House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was firefighters.

Topics

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3:30 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague from Cape Breton for an excellent speech and for the work that she has done on behalf of not only the women of Canada but the important work that she has done in promoting equality, justice and solidarity with women globally.

I was very pleased to see that an important element of the women's march yesterday was a recognition that we are global citizens. When women are victims of violence or when women are victims of poverty around the world, that pain is pain we as Canadians must respond to as well. I salute the hon. member for leadership on this issue.

As a New Democrat I say that we are proud to stand in solidarity with the women who marched yesterday and to support the demands of the women's march.

Our leader, the hon. member for Halifax, spoke eloquently this morning about some of these demands, in particular challenging the failure of the Liberal government to take seriously a number of the specific concerns raised among the demands made by these women.

Because this is a day long debate and I think it is important that there be a broad range of issues covered, I want to refer to one element. That is the section in the women's march document which called for respect and promotion of the human rights of lesbians.

Too often when we speak of women as minorities, when we speak of aboriginal women, and when we speak of women with disabilities, we forget another group of women still unfortunately face violence and still face discrimination. The section included in the march document points out that despite recent victories recognizing same sex couples, lesbians have not yet achieved legal equality. Because of hatred and prejudice, lesbian mothers can still lose custody of their children despite overwhelming proof that children in lesbian homes grow up healthy. Lesbians still do not have the right to bring partners to Canada under the Immigration Act. Lesbians of colour face a toxic mix of racial and homophobic prejudice.

The document points out the high suicide rate of young lesbians, which is indicative of the hatred and self-loathing experienced in a country that refuses to denounce homophobia and fosters heterosexist values and norms.

The document goes on to point out that internationally in many countries a woman who enjoys an intimate, physical relationship with another woman can be criminalized, jailed, slashed, flogged, harassed, shunned and sometimes even killed.

The document finally notes that women's right to sexual autonomy must be respected as well as their freedom to choose and celebrate their sexuality.

We as New Democrats support full equality for Canadian women and justice for Canadian women. I wanted to note particularly as well some of the challenges that face lesbians in Canada. We stand in solidarity with those women and we urge the government to respond to the very important demands made by the women's march in Canada.

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3:30 p.m.

NDP

Michelle Dockrill Bras D'Or, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his comments. I think he makes a very valid point. When we are talking in the House about equality, as women have been talking across the country, that is just what we are talking about: equality for all women who are Canadian citizens.

Recently we have heard a lot of discussion from the other side of the House about values, about Liberal government values. As a Canadian citizen I have to say that we all should be standing here and holding our heads in shame when we look at the social deficit that has been caused at the hands of the Liberal government.

As a mother I cannot imagine knowing and dealing with, day after day, my children having to go to bed hungry. Women across Canada to their credit yesterday sent a clear message to the government. This is not about our asking for equality. This is about Canadian women from coast to coast to coast saying we want it and we want it now.

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3:35 p.m.

NDP

Angela Vautour Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member gave a beautiful vox intellectus. I would like her to speak on the challenges of women in politics,

She experienced a bit of her ordeal through all this. There are challenges at every level including women who are in poverty and some who are not. We have a whole global problem when it comes to women in this advanced country. I believe that we have to look at all the issues. I would like the member to speak to that.

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3:35 p.m.

NDP

Michelle Dockrill Bras D'Or, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. As she knows, being a mother, it is a struggle and it is tough being a mother and not having the ability to feed or clothe one's children.

What we have seen happen is a slash, burn and cut mentality from the Liberal government. Unfortunately women have carried the brunt of the Liberal cuts.

With respect to the member's question about whether it is difficult, as I said earlier in my speech, the government talks about equality, but when we sit in the Chamber do we have equality? Not yet. Will we? I believe so.

What is important about the women's world march is that it is not about asking any more. It is about Canadian women demanding. This will be something for which women will want an answer from every government member when they possibly go knocking on doors in two weeks.

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3:35 p.m.

Reform

Philip Mayfield Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to the comment of the hon. member. She mentioned that there is no equality in the House. Could she explain to me where the lack of equality for men and women in the House exists?

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3:35 p.m.

NDP

Michelle Dockrill Bras D'Or, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is really simple. It is the number. All we have to do is look at how many men and how many women there are in the House of Commons.

Probably the member has some ideas about why that is so. We talk about equality. We hear the government talk about it all the time. If we as members are not committed to that equality when it comes to representing citizens, I am afraid that by the time my 11 year old daughter is old enough we still will not have that equality, if we do not have that commitment from the Liberal government.

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3:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Mark Muise West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Beauséjour—Petitcodiac.

It is with genuine sadness that I rise before the House to participate in the Bloc Quebecois opposition day motion calling for an end to poverty and violence against women. It is also demanding equality in the workplace and better health care programs for all women throughout the country. I say genuine sadness because who would have thought that as we entered the 21st century women would still be victims of domestic violence?

Governments are quick to condemn these acts of violence yet they do very little to protect individuals against their abusers. What about discrimination in the workplace and the high prevalence of poverty found within our female population? For years women have been listening to governments promise to address these inequities in society, yet most cuts in government spending disproportionately affect women. Provincial cuts for women's shelters and housing programs force many women to remain with abusive partners.

A lack of subsidized child care spaces and reductions in education and retraining programs effectively prevent women from pursuing a better life for themselves and their children.

I wish I could say that I completely understand and appreciate the frustration women are feeling because of the lack of progress in addressing their serious concerns, but to say that I completely understand would be patronizing and completely false. Only those women who live in poverty or are victims of violence or discrimination in the workplace can truly understand the situation.

In 1995, at the fourth United Nations world conference on women in Beijing, Canada reaffirmed its commitment to a number of international United Nations agreements including the charter of the United Nations, the universal declaration of human rights, the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, the convention on the rights of the child, and the declaration on the elimination of violence against women.

Let us add to this impressive list the designation by the UN that the years 1997 to 2006 are to be known as the international decade for the eradication of poverty.

With the Canadian government being a signatory to all these agreements, why are Canadian women still being marginalized and in many instances treated like second class citizens? I will tell the House why. It is because the Liberal government is more interested in offering lip service than actually addressing the serious concerns facing women.

On Sunday our Prime Minister met with a delegation representing over 5,000 women who gathered on the Hill to protest the lack of government commitment toward addressing serious women's issues. In 1993, prior to being elected Prime Minister, the leader of the Liberal Party wrote a letter promising to abide by any decision rendered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal with regard to the outstanding issue of pay equity. This issue affected approximately 200,000 predominantly female workers in the public service.

This is the same individual, our Prime Minister, who fought tooth and nail to try to prevent these workers from getting the money they so rightly deserved. The Prime Minister reneged on his promise just as he did on the GST and free trade. Unfortunately for women in Canada and around the world he is likely to renege on our international UN commitments as well.

In 1993 women working outside the home earned 72 cents for every dollar earned by men. This is totally unacceptable and serves only to magnify the disparity which exists in Canadian society. Already 60% of families headed by single women live below the poverty line. If this wage gap continues we can expect that the number of single women living in poverty will certainly increase.

What can we do to address poverty in the country? The PC caucus put together a task force on poverty last year that travelled extensively across the country to meet with Canadians to discuss the issues and try to come up with possible solutions to the problem. As a result of these extensive consultations, our party released a report in January entitled “It's Up To Us” which identifies a number of the problems associated with poverty and makes a number of recommendations on how some of these problems should be addressed.

Because the member for Shefford was instrumental in helping put this report together, I am confident that she will be able to convince her new party to adopt many of our measures.

What is the Liberal government doing to address domestic violence which continues to be perpetrated against women in society? The answer is very little. The tragic 1989 killing of 14 young women at École Polytechnique in Montreal shocked the nation and forced us all to look deeper into the roots of violence within our society.

Unfortunately, as so many people's memories of the event are waning, so is the Liberal government's commitment to finding ways to put an end to violence against women.

Statistics Canada reveals that at least 51% of all Canadian women have experienced at least one incidence of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16 and that sexual assaults account for almost one in ten violent crimes. This suggests to me that government policies are not working. We need more money for women shelters, community counselling, child protection, crisis lines and legal aid. We need better training for our enforcement agencies to handle domestic disputes. We need a justice system that is more in tune with the potential danger facing women by their partners.

As our Canadian women's lobby continues on to the world march in New York City, I can only hope that this Liberal government will take concrete measures in its expected mini-budget to address the immediate concerns of women's rights across the country.

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3:45 p.m.

Mississauga South
Ontario

Liberal

Paul Szabo Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that the member will appreciate that all Canadians are very concerned about the issues that the member talked about, which were child poverty and domestic violence. Certainly there are a number of issues. However, I was very interested in the member's statements about the domestic violence angle and the solutions that he suggested which were more shelters, more crisis intervention and many things after the problem occurs.

Would the member not agree that there should be a balance between prevention and remediation and that part of the solution of domestic violence is trying to make sure that it does not happen in the first instance? The member will well know that family breakdown is terribly high in Canada. In fact 50% of married persons will break up before their children reach their 18th birthday. He will also know that common law couples will also have the breakdown in their relationship 50% more frequently than married persons.

The problem here, and I am sure the member would like to comment, is the reasons why families break down and the reasons why the children are the real victims of divorce and family breakdown. The fact is it is not a simple, linear excuse. It is a multiplicity of things. I believe the member would agree that strengthening the Canadian family and investing in the Canadian family, men, women and children, and not making it simply a women's issue but making it a societal issue, is the fundamental prerequisite to addressing the serious problem of domestic violence.

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3:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Mark Muise West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I think the member's question comes truly from the heart and I recognize that.

My colleague's question and comments were genuine. I would like him to be able to share some of those same sentiments with his caucus so that the government enacts legislation and policies that will help people in society. Also, his comment that this is family issue and not just a woman's issue touches on an important point.

Today's children who are poor are poor because their parents are poor. When we have a situation in the home where people do not have the resources to adequately clothe, nourish and house not just their children but their whole family, it leads to stresses that cause the types of things that we are discussing today. As my colleague says, what we are looking at is even broader than just the women's issue. It goes back to the fact that the government has reneged and has cut to the point where families are negatively impacted, hence negatively impacting women.

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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member also touched on the issue of child poverty. He mentioned some statistics about lone parent situations. I understand that about 14% of all families in Canada are in lone parent situations but they account for over 54% of all so-called children living in poverty. Of course, the member will acknowledge that it is really families living in poverty. This again very clearly goes to the issue of family breakdown.

Would the member not agree that investing in the Canadian family and in our children, and making sure that children are raised in a healthy and well adjusted environment so that they can grow up to be healthy, well adjusted children as they move into adult life, is prevention versus remediation? I think the member gets the gist that my concern is not so much what to do when we have the problem. My concern is more with what are we doing to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place.

I do not say for a moment that we should legislate behaviour but I think we have to encourage healthy family life in Canada.

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3:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Mark Muise West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is fine for my hon. colleague to say what he said. However, when I look at the cuts the Canadian people have suffered over the last seven years, a $33 billion surplus in one year, and I see poverty and all the negative impact that it has on the Canadian population, I cannot stand here and accept what my colleague is trying to put across to the Canadian public.

The Canadian people deserve a part of the $33 billion surplus. A good chunk of the surplus comes from the people who could least afford to pay it. They are single parents, those on fixed income, the poor and the elderly. That is not acceptable.

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3:50 p.m.

NDP

Angela Vautour Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the organizers for the marches across the country and the world. A world women's march does not happen overnight. We are talking about days and months of organization. As a woman member of parliament, I want to thank them for everything they are doing.

I was part of the organization when we organized the national women's march against poverty in 1995 or 1996. I helped co-ordinate the march in New Brunswick which certainly brought awareness. Pay equity was one of the big issues.

After several courts, the Liberals finally decided to pay what was owed to mostly women who were federal government workers. Maybe to the Liberals it did not seem very important but it recognized that there was an inequity within salaries of federal employees. What the mostly women and some men did with that money was reinvest it in their communities. It also helped a lot of them to catch up.

I want to also recognize the work that was done by the members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. We have to thank them. We have to thank Nycole Turmel and the whole group who worked on this. Without their persistence and work I believe that women would not have won this very important justice that was owed to them.

Ten minutes is certainly not enough time to talk on all the issues but we have to touch on violence.

Violence against women is clearly unacceptable. There is certainly too much violence against women in this country.

Women's needs are not being met by our justice system. Too often women find themselves in dangerous situations. They ask the courts for help, but their spouse still manages to find them eventually, and we often see children who end up losing their mother.

Too often women live in shelters. This should not be happening. They should have the right to live in their own home, in their own environment, and feel safe. We must address this problem. Too many women live in fear and insecurity, afraid to leave the house or go to work, because they fear for their life.

Looking at the way the justice system works, it is obvious that the Liberal government has to do a lot better to correct the problem.

As my colleague mentioned a while ago, we certainly have to address the problem. Yes, I believe in prevention. I believe in a justice system. We need more prevention. We need prevention at home and, as mothers, we need to make sure that we address that with the our children. We need a society that talks about it and recognizes it. We need governments that address the problem. That is how we are going to fix this.

We also need shelters and we need to put a lot more money into them. We have the rural communities which are always disadvantaged. Shelters for battered women are much needed in our rural communities. We always have to scrape and scrape to try to get enough funds to operate shelters which are safe homes for women and their kids. They are safe homes that allow those moms to get out of a situation. They can get some counselling. They can reflect on their situation. They can get safety for their children. Then after they have had a time to rest, to feel safe and secure they can make those decisions. Those shelters work.

I used one quite a few years ago and it worked. There was counselling. Children were safe and the women could think. Unless we have those shelters for women who need them, they cannot get out of the environment. They cannot think straight. It does not matter how much prevention there is we will never solve all the problems. However, we need the shelters and we need to reinvested in them. All levels of government need to co-operate and address that. If we do not then we are not facing up to the problem.

Most children living in poverty are female. We have to look at the changes to the EI.

The changes to the employment insurance program have affected seasonal workers, of course, but women in particular. Did the Liberal government recognize that when it brought in these changes? The Liberals said that the changes to the employment insurance program would primarily affect women. Now they want to make changes to maternity leave.

It is very nice to tell women that they will get a one year maternity leave, but how many women can afford to take advantage of it with 55% of their $6 an hour salary? These women will spend a minimum amount of time at home with their children because they are forced to go back to work. They have no choice, because they cannot stay at home and live on 50% or 55%—the new amendments have not been adopted, and it looks like the government will not let them go through—of their salary. A woman cannot afford to stay at home with her children if she receives the equivalent of $3 an hour. It is simply not possible.

It is very nice to announce that a woman will be able to stay at home for a whole year with her children, but that only applies to women who earn big salaries. Those who are at the bottom end of the income scale will not have access to maternity leave, because they will not be able to afford it. We must also take a look at the child care program.

Child care is a big problem in this country. In August I released my report. On page 31, I recommended that we look at child care, especially in rural Canada. There are serious problems when it comes to child care. It is too expensive. A lot of women are working in fish plants or in tourism and are earning low salaries. They cannot afford child care. So where are the children going? The children are going where the moms and parents can afford afford to send them. Are they getting the best care? I am not too sure that they are. Is it the parents' fault? No, it is not the parents' fault.

We have to address child care in this country. It is not right and it is not fair that only people making high incomes can afford child care.

I do believe that Quebec has a good example in child care at $5 a day. We have to look at that. We have to look at it as a model and implement it across the country in different provinces where governments want it. I believe every provincial government should want an affordable child care program for parents. The children deserve it. If those governments do not care about the parents perhaps they should care about the children who are the ones suffering at the end of the day.

Let us look at breakfast programs. On the weekend I was talking to a director of a school of about 500 children. Two years ago he had to put in place a breakfast program, not twenty years ago but two years ago. He is feeding 20% of the kids in that school at least one meal a day, which is an awful shame. Why? Not because the parents are doing better, but because the parents are making less money and everything is going up. It may be gas, milk or bread, but everything is going up. Salaries are not going up. They are going down. Those are the issues that keep parents and children in poverty. That is not right.

How about part time workers? Who usually has a part time job? It is women. Which group was attacked most in the EI cuts? It was part time workers. They now pay into the fund but they cannot collect. Before when they used to pay they used to get at least a little bit but now they do not.

When the EI legislation was passed it was clear that women in particular were going to be targeted by it. The government passed it anyway. We need a system in place with policies that make sure there is not one group in particular being targeted. This Liberal government does not do that. The government speaks well today that it cares about women and poverty but I do not think it is really doing anything about it.

Violence and poverty among women has to be addressed. We are living in a very rich country. Every woman should feel safe in her home. Every child should have food in his stomach when he goes to school. Only by addressing poverty among parents can we ensure that. Single parents are usually women. This issue has to be addressed. Talking about it is not enough. We need sound policies that are going to address it once and for all.

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4 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech. I am very pleased to see that she will probably support the Bloc Quebecois' motion.

It provides, and I quote:

That this House work to provide the means needed to fight poverty and violence against women as demanded by the World March of Women, particularly in the areas of income protection, health, international aid, violence and wage parity, so as to ensure a fairer distribution of wealth between women and men.

The member mentioned the $5 day care program that Quebec has put in place and that is indeed an excellent program. Could she provide more information and tell us whether she shares the viewpoint of the Canadian women's march committee, the representatives of all Canadian women, which, concerning demands pertaining to issues under Quebec's jurisdiction, recognized that Quebec has the right to establish its own standards, programs and policies in these areas?

Could the member tell us whether she shares this viewpoint, the one of the women of Canada, which is ahead of everything the federal government has proposed? For many years, the federal government has considered that it alone could put forward such a vision. Should the Liberal government not in some specific way respond to the demands from Quebec to grant the parental leave that the government of Quebec has set up and which is part of a structured family policy, rather than limit itself to ensuring its visibility through the program it condemned, namely the parental leave program under the employment insurance program? It will leave people with low incomes in a state of poverty, thereby ensuring that it is simply unrealistic to take a year's leave.

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October 16th, 2000 / 4 p.m.

NDP

Angela Vautour Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, NB

Mr. Speaker, my answer is clear: I believe so. The government must consult the provinces. I believe Quebec has a formula that works.

It has proven that the $5 dollar a day child care program works. There cannot be an immediate no simply because it is Quebec. It is clear that anything coming from Quebec triggers an immediate no from the Liberals. I am not saying that they should always say yes, but they should consider the situation in each province. There must be leadership. Provinces must be encouraged to participate with the federal government and the municipalities. The problem must be addressed. The maternity leave problem is a serious one.

Only high income women will be able to afford to stay at home with their children. The women who work for minimum wage in a variety of factories—there are plenty of women in my area who work year round for $6.50 an hour—are certainly not going to stay home for a year with their children, not out of choice but for financial reasons.

The government must sit down with the provinces and find a workable formula. It should not do so with all provinces at the same time but rather one at a time, in order to solve the problems once and for all.

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4:05 p.m.

Mississauga South
Ontario

Liberal

Paul Szabo Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity to write a monograph entitled “The Tragic Tolerance of Domestic Violence”. I would like to share with the member a couple of statistics.

In January 1998 a newsletter called “Common Sense and Domestic Violence” reported that only 25% of women in shelters actually go there to use the shelters as hostels. It also showed that 50% of cases of domestic violence involve alcohol use or misuse. It showed that 71% of domestic violent situations occur in non-marital relationships and that 30% of all abuse cases occur between the ages of 18 and 34.

I think the member will probably acknowledge, and maybe she could acknowledge, that this is not a simple societal problem we are dealing with and in fact only 15% of cases of domestic violence are ever reported to any authorities to break the cycle of violence. Would she not agree that encouraging women to step forward and report cases of violence is an important part of the solution as well as requiring mandatory counselling for all those convicted of domestic violence in order to prevent the reoccurrence?