Evidence of meeting #28 for Status of Women in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was young.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Bonnie Brayton  National Executive Director, DisAbled Women's Network of Canada
  • Peggy Taillon  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Council on Social Development
  • Jocelyne Wasacase-Merasty  Regional Manager, Prairie Region, National Centre for First Nations Governance
  • Paige Isaac  Coordinator, First Peoples' House

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Irene Mathyssen

Would members of the committee please be seated, we're rather short on time today because we are expecting bells at 5:15. To make sure that we have given the second panel enough time, I would propose we end the first panel at 4:20, and then move to the second panel so we can hear from those folks as well.

I would like—

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Madam Chair, how much time are you giving to each of our guests?

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Irene Mathyssen

I'm giving them just over 50 minutes.

It's my pleasure to welcome Peggy Taillon, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Council on Social Development, and Bonnie Brayton, the national executive director of the DisAbled Women's Network of Canada.

We have good reason to celebrate your return, Ms. Brayton, and we welcome you, Ms. Taillon, because we know that you will add immensely to this study. Each of you has 10 minutes, and Ms. Brayton, would you like to begin?

3:30 p.m.

Bonnie Brayton National Executive Director, DisAbled Women's Network of Canada

Certainly, thank you.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Thank you very much for hearing our testimony again today.

We thank the status of women committee for inviting us to participate in this important study on improving the economic prospects for girls with disabilities in Canada. It is vital to give us meaningful ways to participate in the decisions that affect our lives at policy tables. We are grateful for this opportunity to open what we hope will be an ongoing dialogue.

As visitors to the lands of the Six Nations people, we thank the Haudenosaunee people for the use of their lands to come together today. We ask for guidance and wisdom from our Creator for the words that will allow us to come to an understanding and meaningful change in our society so that we may all live free of violence, abuse, and poverty.

Concerning issues facing girls with disabilities, we offer the expertise of our limited experience as the basis for input and collaboration to increase our opportunity for inclusive attitudes and practices for Canadian girls with disabilities in their quest for economic prosperity. As I'm sure you've heard from other experts during this study, the social determinants of health have an enormous impact on the economic prospects for girls in Canada.

Canada lists the 11 determinants of health as: income and social status, social support networks, education and literacy, employment and working conditions, physical and social environments, biology and genetic endowment—I find that one fascinating—personal health practices and coping skills, healthy child development, health services, gender, and culture.

In our work we are focused on how gender and disability intersect in this regard and impact upon our constituents. Of course, we think also of how other things, such as race, culture, or sexual orientation also situate us in this regard.

I would be remiss in not pointing out that much of the data that we can and will cite in our brief, which will follow, is not current because the PALS, SLID, and long-form census data used are no longer being collected. This data set and these pieces of information need to be brought back, so that, going forward, we can continue to work with the Government of Canada on being well informed of the situation of girls with disabilities in Canada.

As for poverty, access to education, and underemployment, the statistics are grim. I could speak at length about this to you today, but I won't. I have some statistics that I'll share. I will tell you that there are some disturbing numbers, including that the highest rates of unemployment by far and the lowest levels of income belong to young women with disabilities and girls with disabilities, regardless of their age. This is consistent within any population you want to look at in Canada. We heard from you the last time about women having the highest rates of violence. Well, it's the same in education. It's the same in income supports. They're the most compromised, and again I'll remind the committee that we're talking about one in five Canadian women.

In Canada, half of working-age adults with disabilities aged 15 to 64 live on low income. People with disabilities are twice as likely to live on a low income compared to people without disabilities. Some 25% of Canadians without disabilities are without a high school diploma, compared with 37% of those with a disability. Research demonstrates that if proper supports are in place to have children with disabilities included in regular classrooms, all students benefit.

Recent studies show that 41% of children with disabilities felt threatened at school or on the school bus within the past year and that 36% were assaulted at school or on the bus. I don't want to dwell on the issue of violence, but I will come back to the fact that this is something that constitutes another impact and is one of the reasons that we always need to bring this back into any discourse about women and girls with disabilities, because it's a part of their daily lives.

Research indicates that inclusion promotes social skills for children with and without disabilities, and so the concept of inclusive education becomes extremely important around a lot of different things, and not just for opportunities for children with disabilities but for society as a whole to move forward in becoming a truly inclusive society.

Inadequate skills and education lead to barriers to employment. Among Canadians aged 15 to 64 without a disability, 75% are employed compared with just 51% of those with disabilities.

As I said, I'm not going to dwell on statistics today, but I want to share one more with you. There is some good news from a report from 2010 by a dear friend of ours from the government, from Human Resources and Skills Development, Aron Spector. It is called “Changing Educational Attainment and Enrolment Patterns Among Youth with Disabilities 1999-2006”. The good news is:

More youth with disabilities are successfully remaining in school to the point where they receive post-secondary accreditation. Youth with disabilities who complete post-secondary schooling are much more likely to find and keep employment.

And in employment rates for university degree graduates 25-29, there was only a six percentage-point difference between disabled students and non-disabled students in 2007. So this is really good news.

In other words, educational attainments have improved in Canada for young people with disabilities, and particularly young women with disabilities.

Finally, “Unemployment rates for this population were approximately 5%.”

What's the message from this study? It was a huge study, and I'm not going to get into it today. Fundamentally, it is that:

Accommodation in schools has likely been resulting in a substantially increased number of successes among young people with disabilities in both completing post-secondary schooling and in finding work.

So that is some really good and important news. And I will tell you that I was really pleased to see that, among girls with disabilities, the statistics are quite similar to those we see for non-disabled young women, which is that, based on the recent studies, the level of educational attainment for girls with disabilities has surpassed that of young men with disabilities. It's not a contest, but at the same time I think this is very encouraging. As I said, to see the parallels between disabled and non-disabled women becoming ever closer is a very encouraging indicator.

Today instead, I'd like to speak to you about one of our guests. She's one of the visitors present here. She's a friend of mine, Kuy Chheng Treng, from Cambodia. She's visiting Canada under the Coady Institute's international women in leadership program. She is, I'm pleased to say, staying with DAWN over a two-month period. She's a visiting scholar for our organization, and she and I are working together while she's here.

The reason I want to talk to you about Chheng is linked to the discussion today and this very subject. I realized that it was important to bring some exciting news from the international community to the table for discussion around social enterprise, which is an idea that DAWN Canada is committed to—social enterprise in the context of how social enterprise can be used and coupled to create both employment and educational opportunities for young people, not just in Chheng's community in Cambodia but here in Canada.

Digital Divide Data is a social enterprise with offices around the world, with its roots beginning in Cambodia, where my colleague Kuy Chheng Treng is from. If you look at the Canadian situation for young women with, say, a high school education, there are statistics to indicate that in the past 10 years or so she's much more likely than she was to finish her post-secondary education, but she is still very likely to face unemployment. That the rates of unemployment are still above 50% for women with disabilities speaks to what she's facing when she finishes her post-secondary education here in Canada.

Let me juxtapose this with the situation that Chheng found herself in at the age of 18 with the social enterprise called Digital Divide Data in Cambodia, which has focused on two things. It has focused on providing young people with disabilities and people who are marginalized....

Again I say, this model is transferable not just to women with disabilities, but to any groups in which there are high rates of unemployment and limited opportunities for post-secondary education. That includes our young people here in Canada, women or men. What happens with Digital Divide is that young people come to the organization and are given an opportunity to complete their post-secondary education while they work. So their day is split between post-secondary education and work.

Chheng has been with Digital Divide for 10 years. She has completed her master's in finance. She's a senior manager in accounting. She has travelled all over the place. She's here in Canada because she's been provided with the kind of supports that she said....

I have a biography. If anybody wants to see it after, I'd be happy to share it with them.

The opportunity Chheng was provided with was the opportunity to have two key things that young people need today: work experience and education. What happens otherwise, when you come out of post-secondary institutions, is that nobody will give you an opportunity and nobody wants to give you a job, because you have no experience.

I say to you today that when you finish wrapping up this study and you want to look at one of the most meaningful ways to change things here in Canada for young women with disabilities—and I would say for many other young women—it would be to consider supporting the idea of social enterprise as a way forward.

Social enterprise is one of the emerging models here in Canada.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Irene Mathyssen

Ms. Brayton, I'm sorry; we're at 10 minutes. I am hoping that the committee will ask you the questions so that you can complete your brief.

Thank you, and welcome to Chheng.

Now we go to Ms. Taillon for 10 minutes, please.

April 4th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.

Peggy Taillon President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Council on Social Development

Thank you, Madam Chair.

It's great to be back in front of this committee this afternoon.

As many of you likely know, CCSD has been around for 92 years. We call it the grande dame of social policy in Canada. CCSD has contributed significantly to building Canada's social infrastructure in collaboration with multiple governments over its 90-some years, including the development of the concepts of EI, disability, and old-age pension.

I'm also here as the founder and president of the HERA Mission of Canada, an international NGO foundation I started while doing some development work in western Kenya, where I adopted my son. There we support over 200 orphans and 90 widows who are grandmas and great-grandmas. Part of my opening remarks are focused on Canada, but a lot of what I'll reflect on in the Q and A is also from some of our experiences in western Kenya.

The focus of this is really about honouring our promise to Canada's kids, particularly giving Canadian girls the best start.

We are a country at a crossroads. Yes, we've heard this before. It's an adage often used for dramatic effect, a footnote at key points in our country's development that is often used as a signal for a positive shift forward, marking progress and upwards mobility for our country.

This is not the case in today's Canada, for today's kids. The crossroads analogy clearly demarcates that, today in Canada, we are a country on two tracks, forging separate paths that are clearly segmenting and separating Canadians, drawing lines based on income, wealth, and for a small few, extreme wealth. The other segment of Canadians is stuck in a labyrinth, a maze with high walls, trap doors, and few exits that often guarantee re-entry.

For these Canadians, their path is cyclical—extreme poverty with little or no meaningful opportunities for upward movement. There is another segment emerging since the recent economic downturn—an eroding middle class whose financial security, once taken for granted, is now less certain.

With the weakened job market and costs rising on every front, these families are running a race and gaining very little ground. Canada is changing. We are more divided, more segmented than ever before, and yes, even when it comes to our kids.

Canada used to lead in this area. Regardless of the challenges in front of us, we always put our kids first. This was a collective promise we made to them, and to each other. Our children are our greatest resource, and all of us—parents, grandparents, neighbours, teachers, policy-makers, parliamentarians—share an obligation to give them the best start. That was an essential tenet, a Canadian value.

Then, something changed.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, at 15.1%, Canada's child poverty rate is higher than the OECD average. More than one in seven Canadian children now live in poverty. Canada ranks 13th on this indicator, and scores a “C” grade.

The Nordic countries—Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden—have the lowest rates of child poverty, with less than 5% of children living in poor households. The relationship between social spending and reducing poverty rates is clear. These leading countries boast strong traditions of wealth distribution. They have addressed inequality while Canada has silently watched the gap grow.

A “C” for a country as well-endowed as Canada? It really is inconceivable.

At least we've been consistent. Canada's has received a steady “C” since the 1980s for our lacklustre performance on child poverty. We all remember the 1989 Canadian House of Commons’ unanimous resolution to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000, and there was some initial success. The poverty rate fell from 15.8% in the mid-1980s to 12.8% in the mid-1990s. Since then, however, the rate has increased to 15.1% in the mid-2000s, reversing earlier progress.

Today in Canada we are leaving at least 639,000 children behind. That's one in ten. The message to them is: you don't count, you are on your own. When it comes to our kids, a “C” is a failure. We are all failing to address the critical need for early learning, universal child care, affordable housing, and necessary public supports that assist families in realizing their economic potential. That's where it starts—with our kids. Kids thrive when their parents are thriving. Kids thrive when they are given the best start between zero to five. The early years make the greatest impact and determine your life's path. We all know this. There are mountains of evidence to support this.

Any of us who are parents know that if our kids are going to thrive they need a stable, safe home environment; parents who have access to a support system; accredited and affordable child care; and places to grow, interact, and learn with other toddlers, and from other parents. They need fresh air, clean water, exercise, and nutritious food. Much of this is out of reach if your family is poor.

Despite knowing this, we have ghettoized Canada's poor and have officially become a country where your postal code matters more than your genetic code. Poverty is literally making segments of us sick.

Clyde Hertzman, an internationally renowned Canadian researcher on early child development, has demonstrated time and time again how to reduce the number of ADHD diagnoses, reduce school dropout rates, and slash the incidence of crime and drug addiction by better understanding the dynamics of early child interventions. When we invest in all children early in their lives, we can boost their academic achievement and set them on the right path for the rest of their lives. Hertzman has followed cohorts of early-years kids through life and has found instances of lower rates of chronic disease, higher rates of post-secondary education completion, and lower rates of unemployment.

Early learning is a life changer, and Canada needs to invest in it. Yes, we can afford it. The government could take the $2.5 billion universal child care benefit expenditure and divide it between the provinces and territories, invest in early child care and education programs, and make a difference to moderate- and low-income families immediately. Families in all regions of this country are desperate for high-quality, affordable child care so they can work or study. Provinces, local governments, and community groups are struggling to find the funds to provide early childhood education and child care for Canadian families.

Listen, as parents we are far more productive and effective in our lives when we know our kids are thriving in the best possible environment when we leave them to go to work. It is that simple. It's good for all of us. Canadian families are doing their part; our governments need to do theirs.

This is ultimately about inclusion, opportunity, participation, and shared prosperity. It's what defines us as a nation. It's a promise and an obligation we have made to our kids, each other, and our communities. It is the Canadian way.

Thanks.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Irene Mathyssen

Thank you very much, Ms. Taillon.

We'll now go to Ms. James for seven minutes, please.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you to Ms. Brayton and Ms. Taillon.

I want to touch base briefly on the purpose of this committee. It's actually a study on the prospects of Canadian girls and what the Status of Women can do to improve their economic prosperity, economic future, and economic participation in leadership roles, etc. I know you both covered many issues. Some of those issues deal with the aftermath of the situation of what we can do at a very young age to encourage girls to succeed, to want to become the leaders of tomorrow, and want to achieve the same status that men have achieved for many decades.

I'll ask Ms. Brayton the question first. From that brief overview, what do you think the Status of Women can do? What is the message we can deliver to young girls right now? What can we do to empower them to want to succeed, and not stand at the back of the line? I know your expertise is with women and girls with disabilities, but in general what do you think the Status of Women can do to actually achieve that—to empower girls to want to succeed and prosper in Canada?

3:50 p.m.

National Executive Director, DisAbled Women's Network of Canada

Bonnie Brayton

Thank you for your question.

I actually took the time to study Minister Ambrose's strategic plan. In looking at her plan, I know that she's focused on gender analysis across all levels of government. We know without question that this is the only way women and girls with disabilities will see real impacts, and that's if an intersectional approach, which we talk so much about in our sector, is actually applied across the government. So we applaud Minister Ambrose for understanding that gender analysis across the government is the first step.

We know that improving the economic prospects for all girls in Canada, and not just girls with disabilities, is fundamentally linked to the social determinants of health, education, and employment. The reason I spoke about those before was that we know that these are key. We know that for girls with disabilities, this can also mean enhancing income support programs. There's a whole host of things linked to this cross-ministerial approach Minister Ambrose has identified.

I would ask each of you to work with her to ensure that this analysis will be inclusive and will lead to a meaningful application of this critical tenet of real gender equality. The real strength of this strategy lies in the leadership with which it is applied, and as parliamentarians who now know how, you are called upon to lead also.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Could we just stop for a second?

I'm trying to get more at the actual message. What is it that Status of Women can do? A lot of times we'll do funding or projects. We recently did a call for proposals on getting young women and girls in rural and remote communities more involved. My question is kind of along those lines.

What is it you think the Status of Women can do to actually encourage women and young girls to succeed? I don't want just an overview statement. I'm wondering if you could suggest one specific thing.

3:50 p.m.

National Executive Director, DisAbled Women's Network of Canada

Bonnie Brayton

I'll use two words together: capacity and leadership.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you.

I'm going to touch base on this as well, because I know that you had talked about girls with disabilities and that a high ratio of them are without high school diplomas. I didn't catch the percentage.

3:50 p.m.

National Executive Director, DisAbled Women's Network of Canada

Bonnie Brayton

I didn't bring a detailed list of statistics. I have them, and I'm going to present a written brief to your committee as well.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

You've indicated that it has actually improved.

3:50 p.m.

National Executive Director, DisAbled Women's Network of Canada

Bonnie Brayton

The statistic that's really exciting in terms of improvement is showing up in post-secondary education statistics. What we're seeing, and again, I mentioned that we're seeing this not just in disabled young women but also in young women in general, is that they're getting a higher level of educational attainment. This is positive. This is a shift in the right direction. We are seeing higher levels of educational attainment. The problem I'm identifying, and I think this is consistent for young women, regardless of whether they're disabled or not, is being able to get jobs when they finish their post-secondary education.