House of Commons Hansard #61 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was equality.

Topics

Business of the House
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Beauport—Limoilou
Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for St. Catharines.

I rise today on a motion introduced on this opposition day, to speak to a number of issues related to the status of women in Canada, and specifically to talk about what our government has accomplished.

Our government is taking the necessary steps to support projects that help improve women's lives.

I am happy to remind this House that in budget 2008, our government announced that we would develop an action plan to advance equality for women in Canada by improving their economic and social conditions and their participation in democratic life.

I am proud to say that we have made changes to Status of Women Canada to modernize the organization. We have updated the women's program, with special focus on the terms and conditions of that program.

The mandate of the women's program now reads as follows: “to advance the equality of women across Canada through the improvement of their economic and social conditions and their participation in democratic life”. The program supports projects that improve the status of women in key areas such as women's economic status and violence against women and girls.

Our government wants to achieve real results for Canadians by addressing situations and issues that they consider important. That is why our government streamlined operations at Status of Women Canada and its regional offices and increased their accountability.

How did we do that? We also allocated additional resources to the important work the organization is doing for Canadian women, their families and their communities.

My hon. colleagues in this House will recall that in 2007, our government gave $10 million in additional funding to Status of Women Canada for 2007-08 and put in place a new funding mechanism for the women's program.

In this way, our government increased the grants and contributions budget of the women's program by 76% to a record high of $20 million.

With this additional funding, Status of Women Canada is now better equipped to distribute grants and contributions under the women's program and get more results for women. We believe that money must be made available to groups that are helping women in their communities. That is what helped us streamline the women's program.

The women's program is operating much more efficiently and cost-effectively thanks to its four points of service. Through this program, we are funding projects that reach women right in their communities, where they need it most.

As a result of an initial call for proposals from the women's community fund within the women's program, $8 million over three years will fund 60 projects reaching more than 60,000 women across Canada. Here are a few examples of projects funded by the women's program.

Two weeks ago, in Iqaluit, I announced that the YWCA of Canada will create three points of service in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon, where culturally appropriate health services will be offered, along with entrepreneurial job training, child care programs and programs for the prevention of violence against women and children in aboriginal and northern communities.

The organization Femmes Équité Atlantique will tackle the obstacles facing Acadian and francophone women aged 16 to 30 and over 50 living in minority language situations in the Maritimes.

The organization Groupe Femmes, Politique et Démocratie will offer leadership training to 600 women all over Quebec and mentor some 100 women in Quebec who wish to actively participate in the democratic process.

The Planned Parenthood Association of Edmonton will provide support and services in the area of reproductive and sexual health to some 100 immigrant and refugee women living in Edmonton.

Another call for proposals by the women's community fund met with unprecedented success. We received more than 300 proposals.

This overview confirms that the existing regional offices of Status of Women Canada ensure that implementation of the women's program is far-reaching and truly effective. Status of Women Canada is continuing to serve women throughout the country, in both rural and urban areas, from these four offices, which now operate at maximum efficiency. Electronic communications allow us to properly serve our clients.

Streamlining the operations of the women's program has resulted in much greater efficiency in many respects. A two-tiered application process is now in place. The women's program accepts general funding applications throughout the year. Specific calls for proposals are launched periodically.

We want to work together to improve the lives of Canadian women. This means that more projects and more funds must directly help women in their communities in an effective and responsible manner. In order to achieve this objective, we carefully reviewed all aspects of the work of Status of Women Canada.

Changes are not restricted to the women's program and regional offices. All Status of Women Canada operations were streamlined. Staff is concentrating on the clearly defined priorities of the organization—women's economic security and prosperity and the elimination of abuse—so that they may take full advantage of the funding we are providing.

I am pleased to point out that in the 2008 budget our government announced that we would soon be preparing an action plan to advance equality of women in Canada by improving their social and economic conditions and increasing their participation in democracy. That demonstrates true respect for Canadian women.

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member talks about a very long list of programs that have opened, or are opening, across the country. I have no problem with these. Projects on the ground that help individual women survive and improve their conditions are absolutely admirable. There is no question that these were done before.

However, these programs will never meet the needs of all women who desperately need services. They will only serve some women. In one case I think the hon. member mentioned 600. In my riding alone, I met with a group of women last week from a number of communities. They are looking for work because none of them have jobs.

These projects will never serve every woman who needs help. Organizations that do advocacy look at domestic violence. They look at access to services for women. They identify the policy differences and then they lobby. The government has eliminated the lobby process.

Will the government fund the research and advocacy of organizations? These organizations identify the needs of women and identify solutions. They then communicate those solutions to standing committees and governments across the country to ensure the conditions for women change overall?

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I have said, and I cannot say this enough, we are working to give funding directly to women in need, to all Canadian women across Canada, including women in Quebec. We want to deal directly with them.

We have proven a number of things. With all due respect to my colleague, it is by working directly with women that we understand their needs. And they need funding to be available.

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, the opposition has been calling for the court challenges program to be reinstated by the government for a long time now. We have never really gotten an answer from the hon. member on that.

I would like her to explain to this House how the court challenges program worked, what the government thought was wrong with it and why it abolished the program.

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, as hon. members know, the court challenges program matter is before the courts and I will not answer that question.

Nonetheless, it always makes me laugh to see that the Bloc Québécois is now interested in official language minorities when we know full well that that very party has never lifted a finger for francophones outside Quebec. I do not owe the Bloc Québécois any explanation—especially when it comes to this.

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the comments of the member. I want to ask her some specific questions about the record of her government in terms of a commitment to the equality of women and the promotion of women's social economic justice.

As part of the Conservative government's fat trimming, it cut $5 million from Status of Women Canada, which was about 40% of the operating budget of that department. These cuts were made with no consultation or debate. Yet on the same day it made the cuts, the government announced a $13.2 billion surplus for 2005-06.

Just what is the Conservative agenda for women? It appears to be one of cuts, no commitment to child care, no commitment to the real actions, like pay equity, which would improve the lives of women in our country?

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, our record is this: our government grants $20 million a year to projects that have a direct impact on women and girls, which is a record for Status of Women Canada.

Furthermore, several Canadian government programs are directly related to women, such as the official languages minority communities program, the aboriginal peoples' program, particularly the national women's organizations component, the women's multiculturalism program, the Justice Canada crime prevention program, programs funded by Health Canada, and the Citizenship and Immigration Canada immigration settlement and adaptation program. We have several other programs.

Whenever we present a budget and we want input from women, the NDP always votes against those budgets.

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the opposition day motion suggesting that the government should amend the criteria of the women's program of Status of Women Canada to give access to groups engaging in research, defending rights, or simply lobbying government.

First, permit me to make one thing clear. The Government of Canada does not make funding decisions based on who an organization is; it does so based on what the organization actually does. This is certainly the case with the women's program of Status of Women Canada. The program provides funding for projects by not for profit and for profit organizations, and the projects must provide a direct benefit to women and their specific communities.

As a result of these funded initiatives, our government is increasing equality for women and their families by improving their economic and social conditions and their participation in the democratic life of our country.

The women's program and regional operations directorate takes the lead within Status of Women Canada for funding community based action that addresses issues directly related to equality for women.

The women's program was established in 1973. Since that time it has provided funding to women's organizations and other equality seeking organizations in our country.

Over the past several years the women's program has experienced a number of changes. Those changes were based on a move toward an increased focus on accountability and seeking quantifiable results for the funding projects.

The program has undergone reviews, renewals and various changes. They have been implemented to improve the operations of the program itself, as well as its capacity for results focused action and accountability.

The women's program is working effectively for women in all their diversity and in every corner of our country.

The program's mandate is to advance the equality of women across Canada through the improvement of their economic and social conditions and their equal participation in democratic life. Similarly, the program's objective is to “achieve the full participation of women in the economic, social and democratic life of Canada”.

The women's program does this by providing assistance to organizations to carry out projects at local, regional and national levels in key areas, such as women's economic status, women in leadership, violence against women and girls, and programs that directly impact the lives of women from multicultural and first nations communities. This work must be done in an accountable and transparent way.

Our government is proud of our support and our work for the women's program. I do, however, find it ironic that the party opposite chose such a motion for today's topic. On the one hand it provides us with the opportunity to highlight the great work that we are doing for women in this country. On the other hand, and perhaps those members have forgotten, it was the Liberals who chose to vote against our budget in 2007.

The Liberals voted to take away the $100 child care benefit. They voted against more money for Status of Women Canada. It was members opposite who gutted gun crime legislation, weakening its specific intent. And they say that they stand up for women in this country?

It is this government that has increased the budget of the women's program to $20 million, an increase of 76%, the highest level of funding it has ever received. The increased grants and contributions are making a real difference in the lives of Canadian women facing challenges. As a result, the women's program is now better funded. It is stronger, more relevant, and more accountable than ever.

This government has also given the program the flexibility it needs to address issues of concern to women from coast to coast to coast. That is important because the concerns of women are as diverse as the women of Canada themselves.

These concerns can be very different and very specific, depending on the community and our country's great geography. Indeed, our recognition of the diversity of the women of Canada underpinned an important announcement yesterday that will benefit aboriginal women.

The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians announced that five new shelters will be built in five new communities across Canada. They will be built to help address violence against first nations women and their families.

This initiative builds on our government's one-time investment in 2006 of $6 million to meet the urgent operational needs of the existing 35 shelters. These five new shelters to be built in five provinces are the result of our further investment in 2007 of almost $56 million for the first nations family violence prevention program. Construction, I am happy to say, will begin this summer.

Initiatives like this, along with our government's support for women's programs, underscore our commitment for women. By using funding priorities, Status of Women Canada ensures women's program resources are invested where the need is the greatest and where there is a clear potential to make a correct, direct and concrete impact. This means that while all proposals receive due consideration, priority will be given to those that fall within the 2007-08 funding priorities.

Through its funding and services, the women's program enhances knowledge and engagement in advancing gender equality. Because of that support, a growing number of organizations are achieving their objectives and making a difference for their communities and for their regions in Canada.

The following issues have actually been identified as women's program priorities in 2007-08: first, women's economic security and prosperity; second, women's health, both non-medical and clinical; third, women's safety; and fourth and probably most important, eliminating all forms of violence and discrimination against women.

In addition, as of April 2007, this government diversified the women's program. It now offers two components: the women's community fund and the newly created women's partnership fund. Let me explain both of these.

The women's community fund focuses its support on eligible organizations to support projects at the local, regional and national levels. To qualify, projects must address the economic, social and cultural situation of women in their specific communities. The women's partnership fund, on the other hand, focuses its support on eligible organizations to carry out partnership projects at the local, regional and national levels.

The fund seeks to build partnership projects between the Status of Women Canada and eligible non-government recipients and public institutions to jointly address the economic, social and cultural situation of women in our country. Applications to the women's partnership fund are accepted throughout the fiscal year.

Clearly, the women's program is fulfilling its mandate and achieving its objectives. As a result of the efforts of our government, it is meeting the needs and it is meeting the interests of women all across our great country.

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member and I know he was reading his notes on the women's program. Essentially, what has happened since his party became the government is that no research or equality seeking advocacy is allowed under the current terms and conditions of the women's program.

One might ask why that is necessary. It is necessary because all of the good programs that someone can put in place to help with the problem do not help with the fact that we have to get over those hurdles, to knock down those hurdles so we actually get to equality, that we get the change in the system. The government has cut off the advocacy aspect. The research has been cut off, research that could help the advocacy to get real equality, to get real economic prosperity.

Has the member ever read the terms and conditions of the women's program? Does he understand what the difference is in the changes that his government has brought about?

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, obviously the member for London West is here on behalf of women and certainly to advocate for them. I might say though that the word “advocacy” itself, if used in the proper context, is not a bad word, but the fact is in the context of this program, it represented lobbying.

The one important component of what the program is offering in its present state after we changed it is the fact that it will go to programs that actually are implemented, that actually allow women to use the funding for its intended purpose, and that is to deliver programs.

To simply fund organizations with taxpayers' money, regardless of what those organizations may be, to simply lobby the government is not an appropriate expenditure of funds. It is not an appropriate expenditure of taxpayers' dollars. It is obvious because we have been able to take the money that was used for lobbying and invest it in programs where we are seeing sustainable and great benefits for women in this country.

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for St. Catharines for his comments. I heard him talk about “changes”. A number of times, he said that there were policy changes or program changes. I also noticed that the member for Beauport—Limoilou spoke about “streamlining”. When I hear the word streamlining, I think of cuts to spending or programs.

A number of my constituents have spoken to me about the closure of Status of Women Canada offices. The member for Beauport—Limoilou touched on this. I would like the member to speak about the closure of these offices. I would also like to know what positive things the Conservative government did before closing these Status of Women Canada offices.

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his attention to my speech and I appreciate his question. The answer falls along the same lines as the answer to the previous question.

The fact is that this government is not interested in funding lobbying efforts. What we are interested in is funding programs that work, and in this specific circumstance, programs for women.

The member asked for a couple of examples. There are a number: the funding under the official languages program for linguistic minorities, the aboriginal representative organizations program, the multiculturalism program, the crime prevention program at Justice Canada, and the programs funded by Health Canada.

Our government has funded and is implementing a program that makes sense, that actually can be implemented and used by women and organizations across this country within their communities, not to go to offices to meet with staff, to determine lobbying efforts and to travel to Ottawa to try to convince the government to give them more money to fund more lobbying. Those days are over and they are not coming back.

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by saying that I will share my time with the member for Laval, the Bloc's status of women critic. I am counting on you, Mr. Speaker, to let me know when I have one minute left, since I have only 10 minutes and I would like to be able to fit in as much as possible.

Since the Conservatives were elected in 2006, the members of this House have been able to see how this government completely ignores the women of this country. I am very tired of rising over and over to make the government and the minister listen to reason. Unfortunately, I do not think they care at all about we have to tell them about women.

The budget tabled on February 26 gave us a good idea of what the Conservatives think about women and their problems. With just five short lines in a document of over 400 pages, the Minister of Finance and his Prime Minister clearly showed that if women want a government that understands their everyday reality, they should show their dissatisfaction at the next election.

I would like to clarify some things about my Liberal colleague's motion.

Women's equality is a matter of human rights and, since the court challenges program was a useful tool in achieving that end, it should be reinstated.

The court challenges program was certainly perceived by the government as a thorn in their side, an obstacle to their medieval policies. It comes as no surprise then that the Conservatives got rid of the program at the first opportunity. Think of the negative impact this has had on women, francophone minorities outside Quebec and the first nations.

Ever since the program was abolished, the Bloc Québécois has been calling for its reinstatement. In the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, a majority of witnesses have underscored the importance and unique nature of the program. During those sessions, the witnesses told us that the program served the public interest and they explained its benefits to certain women's groups, including aboriginal groups, members of minority groups and disabled people. According to the witnesses, this is essentially an affirmative action program for vulnerable people in Canada. I will provide some examples of the benefits described by the witnesses.

The program helped women challenge unconstitutional federal legislative provisions and the government's inaction; the program offered marginalized people a way to challenge discriminatory practices, guarantee their rights to equality and defend their human rights; and the program assured an approach that is both methodical and respectful of the law. The government cannot now tell us that this program was no longer useful.

To provide a legitimate and necessary voice to the needs of women, research and advocacy should be restored to the government's women's program.

The Conservative version of the women's program has been so stripped of its meaning and means that unfortunately it is now just a shadow of its former self. Once known throughout the country as a practical tool to promote women's rights and a lever for research into their situation, today it is just a colourless, odourless shell.

With the changes made to the women's program, it has become so difficult to qualify for funding through that program that many groups, especially in Quebec, no longer bother to apply, since they know from the outset that their applications will be denied.

The research conducted by these groups is essential if the government wants to understand the reality facing everyday women, as well as the repercussions that these ultra-conservative policies have had on women over the past two years. By changing the access to funding guidelines for the women's program, the Conservatives have made sure that they will never again have to deal with a study demonstrating that their policies are bad for women.

Although the Bloc Québécois asked the minister to apologize for her dismissive attitude towards women's groups, the minister instead accused us of playing petty politics.

Pay equity, combating violence against women, abortion rights and economic security: is that playing petty politics?

The Liberal motion states:

(c) an adequate supply of high quality childcare spaces is essential to ensuring women’s participation in the workforce and the government should take the necessary steps immediately to create 125,000 spaces as it promised;

On this issue, I must say that I disagree completely with my Liberal colleague. Once again, when it comes to child care, Canada lags way behind Quebec.

For almost a decade now, everyone in Quebec has had access to child care services for $7, regardless of their economic status. Furthermore, this issue of child care falls under provincial jurisdiction, and everyone knows how vehemently we, of the Bloc Québécois, oppose any interference by the federal government in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

After the Conservatives were elected in January 2006, they began issuing cheques for $100 per month per child—a fine example that this government, like all federal governments before it, could not care less about respecting provincial jurisdiction. Had it taken the Prime Minister's speech about respect for Quebec to heart, this government would have transferred the money for this measure to Quebec so that we could improve our own child care system. The Bloc Québécois will always denounce federal meddling, especially with regard to our child care centres.

An OECD report stated:

There are...positive developments...to underline: The extraordinary advance made by Quebec, which has launched one of the most ambitious and interesting early education and care policies in North America. —none of [the Canadian] provinces showed the same clarity of vision as Quebec in addressing the needs of young children and families—

The Liberal motion continues:

(d) since access to government services is essential in rural areas and the government’s closure of 12 of 16 regional offices of Status of Women Canada further isolates rural women, the government should take immediate steps to improve access for our most isolated Canadians;

This government decision clearly proves that it does not have a clue about the difficulties many women in this country experience even today. How can the minister believe that she has a true understanding of the realities facing women when there are only four offices from coast to coast? The truth is simply that the minister does not wish to know about the distress of women in certain areas because that would force her to acknowledge that her Conservative government's actions, since coming to power, have definitely been mediocre.

From the very day that the 12 Status of Women Canada offices were closed, the Bloc Québécois has been calling for them to be reopened, especially the Quebec office. It is unbelievable that a Quebec minister and MP supported the closing of the organization's office in the Quebec capital. Knowing the importance of this office to women in the regions of Gaspé, the Lower St. Lawrence, the North Shore, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, Chaudière-Appalaches and Quebec City, we realize that the Conservatives have no consideration for women in Quebec regions.

The Liberal motion continues:

(e) there is a growing need in Canada for a national housing strategy designed to assist the most vulnerable in our society and to treat them with the respect they deserve; and

that, therefore, the House condemn the irresponsible and self-serving actions on November 28, 2005, by the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois which led to the installation of a government that is hostile to the rights and needs of vulnerable Canadians.

My goodness. It is clear from this part of my Liberal colleague's motion that even after being defeated in 2006 and spending two years in opposition, the Liberals are just as contemptuous and still have that culture of entitlement.

I would like to remind the House of why the Bloc Québécois decided to throw the Liberals out in November 2005.

Between 1993 and 2001, the Liberal government completely withdrew from funding new social housing. As a result, in Quebec, the homeless and people without adequate housing were deprived of nearly 43,000 social housing units.

The Liberal government's reduction of federal transfers to the provinces for income security had a direct impact on the poorest members of society in Quebec and Canada.

The cuts made to employment insurance by the member for LaSalle—Émard, the former head of the Liberal Party, forced hundreds of thousands of people onto welfare.

The federal government's withdrawal from funding social housing pushed tens of thousands of people onto the streets.

The Liberals' refusal to negotiate an agreement on parental leave hampered Quebeckers' efforts to balance work and family.

The Liberals' refusal to amend labour legislation in order to allow a real preventive withdrawal program created two classes of workers in Quebec.

The Liberals' refusal to substantially increase old age security meant that thousand of seniors were left to live out their days in poverty.

Do I have any time left, Mr. Speaker?