith. They spoke in good faith. They commented on the importance of being heard by government. They commented on the fact that all four parties were at the table listening. They spoke of being treated respectfully by government. They spoke of the value of having access to government.
As a consequence, the committee responded and put out several reports recommending an increase in funding to the department for the Status of Women, recommending an increase in funding and core funding. The committee did a report on pay equity. It spoke about parental benefits. Most important, the committee did a major report on gender based analysis, which women's organizations across the country called a landmark document.
Now what do these women have? The budget of the branch of government that responded to them has been slashed by 39% of the operating dollars. Now they have name-calling and are described as marginal by those groups that have access to government.
We hear from members opposite that only the operating dollars have been cut. How do programs come about if there are no operating dollars to make them come about?
Two days ago on a television panel I heard the say that the government had no interest in supporting , “lobbyists, lawyers, interest groups and advocates”.
My understanding of advocacy includes actively supporting an ideal or a cause, speaking out on an issue of concern and arguing in favour of an idea or a policy. It also includes meeting with one's member of Parliament to change a law or policy, or simply telling a neighbour or friend about the impact of a law. It is often a clear expression of support for the rights of the individual, whether it is a person with disabilities and their families, an aboriginal woman or a child denied education. Those are the characteristics of the Canada I know.
However, I heard the say that his government was out to get those people.
With the cuts proposed to the Status of Women program, we will see an inability to articulate for a whole host of people and a whole host of groups, including women with disabilities, women dealing with spousal violence, Métis and Inuit women, first nations women, immigrant women, migrant sex workers and the list goes on.
Who will speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, either because of lack of means, lack of knowledge, lack of power and often because of a fear of the system, which, in my mind, this week's decision gives them greater fear of the system?
I want to speak to the court challenges program because I know it well. It is located in Winnipeg and it is very much part of the landscape of human rights activity and discussion in my community. Many have and many more will speak to the court challenges program. With an operating budget of less than $1 million, it was designed to provide the opportunity for groups, members of language minorities, disabled Canadian women and aboriginal peoples, to challenge federal laws, programs or policies that were discriminatory under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Is this program being slashed again because the , or perhaps the president himself, said that we do not fund programs that we do not believe in?
Is it because REAL Women, who have the ear of the government, point to this program as being made up of “radical leftists, homosexual and feminist groups funding their own activities”, or is it because the court challenges program supported Democracy Watch, which intervened when the was head of the National Citizens Coalition when a challenge was made to the constitutionality of third party spending limits?
Let me tell the House about Mary. Some members may have read about Mary in the newspaper. Mary is a severely disabled young woman for whom the court challenges program made a huge difference in her life and the life of her family. Mary, her sister, Sarah, and her parents live in my riding. I have met with them often and I see them in the community at a whole host of various events.
Mary was born with multiple disabilities and was hospitalized for over a year. When it was time for one of Mary's parents to access the employment insurance program, the parent was denied employment insurance on the basis that the parent could not access it because of time limits. The court challenges program provided the opportunity for Mary and her family to benefit by this program.
For many, the court challenges program has been critical. The case of Lesiuk v. Canada and the EI system; R v. Darrach, the rape shield system; and the case of Doreen Demas, aboriginal women and their concerns.
The court challenges program is important. It provides opportunity for those who cannot otherwise speak out and it is being chastised by the government and being cut off. It is one of the tools of government that allows people to seek redress to the real challenges of equality.
I submit that the decisions of the government are draconian, mean-spirited and deliberately directed at the 60% to 65% of Canadians who do not endorse its agenda.
Mr. Speaker, that party has been obviously characterized and demonstrated to be a party that leaves people behind more and more.
We were shocked when we heard the throne speech, with five priorities, leaving the other 95% leaving Canadians out. People were aghast, wondering where the rest of the throne speech was.
Then it came to the budget, when women, aboriginal people, single parents, senior, northerners and students were left out. We were offering $6,000 to students. What did they get? They got $40, not even enough for a textbook.
The Conservatives increased income tax to 12% for the poorest in society. They cut historical Canadian programs to help people: the Kelowna accord, $5 billion; a national day care program, $10 billion; and climate change that would help people reduce smog, reduce greenhouse gases by hundreds of millions of tonnes. They were criticized constantly for these, so we thought that would have been the end.
It was absolutely astonishing to me and many Canadians that the Conservatives went ahead and made these dramatic and drastic cuts to groups. One would almost think the party has a death wish.
In the throne speech and the budget, they did not fund them. Now they are aggressively cutting funding for the tourism industry, youth, museums, housing, aboriginal people, volunteers and for the people in B.C. and Alberta who are fighting the pine beetle, all with no warning. Members do not have to take from me. I will be spending the rest of my speech giving the voices of Canadians and of people in my riding in Yukon. They have expressed shock and surprise at the cuts along with dismay and anger.
I will start out with our grand chief in the area. When the anti-smoking programs were cut for aboriginal people but no one else, it is very upsetting. He was very dismayed too with the cuts to initiatives to help women, who have been making great progress lately and taking their place in society.
Our volunteer organizations have been cut drastically. As one of the founders of our Yukon Volunteer Bureau, I am very saddened by these cuts. We heard from Volunteer Canada that. It says:
Notwithstanding our efforts to facilitate program renewal, at approximately 4 p.m. today, the Government of Canada announced that its support of the Canada Volunteerism Initiative would be cut as part of its most recent program reviews efforts.
While shocked by the announcement, it goes on to say that hopefully the decision will be reviewed.
It further says:
Support of volunteerism is essential as we work at keeping our communities safe. Volunteers are the driving force behind many community based initiatives such as community policing, addictions treatment, and training and rehabilitation for those in trouble with the law.
How shocking it is that a government, in theory, says that it is fighting crime, but then it cuts all these crime fighting programs. Almost every Yukoner in my riding is a volunteer for something. It is part of the heart of our caring society in Yukon. To cut that is just unconscionable, especially at a time when we are about to host the Canada Winter Games, the first time ever that they have been north of the 60th parallel. We need the biggest percentage of our community as volunteers.
Let me go on to literacy, as a former president of literacy organization. People across Canada are dismayed that the government does not think that literacy is important. Let me quote:
As you can imagine, the Yukon Literacy Coalition is very concerned about the budget cuts announced by the federal government yesterday.
It did projects like literacy community development projects, family literacy initiatives, first nation workplace initiatives. That is the second time that the first nations have been cut, and there will more in my speech. It goes on to say:
Without this federal contribution literacy programs and organizations in the Yukon will suffer tremendously. I hope you will support us in lobbying the government for the reinstatement of these funds.
Identifying literacy as--
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Laurentides—Labelle.
The Bloc Québécois will support the Liberal motion, because we believe that the cuts to Status of Women Canada that have been announced are symptomatic and provide disturbing evidence of how important women are in the mind of this government.
The Bloc Québécois calls on the government to take a step back, because we believe that this cut is being made not in the spirit of budget rationalization—because we know that this government has surpluses—but rather from an ideological perspective, one that is contrary to the values of Quebeckers. We think that women in Quebec are being judged based on how Status of Women Canada’s programs are being managed.
The Conservative government has announced cuts of $5 million over two years to the secretariat of Status of Women Canada, whose budget is only just over $24 million. That means a cut of 20% of its budget, a budget that it was allocated after heated battle.
I would like to remind this House of the tough battles that were fought, with the Bloc Québécois among those leading the charge, to have the Standing Committee on the Status of Women created. For more than 10 years, we had to call for this committee and demand that it be created, and it finally happened in October 2004. I was among the first group of members who took part in that committee’s work. At those parliamentary committee meetings, where we heard ordinary people, experts and ministers, but most importantly many representatives of groups and organizations, we saw that the needs and the problems are enormous.
That is why I find it absolutely incomprehensible that today the organization that manages those programs is having its budget cut, when women are barely starting to get access to services and the needs are growing.
That committee was given the authority to review all issues arising from the mandate, management, organization and operation of Status of Women Canada, and also to hold an inquiry. If we make cuts to the management of Status of Women Canada, however, who will deal with that committee’s reports? The Standing Committee on the Status of Women is important.
Let us recall that five reports have been submitted. There was a report on maternity benefits, employment insurance parental benefits, that talked about the exclusion of self-employed women—and that is still the case.
A very important report on pay equity was submitted. We know that the pay equity problem is a grave injustice, and that it is very difficult to deal with it. In Quebec, we have made significant progress, but here in Canada women’s wages are still much lower than men’s.
A third report about funding by the women’s program was also submitted. The question was what the women of Canada thought about it.
Of course a report on increased funding for equality-seeking organizations was also submitted. The organizations are underfunded. We have identified a lot of flaws, particularly recently, when Women and the Law had to close down because the minister dragged her feet on providing the funding it needed.
Another report dealt with gender analysis. When we are dealing with discrimination against women, it is important to understand that we have to have an analysis, department by department, to be able to prove what is being argued and prove what women need.
We are concerned that if Status of Women Canada's budget is cut, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, an essential committee, will have few respondents and few responses.
Yet the Conservative government may well need the expertise of Status of Women Canada—this was abundantly clear in the child care agreement. The Conservative government's decision to cancel the child care agreement, which was signed by the governments of Canada and Quebec on October 28, 2005, was anything but unremarkable.
That legally binding contract, which took months to prepare and was announced with great fanfare, was cancelled the following year by the Conservatives. It is this failure to follow through on promises that women in Canada and Quebec find so discouraging. I would like to remind the House that this cancelled contract represents a loss of over $800 million for child care centres in Quebec.
In its place, the government is offering a $1,200 annual, taxable allowance. This shows just how out of touch this government is with women's needs. It would have been wiser to listen to the Bloc Québécois' suggestion and grant a refundable tax credit, but the government refused to do so.
As further evidence of their obsession with making sure everyone knows about their ideas, it seems that for the first two months, the minister sent parents their $100 cheques through the mail rather than electronically. The cost to taxpayers: $2 million. This is a great injustice.
So when the government comes back to tell us about accountable financial management, that raises more than a few eyebrows.
What about attempts to get preventive withdrawal for female federal employees who work under conditions that could pose a risk to their children's safety, whether at border crossings or elsewhere? Preventive withdrawal for pregnant women is still not the norm.
As for work-life balance, it is clear that the government has no vision about this. We should have a vision about child care, in order to develop a solid network of child care centres for the future so that we can have a safe place for our children and avoid health and dropout problems later on.
Yet, the minister responsible posted this on the Status of Women Canada website. Yesterday, September 27, 2006, we could read this:
As a member of the Canadian Heritage Portfolio, Status of Women Canada plays an important role in the life of Canadians.
Status of Women Canada is responsible for promoting gender equality, and over the next year it will work to achieve the objective of supporting the full participation of Canadian women in all aspects of society. I am pleased that particular attention will be given to those challenges that are currently faced by Canadian women. I look forward to working with them on such issues as the economic stability of women and the situation of Aboriginal women.
Given the circumstances and given the quote from the minister, how could she have written and approved that after announcing a 20% cut in the organization's funding?
Often, when we talk about the economic stability of women, what we are really mean is poverty. Children are living in poverty in Canada because families are poor, and we know that the poorest families in our society are single-parent families, most of which are mother-led families.
Although the Canadian economy grew by 62% between 1994 and 2004, which produced nearly $480 billion more each year in market value during those ten years, more and more women saw their salaries stagnate or barely change, while hard costs such as housing, tuition fees, child care and public transit have increased, which has had an impact on family economies.
In conclusion, it is important that we continue to fight to stop the cutbacks that have been announced. We demand that the government reverse its decision and cancel the cutbacks.
It is important to understand that these cuts are not the result of rational thinking, rather they result from an ideological approach that completely opposes the values of Quebeckers and everything defended by the Bloc Québécois.
We can only conclude that this government is reactionary and, unfortunately, misogynous. We in the Bloc Québécois will continue to rise and defend the women of Quebec and ensure equality in all areas for Quebec's women.