Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to participate in this debate on the eighth report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women concerning the following motion:
That the government appoint an independent commissioner for gender budgeting analysis immediately to conduct a gender based analysis of governmental policies, including budget policies.
The standing committee, over the last several months, has undertaken extensive studies on gender budgeting. This has involved hours of meetings, hearing from witnesses from as far away as South Africa to non-governmental organizations and representatives from federal government departments and central agencies.
As I have already said, the committee has heard from a wide range of experts on this subject.
The Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, an agent of Parliament, when she appeared before the standing committee, said that her office could look and see if the government is actually doing gender based analysis and the quality around that analysis. The Auditor General also went on to give some caution to the committee when looking at broad-based cross-department policy initiatives. Ms. Fraser said:
Too often we see broad-based initiatives across government, but nobody is really accountable for the success of that project. It could be a central agency, it could be a department, but somebody who clearly has the responsibility and the accountability to make sure the program is implemented.
I would certainly want to hear and believe that we would all profit from the views of the standing committee on this as well.
This side of the House believes we need to take a more comprehensive approach to advance equality for women and their full participation in all aspects of Canadian life. Our government is indeed committed to the work we have already undertaken to advance opportunities for women and men, and we have more plans for the future.
In the 2008 budget we announced that over the next year our government will develop an action plan for women. This action plan will advance the equality of women across Canada through the improvement of their economic and social conditions, and their participation in democratic life.
The government wants to look at all the recommendations together and devise a thorough and complete strategy to move the agenda of equality forward for women. This would include consultations across all sectors of society.
Experience has shown that an action plan accompanied with indicators against which outcomes for equality for women and men can be measured is the most effective approach. This is the course that we are taking.
Since the 1995 fourth United Nations World Conference on Women, where governments committed to gender based analysis in the Beijing Platform for Action, considerable progress has been made.
In Canada, some federal departments have taken initiatives to create their own training packages and infrastructure. Such efforts include: departmental statements on gender based analysis; integration of gender based analysis in strategic and operational plans; and establishment of departmental focal points or networks of gender specialists.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada, for example, became the first department to have accountability for gender based analysis entrenched in law. This law requires the department to report annually to Parliament.
The Canadian International Development Agency has a comprehensive non-legislative approach to gender based analysis; one it uses with success in its development work around the globe.
Finance Canada has undertaken gender based analysis on its tax measures in budgeting and has now committed that future budgets will undergo gender based analysis.
The Treasury Board Secretariat requires that gender based analysis be undertaken uniformly as part of the submission process that departments go through to receive financial authorities, and others are working to integrate gender based analysis into their work.
Our government is creating opportunities and working hard to achieve concrete results for women by introducing the universal child care benefit, increasing the pension income credit, and changing the guaranteed income supplement, thus putting more money in the hands of older women.
We are addressing matrimonial real property on reserves, modernizing the federal labour standards, expanding business opportunities for women, taking action to ensure pay equity is achieved, creating special initiatives for women entrepreneurs, and increasing crime prevention, justice and security measures to protect children from sexual exploitation.
Over the last year 181 projects received funding under the women's community fund and the women's partnership fund for a total value of $33,000,993 over three years.
Impacting over 1.5 million women and girls through the projects funded, organizations are carrying out work in educating women on violence prevention, building women's financial literacy, encouraging networking, promoting women's economic security, prosperity, health and safety, and ending all forms of discrimination against women.
This year's theme of financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women at the 52nd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women heard over and over again the value of putting in place plans of action and indicators to measure progress. This is the course action we are on.
Just as a business would not leave a new product half developed, the Government of Canada will not do only half a job. In the same way, we want to ensure that we have the best plan possible, an action plan that takes into account all Canadians, women and men alike.
Equality for women and their full participation in the life of our country are important not only for women, their families and their communities but also for Canada. We want to use the action plan to improve Canada's prosperity by enhancing women's active participation in the economy as well as in the overall social and democratic life of our country.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their enthusiasm.
I am obviously very pleased to speak about this topic raised by the member about the appointment of an independent commissioner to conduct a gender-based analysis of the government's measures and policies in order to ensure that women are properly treated.
We know that this is nothing new. When the Standing Committee on Status of Women decided that this measure should be put forward, it was not without considerable thought. The committee members made this decision after carrying out an extensive and serious study and after consulting international experts. We learned about other countries where commissioners had already been appointed, and where they had had some success after these appointments were made.
It is also nothing new that the government is supposed to be doing something to promote gender equality. In 1981, the government undertook to promote gender equality in a CEDAW document, because we thought that the United Nations was the best place to ensure that men and women would one day be equals in law and in fact.
Furthermore, in 1995, at the conference in Beijing, the government at the time reiterated that commitment. It increased the budgets of Status of Women Canada to promote the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action. It was a comprehensive action plan if there ever was one, and should have been fully implemented. Unfortunately, as with many other things in the government, things get lost and very few things happen.
We will also not forget the current 's commitment. When I say “commitment”, I am choosing my words carefully. During the election campaign in January, he did not say he would ensure equality among men and women. He did not say he was promising that men and women would be equal under his government. He said he was committed to it. Commitment is a strong word. It is a word that the Prime Minister should have had the wisdom to respect. If there is one thing that he has not done over the past two and a half years, it is to honour the promise he made to the women of Quebec and Canada.
In the various policies and measures put forward by this government, this commitment has been completely ignored. The government began by cutting Status of Women Canada funding. It continued by eliminating grants to women's advocacy groups and telling women that they could no longer defend their rights. It then eliminated the court challenges program, which had allowed women to take their demands and their struggles to the highest authorities.
It also slashed funding for women who wanted to do research to ensure they were always on the leading edge in the defence of women's rights. It cut grants to women lobbyists and women's lobby groups. If women cannot lobby to assert their rights, how can they possibly do so? As we all know, there are only so many ways of going about this. Yet the oil companies that lobby here are very successful. The companies and big businesses that lobby here have a great deal of success. The reason they do not receive funding for their lobbying activities is because they are quite capable of using their own money to lobby.
Respecting commitments should be a prime minister's first priority. In the budget and the throne speech, the government indicated that it would produce a plan to ensure equality for women.
It is now June, the end of the session, and we have not heard or seen anything. There has been no talk of a plan. In fact, it is just a virtual plan that has been put on paper, but so far there is just a title, “A plan for women's equality”. There is no need to reinvent the wheel to come up with such a plan. Just take what is already being done quite well and has been validated by women's groups here and throughout the world. These groups have said that this plan would ensure that all women, throughout the world, are equal to men, can combat violence, have a roof over their head and achieve equality.
We asked the Standing Committee on the Status of Women to appoint a commissioner because we realized that despite the efforts by Status of Women Canada to educate, inform and train the various departments on gender based issues and gender specific budgets, these departments did not really understand what that meant. That was our impression.
The only analysis done was done after the fact. It was not done before the policy and measure were in put in place, but well afterward and it was wrong. Since the analysis was wrong even though it was done after the measure was implemented, we are entitled to wonder about the quality of the information received or interpreted. I believe that the problem stems not from the quality of information provided, but from how the information was interpreted by the people who received it.
Equity advocate positions were established in various departments, but the women who occupied those positions were replaced one after the other over a period of a few months by others who had fresh experience and expertise. They had to start over from what the others had done without getting any extra support. And when those women started to master the job, they disappeared and were transferred elsewhere. Some departments did not even replace the equity champions after they left.
This makes us wonder whether the government truly wants this equality to become a reality because we are not seeing that in any of its actions, policies or measures.
If the government had really wanted its policies to advance women's equality, we would not be debating Bill . If the government had really wanted women to be equal, it would not have given them a child care allowance of $100 a month. Instead, it would have created a program that allowed women to choose to send their children to a specialized day care centre with specialized teachers and caregivers. Quebec is fortunate enough to have such a system. If the government had really wanted women to be equal, it would not have chosen to leave pay equity measures and programs at the point where they are now, unfortunately.
We know that pay equity measures are not worth it. In fact, some companies and their employees have been in court for more than 20 years over pay equity for women. These women come under the aegis of the federal government. It is terrible.
The government says it wants equality for women, but it is not doing anything to make that happen. All we are getting from this government is fine words and empty promises.
Different tax measures have also been mentioned.
For example, the government has introduced the tax-free savings account or TFSA. This is great for people who have money, but women, who still today earn only 70% of what men do, do not fall into that category.
When the government says that these measures were put in place for women and will benefit women as much as men, I wonder who thought about that. Was it men? Because if it was women, I am sure they would have seen the problem with that sort of thinking and I am sure they would have realized that it did not make sense.
A tax-free savings account is an attractive idea, but it will not benefit 80-year-old women. If the government had really wanted to introduce measures that would benefit 80-year-old women, it would have increased the guaranteed income supplement and made sure people who were entitled to it received full retroactivity.
For years the Bloc Québécois has been fighting for real people, real equity measures and real policies, whether in connection with employment insurance, seniors, women or children. No matter what anyone says, the Bloc Québécois is fighting real battles for real people. That is what we have always done and what we will continue to do.
When we talk about equality, we must also talk about social housing. There is no equality for single mothers if there are no special social housing measures for them.
Miloon Kothari, the United Nations special rapporteur, came to Canada to study what is being done in terms of social housing here in a supposedly civilized and advanced country. He learned of the existence of a tent city in Edmonton where people who work 40 hours a week do not have enough money to pay rent. Women, families and children live in tents in the middle of downtown Edmonton. He realized that many people did not have comfortable and adequate social housing in which to raise their children responsibly and decently.
He also realized that Canada had taken a step backward. He found out that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has astronomical surpluses in excess of $12 billion. It is shameful that this government has not given a portion of that money to provinces that have social housing programs to ensure adequate housing everywhere for people who need it.
The concept of equality and equity encompasses all of these programs. Unfortunately, I believe that unless an independent commissioner is appointed—as my colleague from was saying—that will never happen. We will never see the day when women can finally breathe easy and say that they have the same working conditions, living conditions and benefits as their male colleagues, and that they can finally look forward to and work together toward a better future.
Only then will we be able to say that we have succeeded. I do not think that a government like this one, which is always trying to crush low income earners, such as those in the manufacturing and forestry sectors, will give us the measures we need to ensure equality between men and women.
I can guarantee that we will study the action plan that the government says it will put forward very thoroughly. We will take a very serious look at it. But I do not think we will have a chance to do that before next year. It seems to me that the plan is all in the minister's head and is not about to come out anytime soon. She has too many things on her mind.
It is true that nowadays, Conservative Party members are having a hard time remembering their responsibilities to the voters. We see evidence of that every day. We have been hearing all kinds of nonsense about all kinds of issues here in the house, despite the fact that we have serious questions about issues that are important to all Quebeckers and Canadians. The only thing the Conservative Party ever does is get one or two people to give utterly vague answers that are completely unrelated to the questions we ask.
Given this party's track record, we do not imagine that it has time to think about action plans for women's equality. It does not have time for that; it thinks about the strategy of the moment to try to confuse people a little more. And that is what we are seeing.
Unfortunately, the only way to achieve equality between men and women is to ensure that the government appoints an independent commissioner for gender budgeting analysis and that these recommendations are carried out.
In recommendation No. 20 of the report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, we are asking that when the Department of Finance brings down its budget, and with all subsequent budgets, it publish its gender-based analysis of the measures included therein. Mr. Speaker, do you think I believe this will be done? It is a very good report. It is not a rosy report as they said it was at last week's press conference. It is an excellent report. Unfortunately, I do not believe that this government has the will to implement it.
In coming here to the House of Commons to represent the citizens of Laval, I thought I would be surrounded by people who all wanted the same thing: to represent those who elected them in a responsible and respectful manner. Women live in the ridings where Conservatives were elected. We know that most women do not want to elect Conservatives—we can understand why—but they do live in those ridings. In my opinion, once elected, we represent everyone, not just those who voted for us.
The government should think twice about shelving this report. This report was prepared with a great deal of conviction, hard work and cooperation. All the hon. members who worked on preparing this report have spoken to one another. It deserves to be studied by the government and for the to take into account and carry out our recommendations. There are a number of them, but if she carried them all out, we would finally achieve equality between men and women.
I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker, because I have what I think are some important things to say.
As I was indicating, more young women are participating at the post-secondary level and are graduating, but still they are earning 20% less than their male counterparts. As they age, that gap grows.
Statistics Canada provided us with some interesting information. It showed that up to about age 25, after they graduated, women were doing reasonably well in terms of their male counterparts. However, as they grew older, the gap increased exponentially after 25.
Of course, there is an answer for this, which is that this is the point in time when many young women marry and assume the responsibilities of child care and, in some cases, elder care. For these women, the gap was horrific in terms of their ability to have economic security.
Another piece of what we heard in committee had to do with violence against women, which continues at an alarming rate, especially against first nations, Inuit and Métis women.
Quite frankly, Canada is underperforming when compared to other countries. The 2007 gender gap report by the World Economic Forum ranks Canada 18th, behind countries such as Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and of course most European countries. We tend to think of ourselves as advanced, modern and well ahead of a lot of developing countries, but that is not the case.
Policy makers in Canada simply are not asking the right questions when they look at policy, especially when formulating tax cuts, tax expenditures and social spending. That is the reason I believe it is essential for Canada to change its approach. That is the reason for this report.
Countries all over the world are engaging in gender responsive budgeting initiatives, enabling policy makers to identify who is and who is not benefiting from social spending, tax expenditures, tax cuts and the social policy in place.
Our committee heard many times that tax cuts are not beneficial to women. Tax cuts simply do not benefit women, primarily because women's incomes on average are lower than the incomes of men. A woman in Canada earns about $26,900 a year while the average man earns $43,700. Almost 40% of women in Canada do not even earn enough money to pay taxes.
The 60% of women working outside the home and in a financial position to pay taxes contribute $42 billion to our tax revenues. These women, and in fact all women, deserve to take their rightful place in the life of this nation. Sadly, most do not benefit from the tax cuts that we have seen in budgets that go back ad nauseam, and certainly not in the most recent budgets.
Women benefit from investments in child care, affordable housing, health care and post-secondary education. Unfortunately for these women, federal social spending as a share of gross domestic product is currently at the lowest level in 50 years. That is despite the fact that governments have enjoyed incredible surpluses over the last 10 years. Tragically, these are surpluses that have gone to the oil and gas sector, to big banks and to profitable corporations for the exploitation of our resources. These are tax cuts that have not benefited women at all.
The tax cut agenda of the current and previous governments is causing money that should be available to invest in our communities to dwindle. We have seen tax policies that have stripped the cupboard bare. This money should be invested in programs to help women. That is part of the policy that we need to talk about when we talk about gender based analysis.
That is the reason for our report. It is the reason why it makes immediate, positive action on our report all the more imperative. We need action today. Now that we have had a chance to debate this report in the House, it is time for immediate action to be taken to implement the report in all its parts.
Gender responsive budgeting will help to create a more effective, efficient, transparent and accountable budget process and it will advance women's equality. However, gender responsive budgets are not the entire solution.
We need leadership. As I said before, this Parliament must act. We need leadership from the highest level. The and the cabinet ministers need to ensure that women's equality is part of their agenda.
Any implementation of policy needs to be backed up with political will from the governing party and others in the House. It is essential that the include in his next Speech from the Throne his commitment to gender equality.
The report we are discussing today is in fact the culmination of eight months of hard work by my colleagues and the committee staff and lengthy consultations with national and international experts. I am hopeful that the government will take into consideration the recommendations of this groundbreaking report.
I am also pleased that the committee did indeed work cooperatively on these important issues, as has been noted, and that we were able to produce a unanimous report. I think that speaks to the dedication of our committee to the cause of women, their children and our communities, and to the need that we recognized when we heard from witnesses in terms of building this nation, community by community, family by family.
In light of the historic apology offered last week to first nations, Métis and Inuit people of Canada, I also feel that it is essential to talk about the absolute need to address the reality of the inequities faced by aboriginal women in Canada.
Our sisters have endured discrimination. They have been trafficked into sexual slavery, under-housed and cut off from educational opportunities. They have endured violence of an unspeakable nature and are five times more likely to be murdered than women in the general population. These are our sisters, our mothers, our daughters and ourselves.
We have learned that we must never forget our obligation to seek truth and reconciliation. We must never abandon that which is essential to any hope that we have to secure the future for the people of our nation.
In terms of gender budgeting, there has been a great deal of work done on it, not just by our committee but by others. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has worked very hard on gender budgeting initiatives and has expressed over and over again to government after government why they matter and what impact they will have in Canada.
As has already been stated, Canada has been a signatory to a number of UN commitments to gender equality and more inclusive economic development over the last few decades, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW, the Beijing “Platform for Action” that I alluded to, and, more recently, the millennium development goals. Despite all of these stated commitments, both here at home and abroad, there remain significant gender inequalities in life experiences and in distribution of opportunities among women and men in Canada.
Government budgets, which are policy statements and policy instruments that reflect the social and economic priorities of government, are one area of public action that has been identified as an important tool for redressing underlying inequalities and tackling these through the allocation of public resources.
In particular, gender budget analysis is increasingly recognized as an important way to hold governments accountable for their commitments to human rights and gender equality, as it connects these commitments to the distribution, use and generation of public resources.
Indeed, the current has made a public commitment to undertaking gender budget analysis in Canada. Unfortunately, to date, very little has happened with regard to gender budget analysis and policy making that would make a difference for women. Despite the fact that Canadian funding agencies are expected to undertake gender impact assessments of all projects in developing countries, we have not seen this at home.
It is time to bring home a new way of thinking about government finances that examines the real situation of women's and men's lives and includes a majority of citizens, especially women, who are often at the periphery of the economic debate. In decisions that shape policies, set priorities and meet the social and economic needs of all Canadians, these debates must happen.
Pressure on public spending, as I have already said and as the House well knows, has depleted Canada's ability for the fiscal manoeuvrability with which we ultimately will make policies that comply with social needs. We have seen the cupboard. We have seen the available resources dwindle.
As for a key goal of gender equality and alternative budget initiatives over the last two decades, it has been shown that in this fiscal context, the impacts of public expenditures, revenues and deficit reduction strategies are seldom, if ever, gender or class neutral. Indeed and instead, fiscal, monetary, trade and financial sector policies all impact on women's economic situation in very direct ways.
In the status of women committee meetings, we heard from the finance department that budgets 2006, 2007 and 2008 all underwent gender budget analysis. Yet when we asked groups such as FAFIA and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, with analysts Armine Yalnizyan and Professor Kathleen Lahey, to look at these same budgets and undertake their own analysis of the GBA, they showed very clearly that a real GBA had not been done and that the explanation from the government was skewed and unreliable, all at the expense of women.
This is not new. Women have suffered quite significantly in terms of policies and the economic and social impacts of those policies for quite a number of years. As far back as 1995, the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, which conducted research on a wide range of issues that affect women, had its funds cut and was closed by the government.
The Canadian Labour Force Development Board, which had given organizations of women, people of colour and people with disabilities a small voice in training policy, was eliminated.
In 1997 we saw the announcement of the elimination of program funding for women's organizations, starting in the 1998-99 fiscal year. Money from Status of Women Canada was from that point onward delivered on a project by project basis, which is hardly a positive way to enforce that women had a voice and a future.
Other program cuts included $25 billion from transfers for health, education and social assistance, beginning in 1996.
The 1995 budget eliminated the Canada assistance plan and changed employment insurance to base eligibility on hours worked rather than weeks worked. The impact of this was disproportionately felt by women. It hurt women.
Of course, in 1996 we saw the end of social housing.
All of this impacted very much on women in terms of social policy and economic policy, yet no gender budget analysis was done, and certainly no one in government at that time acted to avert the disaster that has culminated in the reality we face now.
We have heard over and over again from our witnesses that tax cuts were of no benefit to women. I would like to turn briefly to a couple of the recommendations in the report that we are discussing today.
Recommendation 3 states:
The Committee recommends that Status of Women Canada establish, by January 2009, an advisory panel of experts from civil society organizations and academia; that this panel provide advice to Status of Women Canada on the implementation of gender-based analysis and gender responsive budgeting in the federal government; and, that the Government of Canada provide adequate resources for this initiative.
That was augmented by recommendation 4 from the committee:
--that Status of Women Canada, as the lead on the working group on gender indicators, immediately involve civil society organizations and academics in the development of the Gender Equality Indicators Project.
This is in sharp contrast to the reality of what has actually happened to Status of Women Canada.
The current Conservative government changed the mandate of SWC, cancelled the court challenges program, closed 12 regional offices and removed lobbying, advocacy and research from the initiatives that Status of Women Canada was able to fund and undertake.
Contrary to what the experts were telling us, women's organizations were cutoff from providing the advice that we need. We know that Status of Women Canada does not have sufficient resources to produce the research that is needed on women's issues.
The committee therefore recommended that these resources be made available, that we could bring in civil society and ensure that women would have a voice in terms of gender budget analysis.
I have a number of solutions that I was going to offer, but clearly I have run out of time. I want to simply conclude with the words of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It says:
—the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields...
That will not happen, that cannot happen in our country until we have the kind of equality that women need to take their place.
The recommendations of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women that we move toward gender responsive budgeting underscores that absolute need for the equality of women and their participation. I hope this Parliament will support and adopt these recommendations.