House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was care.

Topics

China-Tibet Dialogue
Routine Proceedings

11:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

China-Tibet Dialogue
Routine Proceedings

11:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

China-Tibet Dialogue
Routine Proceedings

11:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Government Policies
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House that I will share my time with the hon. member for Trois-Rivières.

It is with great sadness that I rise in the House today because, in many regards, the motion before us forces us towards a sad conclusion. My speech here this morning will focus mainly on the part of the motion that deals with the cuts made to Status of Women Canada.

For the past several weeks, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women has been hearing from representatives of women's groups directly affected by these cuts. These women's groups have made remarkable progress in achieving gender equality within our society for the women of Quebec and Canada.

These women have travelled from across the country to try to convince the government to reverse its decision. What is most shocking about these cuts is that they have been made deliberately.

The Minister for the Status of Women even stated—she had the audacity to say—that 12 of the 16 Status of Women Canada offices were being closed because the employees in those offices provided too much support to groups that lobby for women's rights rather than focussing on providing direct services to women.

First, I would remind the minister that direct services fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories. Second, it is extremely pernicious to do this sort of thing. It shows very little respect for women who are fighting to obtain their rights.

I fail to understand. Every day, it seems, this government tells us that Canadians are important to it and that it wants what is best for them. But every day, it seems, as a result of ideological decisions, the government makes them more vulnerable. I can not understand it. Women represent 52% of the population. Women all across Canada are protesting these cuts. To date, there is perhaps one group that I have heard of that was in favour of these cuts. That group is REAL Women of Canada.

I remind members that REAL Women of Canada represents 50,000 people while we represent 52% of the population, that is almost 18 million women. Consequently, 50,000 people out of 18 million is a very small number on which to base the policies that affect all women.

In addition, Gwen O'Reilly of the Northwestern Ontario Women's Center tells us that the cuts affect all the groups in communities that benefited from the services that were previously offered: francophones, aboriginal people, rural residents, and women’s groups working on issues of poverty, violence, access to justice and employment.

Yet, in December 2005, the Prime Minister made an election promise to respect and promote the human rights of women.

Where is he now? When do we hear him standing to speak out against the decisions of his ministers? Women know that he is not listening, as Mrs. Day of CFAIA put it so well.

Clearly, this government is very hostile toward women who form groups to defend and promote the principle of equality for women. The closing of 12 offices is an extreme measure to ensure that women’s organizations can no longer participate and make their voices heard in the development of public policies.

It is shameful to treat women this way, to try to muzzle them and to try to ensure that women will no longer have the chance to be heard in defence of their rights. It is shameful. I would even say that by changing this program into a program of services to individuals, the government wants to make women even more dependent.

The women of Quebec and of Canada do not need charity. That is what the government is now doing by changing these programs; it is offering charity. For too long, women were under the thumb of the Church. Everything they received was given as charity; they had no rights; they had to bend to the will of people who decided what rights we were entitled to.

Now, women have come into their own. We have developed tools and programs to ensure that all women have the same rights, that all women will have access to equality and that all women will have access to equity.

These budget cuts are designed to ensure that we will return to the middle ages and that women will become “real women”. That may be the Prime Minister's position. In my opinion, real women are persons unto themselves and REAL Women of Canada does not represent all Canadian women and especially not me. I consider myself to be a real woman and I believe that I have the right to express my disagreement when I do not agree with the decisions made for me and not by me.

As I was saying, Quebec and Canadian women do not need charity. We thirst for justice, equity and respect. Even though the Prime Minister and the Minister of Status of Women are trying to silence us, we will be heard. We will continue to speak out until the Prime Minister, his Minister of Status of Women, his cabinet and his members have understood and reinstate the programs and tools needed to attain these objectives of respect, rights, justice and equity.

Opposition Motion—Government Policies
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Roger Valley Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague made an excellent speech. She laid out some of the difficulties women face in Canada, especially in dealing with some of the harsh cuts that have been made by the so-called new government. My question deals with remote and rural parts of Canada where services are somewhat limited in any extent.

An office in Thunder Bay was closed as part of the cuts to the Status of Women organization. While that office was quite removed from my riding, it provided service to many communities, such as, Sioux Lookout, Red Lake and Kenora. People in those areas needed the services of this office. It was actually an anchor for them to know that in some way the government was reaching out to them and was going to be involved in some of the difficult issues the member mentioned. I wanted to bring that to the attention of the House and the member.

Although the challenges are great for women in many parts of the country and the urban areas have difficulties, imagine the difficulty for people in small remote sites all across northern Ontario. Women needed and relied on the resources that were provided through these offices. Those services need to come back. Those who live in some of the remote sites feel a sense of desperation and face a challenge. They relied on these services.

I would like to know if the member is aware of some of those situations.

Opposition Motion—Government Policies
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. As I said earlier, we heard from women from all regions of Canada. Yesterday, we had a woman from Yukon who travelled for a whole day to get to the committee meeting.

Whether from New Brunswick, Yukon, Alberta or British Columbia, women from all regions have told us the same thing: in many cases, cutting these programs will force their organizations to shut down. If that happens, women will no longer have access to services that were vital to ensuring that they obtain the rights and other services they are entitled to.

Opposition Motion—Government Policies
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Louise Thibault Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague. She spoke with her trademark sense of conviction. As she said, deliberate cuts have been made to women's programs.

The other issue we are all very concerned about is the Conservative government's cuts to the summer career placement program. The Conservative government made dramatic—and I do mean dramatic—cuts to these programs.

What are my colleague's thoughts on this? It will have a terribly negative impact on an entire segment of the population: the next generation, the future. Obviously, I am talking about our young students.

Opposition Motion—Government Policies
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question.

What I find really appalling and distressing is that the government does not see fit to hold consultations before making decisions. All of the programs they cut were useful and produced very good results.

All of the young people who went through these programs are now working for companies. Thanks to the summer career placement program, these young people provided services to society through the community organizations they worked for. The experience opened their eyes to other perspectives and realities. It helped them to understand that work is important and that it can be rewarding and stimulating.

Now the government wants to pull the rug out from under them by cutting the summer career placement program. Young people need this program so they can integrate into society and learn that work means more than earning a living; it also means getting involved in their society and their world.

Opposition Motion—Government Policies
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to talk about the part of this motion concerning the Conservative government's misconception that Canadians are not in favour of increasing the number of child care spaces on a national basis.

Let us not forget that supporting families is essential. In Quebec, three family support initiatives are the pillars of our program to help families. These three initiatives are financial support for families, increased number of child care spaces and the implementation of the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan.

This support is intended to promote equality between men and women, so that equality will no longer be a right, as it is today, but a fact.

All governments must truly commit to supporting families. Need I remind this house that 74% of women who have children under the age of six are in the work force? Need I remind this House that women are the heads of single parent families, the poorest families in our society? They need this support.

This support is necessary and part of it is the balance between work and family life. This work and family balance can only be achieved if the child care network is effective, financially accessible and available—in other words, it needs to be a top-notch child care network. When all these conditions are met, parents can satisfy their desire to have children.

The Canada-Quebec agreement on child care services and early learning was signed on October 28, 2005. This is a good agreement. The Bloc Québécois asked for it for years. We finally got it after a tough fight.

Unfortunately, one of the first things the Conservative government did when it came into power was to end this agreement and dig in its heels to oppose this way of doing things that was so appreciated by the majority of parents in Quebec. No one was complaining about this agreement. It truly gave the Government of Quebec the latitude to focus on its own jurisdiction and provide top-notch child care services.

The government responded with its new policy. Its right-wing vision—which we are seeing more frequently—does not meet the expectations of most Quebeckers; it only satisfies a small minority of people.

When the Canada-Quebec child care agreement ends, there will be a shortfall of $269 million a year for Quebec. This will further accentuate the fiscal imbalance. Our needs still exist in Quebec and the money still remains here in Ottawa.

After being elected, the Conservative government announced an annual allowance of $1,200. This allowance does not equal child care, and it is taxable. When the time comes to fill out their next tax return, Canadians will let us know that this amount is taxable.

For parents who are less well off, this diminishes the chances of receiving help from other levels of government. This amount is therefore further reduced.

The Bloc Québécois proposed that this $1,200 be given in the form of a refundable tax credit. This would have cost the government no more money and would have helped families that are less well off. The government ignored this proposal, which upset many taxpayers. More right-wing bills!

However, the Conservative government must acknowledge that it made a big mistake in cancelling this agreement. Quebec's family support program—although not perfect and constantly evolving—is valued by Quebeckers. It has even been recognized by the OECD. As I already mentioned, Quebec families are supported through comprehensive, harmonized measures, policies and programs.

I would like to remind the members that it is up to Quebec to set its own standards. We must respect the its jurisdiction and allow Quebec to retain complete control over education and child care issues.

It is clear that Quebec is satisfying expectations. Thanks to these measures and according to the latest statistics, the number of births rose gradually between 2003 and 2005 from just under 74,000 to just over 76,000. The rate of increase accelerated in 2006; the most recent estimates indicate that there were 82,500 births in 2006, the most recorded in Quebec since 1997.

It appears that when we support women and families and provide a fair and accessible child care system, we can increase the number of children, who are certainly our greatest treasure.

In 2003, Quebec's goal was to create 200,000 more child care spaces. The province met that goal.

The Bloc Québécois will support today's motion because the Conservative government is imposing an ideological agenda that is too socially conservative, pigheaded, and not in line with what the people want. Child care services are a right, not a privilege. The women of Quebec and Canada are clamouring for it, and they expect their governments to support them. To ensure our children's future, we must provide quality child care services as part of an education system that is worthy of a developed country like Canada.

Opposition Motion—Government Policies
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the issues that has seized the House in the last couple of days has to do with the appointment of persons to committees to recommend the appointment of judges. Indeed, yesterday there was an admission by the Prime Minister that his ultimate intent is to appoint judges who are sympathetic to his particular view of the world.

Does the member think that this intrusion on the judiciary and the imposition of the executive in terms of affecting the character and makeup of the judiciary is an inappropriate approach to the criminal justice system?

Opposition Motion—Government Policies
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, this approach is definitely inappropriate. We must realize, and this pertains particularly to my comments regarding child care, that this right-wing government is concentrating on law and order. It is intent above all on imposing the will of a more right-wing and centralist state.

I believe that this desire to appoint judges who will endorse the government philosophy is truly unacceptable meddling in a political system that has a clear separation of legislative, judicial and executive powers.

Opposition Motion—Government Policies
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, on another issue, with regard to the Kyoto protocol, yesterday the House passed Bill C-288. The bill basically commits to meet our undertakings under an international agreement to which we are a party.

The Conservative government eliminated every reference to Kyoto from its websites. It has constantly indicated that it does not support the protocol and that it is not interested at all in trying to meet the targets under that protocol.

Quebec has shown some leadership in terms of climate change initiatives. I wonder if the member would care to comment on why it is important for Canada to make commitments as outlined in the Kyoto protocol in the best interests of the future generations of Canada.

Opposition Motion—Government Policies
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, the environment file is definitely complex. We managed to reach a consensus on a protocol such as Kyoto, a major global agreement, and then Canada reneges on its commitment. It seems to me that this is something that should never happen.

I believe that Quebec is doing the right thing by attempting to reduce greenhouse gases. With hydro electricity, Quebec has developed a truly clean energy resulting in a great deal less pollution and damage. The Conservative government should consider this in the set of measures it adopts.

Opposition Motion—Government Policies
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canadians who may be watching this debate must be very frustrated listening to members of each party criticizing members of other parties. We have a blame game going on. I think the experience of life for many Canadians is one of a deterioration of their standard of living and a nervousness about their future and their children's future.

However, I do not want anyone to get me wrong. There is certainly lots of blame to go around and much of that has been put on the table this morning.

Canadians have real concerns about their day to day lives that they want to see their government address. I want to touch on a few of the issues that have been brought to me by my constituents in Parkdale—High Park in Toronto.

The first concern is on the issue of child care. I have been campaigning for a national child care program since before my children were born. My youngest son is 21 years old and we still do not have a national child care program. However, during that time we have seen a generational change where in the 1970s only about one-third of mothers with children under the age of five were in the paid workforce and now we see almost three-quarters of mothers with children under five in the paid workforce. We have seen a massive social change during this period.

Successive federal governments have failed to address this change. Canada is one of the few developed, industrialized democracies that does not have a national early learning and development program for its children.

I have campaigned for many years in my community on the need for a national, not for profit, good quality child care program that puts the needs of our kids front and centre. It would not replace the role of parents. It would embrace the role that parents play and try to help them in every way possible.

Unfortunately, governments after governments have squandered the opportunity. Even when we had successive balanced budgets and successive majority governments, especially by the previous Liberal government, there was too little too late. There was a kind of deathbed conversion to the issue of child care that, unfortunately, squandered the opportunity.

To now see the current government roll back the baby steps taken by the previous government in terms of provincial agreements on early childhood development is, quite frankly, shocking. For the government to replace that with a kind of taxable baby bonus and to tie that up in a bow and pretend it is child care, people do not buy it.

Mr. Speaker, I neglected to say that I will be splitting my time with my colleague here.

For the government to pretend that what is being offered to parents is a baby bonus, is quite a dissimilation. We need to recognize that the majority of parents are facing a difficult reality today. I know that in my riding the child care fees go anywhere from $800 up to $1,400 for a child and yet the waiting lists are long. In some child care centres hundreds of kids are on the waiting lists. Parents are at their wits end trying to deal with the situation.

Child care is an urgent crisis and I do not think Canadians care which party deals with it, they just want it dealt with. They want the blame game to stop and they want parties to get on with representing them here in the House of Commons and make progress on the things that affect their daily lives.

In my community there has been a real deterioration and a growing poverty. Studies have called it the growing gap. We see people who increasingly are working for very low wages. Housing costs are skyrocketing. The average cost of renting an apartment in my riding is about $1,000. People simply cannot afford this. Transit costs a lot. People need to travel great distances to get to work.

We know that in the 1990s there were massive cuts to social spending and most of that money was never restored. Welfare rates were cut, the national housing strategy was cut and people with disabilities and mental illness were left to fend for themselves.

Many university students in my riding have massive student loans and incredible debt that weighs on their shoulders when they finish university. Many graduates start out really terrified because many of them cannot get a job. Even after they graduate, it could take a number of years to find a job with a sufficient income to pay down their incredible debt.

Our cities, where 80% of the Canadian population lives, are stretched to the limit. The cost of services are being downloaded onto our cities. They have a $60 billion infrastructure deficit. They lack a national urban transit strategy, which is something for which I have been calling for some time. They are struggling to pay for things through property taxes, things that ought to be paid for through our income taxes. This has had the inevitable impact of a deterioration in our quality of life, especially our environment with the growing smog in our urban centres, and the deterioration of our water systems. My riding borders on Lake Ontario.

I think what Canadians need to judge all representatives by, especially governments now and past, is not what they say, especially when they are in opposition, but what they do when they are in power.

The challenge for the current government is to use this opportunity today to make, what I think has been a deteriorating situation in our country, it better, certainly not to make it worse.

One of the very bad decisions being made by the government is around politicizing judicial appointments. This is very dangerous. We have seen south of the border what happens when judicial appointments are politicized and how very dangerous that situation can be.

Last night, I joined a number of members from this House to celebrate the successful outcome of the Maher Arar and Monia Mazigh situations, who, unfortunately, were the victims of a climate of fear created after the September 11 attacks and the casting of a net so wide that it began to undermine our democratic rights and freedoms. It was, in part, because of a courageous judge who spoke the truth and cleared Mr. Arar's name, that ultimately led to his exoneration and finally to a public apology by the Prime Minister. Hopefully, the family will now be able to get their lives back on track.

However, that case hit home once again the importance of an independent judiciary and the importance of having our fundamental human rights and our democratic rights protected at all costs.

We also have great concern with the government cancelling the court challenges program. It is a very small amount of money in a multi-billion dollar government. It is only $5 million to ensure that those whose rights are supposed to be protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms actually have access to the necessary legal processes to have those rights defended.

When a francophone, a woman, a lesbian, a gay, a bisexual or a transgendered person, a person with a disability, a first nations person, whoever a person is, does not have access to the halls of power, to have the court challenges program as a safety measure to ensure their rights are protected is fundamental. I see no justification for the complete elimination of this program. I find that very troubling. Because so many disadvantaged people have had to seek their rights through the courts, I believe this is a provision that must be enshrined.

I have spoken out many times against the cuts to women's programs and literacy programs. It is important that these programs be restored and that opposition voices be guaranteed in our country. It is a sign of maturity and security on the part of a government when it not only allows opposition voices but in fact encourages and fosters opposition voices. That is a sign of a healthy democracy.

As Canadians listen to these debates, they expect us all, whatever party we are in, to do better and to act on behalf of the good of all Canadians.