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

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the hon. member has forgotten but when we came into power in 1993, instead of finding $11 billion in surplus as the Conservatives did, we ended up finding ourselves with a $42 billion deficit. It took a long time to pay down that deficit and to get the finances of the country under control.

All Canadians had to make a lot of sacrifices. Many things that we all wanted to be done were not done because we had to put the country's financial house in order.

We started working on being able to fulfill our commitment to child care, not because it was a promise we made, but because we happen to think it is one of the most important social programs for Canadians.

It takes some time to do, because 10 provinces have to come on board to do it. Once we had the money for that program it was our full intent to do it.

We can certainly rest assured the NDP will never do it because that party will never be in power to have that opportunity.

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, does the hypocrisy of the Liberal Party know no bounds, none at all?

Blaming the opposition parties for the Liberals' defeat speaks to their own sense of entitlement. That is what Canadians got fed up with.

In the 2006 election, 70% of Canadians voted for parties other than the Liberal Party. I think the official opposition needs a little history lesson. In April 2005 the Liberal prime minister of the day went on television and told Canadians that he planned on calling an election in nine months. On November 28 of the same year, the Liberals lost a vote in Parliament and Parliament was dissolved. That was only 46 days earlier than the Liberal prime minister had indicated the election would be. It just defies any kind of common sense.

Is the member trying to tell Parliament and the Canadian people that in 46 days the Liberals would have solved the child care problem in this country, solved the environmental crisis in the country, and brought in changes to the environment programs that would have cleaned up the environment? Is the member trying to tell us that the terrible record of Canadian governments in terms of aboriginal people in this country, that in 46 days the Liberals would have solved all those problems if the opposition parties had not brought the Liberal government down?

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me make it very clear. The reason we lost that vote and were defeated was directly as a result of the NDP and its constant philosophy about how important all these social programs are.

Now the NDP members have nothing to look at, nothing else to do but complain because the Conservative government is not doing anything, but they had better get used to it because that government is here for a little bit longer. You can rest assured there will be no child care program--

Opposition Motion—Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. The hon. member for York West should know better than to keep saying you this and you that.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North on a point of order.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I believe if you seek it, you will find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That the member for Trinity--Spadina be added as an Associate Member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The House has heard the terms of the motion by the hon. member for Winnipeg North. Is there unanimous consent?

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:25 p.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

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion. It is appropriate that during international women's week we are debating a motion about many issues facing women across the country.

We have heard from women from across the country over and again who feel that they are losing ground. They are indeed losing the gains made by the women who have come before them over the last 35 years, gains that have come about as a result of the royal commission on women and many other initiatives.

We have a government that is targeting its policies, its programs, its tax credits and its grants and subsidies are going only as a favour to those groups who support that party. Indeed, I would say that in recent days we have heard representatives of those groups trumpet their success in affecting government policy, which is reason to give most of us here cause for concern.

The motion before us condemns two parties in the House for helping bring about a government that is hostile to the rights and needs of women and to other vulnerable Canadians. Having said that though, I have been a member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women since its inception. I want to acknowledge that as an individual member of Parliament, it has been a pleasure to work cooperatively with three colleagues in particular on women's issues. The member for Laval, the member for Laurentides—Labelle, both in Quebec, and the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan and I have worked cooperatively in the best interests of women and we have tried to do what we think is right.

I know that the tactical decisions that are made by their parties are often not theirs but I would urge them in turn to speak to their leadership on the importance of ensuring a government that will act, that will speak and that will move forward on behalf of women and those most vulnerable in our country.

We know that Canadian women face many of the same obstacles as those in developing countries. One in five Canadian women lives in poverty. Canadian women still earn substantially less than men. In 2003, women's average earnings were 64% of that of men. More than half of all women in Canada have had some form of post-secondary education; however, Canadian women are still less likely than men to have a university degree.

Women accounted for nearly half of Canada's employed workforce. That is very important to note, particularly in light of the often overemphasis on family responsibilities. We have seen what the government has done.

On another issue I want to cite a very serious and less publicized incident where the Prime Minister broke his word. During the 2006 election campaign, the Prime Minister, as a candidate and leader of his party, signed the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, commonly known as the CEDAW pledge, which committed the government to act on promoting the equality of women. He has not kept his word, and I question, is it because the vice-president of REAL Women, in a discussion of the court challenges program at the status of women committee on December 4, 2007, said when commenting on CEDAW, that CEDAW is not to be taken seriously and she would not pay attention to what CEDAW says.

We heard today about the many setbacks women have faced, such as the court challenges program, child care or the lack thereof, the lack of funding for research and advocacy, in spite of the fact that many of the very knowledgeable presenters at the status of women committee base their information on the research undertaken through the funding previously available through the status of women. Where that will come from now remains to be seen.

We have heard about housing challenges. We have heard about the shutdown of services to women across the country. We have heard about unattached senior women being discriminated against. We have heard about the removal of the word “equality” from the mandate of Status of Women Canada. We have heard about the government's unwillingness to honour pay equity.

And as I was sitting here waiting to speak, I received word that the women's future fund is being cut and will no longer be available.

What we have seen from the government is a general disrespect for the realities of the lives of women, and I would add, a disrespect for the intelligence of women through a game of smoke and mirrors. I want to highlight two particularly egregious examples of this.

The Minister for the Status of Women came to the status of women committee not too long ago and told committee members that she put the word “equality” back into the mandate of the women's program. I think the minister misrepresented the facts at that committee meeting. No change has been made to the funding requirements for the women's programs and that is what matters. Those are the guidelines they have to meet before they can apply and qualify for funding. Department officials subsequently confirmed that adding the word “equality” was only symbolic and that nothing indeed had changed.

Just yesterday there was more trickery for women, this time focused on aboriginal women. On Tuesday of this week, the Minister of Indian Affairs introduced a 52-page bill to address matrimonial real property on reserve, an issue that our party believes needs to be addressed. It is an important issue for women living on reserve. But yesterday the government knowingly asked the House to fast track this legislation through all stages, for the sole purpose of saying that during this week the Conservatives have finally addressed an issue of importance to women and aboriginal women in particular.

First, there is no respect for the committee members who had not yet been briefed on the legislation by government officials. In fact, I do not think the binders were yet in our offices. But more important, there is no respect for the women who were to be affected by the legislation.

Let me read from the Native Women's Association of Canada's press release:

The Minister of Indian Affairs...was well aware that NWAC did not support the legislative draft proposed after a lengthy meeting with him in December in which NWAC outlined the critical importance of systemic solutions, promotion of Indigenous legal systems and the need for nonlegislative solutions. These nonlegislative solutions are necessary to make the rights in the legislation real for communities.

Then the president of NWAC is quoted as saying:

As a result, we have not experienced our relationship with the federal Department of Indian Affairs of being one of partnership or even consultation but rather it feels like another experience of colonialism, or at best piecemeal, individually based solutions that will not result in real equality for the women we represent.

She then went on to say:

I promised Aboriginal women who participated in providing solutions to this issue that their voices would be heard. I worked hard to get their messages to government but those messages fell on deaf ears. I now fear that there is going to be more harm done to women than good. There is nothing in the legislation that addresses the systemic issues of violence that many women face that lead to the dissolution of marriages nor is there any money available for implementation. In the end, we end up with a more worthless piece of paper.

I want to speak to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, but I do not have the time. Let me just say that that document is another item of disrespect for aboriginal women who saw it as a great hope.

I wanted to speak of child care because in my riding of Winnipeg South Centre the waiting lists are 300 children long. They are not accepting any more.

We have heard much about choice, but I say that the only choice that parents have is to not go to work or not go to school. They have no choice.

I commend to all members a letter written by a woman named Tami Friesen, that was published in the Edmonton Journal Opinion section on November 26, 2007. It was on the issue of child care. I had hoped to have time to quote from it, but she underlines the essence of the issue exquisitely, if I might say so.

I hope that the women of Canada take note of what is happening to their rights, to their opportunities, both for themselves and their children.

In Winnipeg next week we are celebrating the accomplishments of five women who were trailblazers. Let me close with the words of the indomitable June Menzies when she said, “If you aren't constantly vigilant you go backwards”. We in this House must be constantly vigilant.

Opposition Motion--Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, would my colleague from Winnipeg South Centre take a message to the leadership of her party, as she asks us to do in our party?

Has she ever, in the period of time that the Liberals were in government, raised with her party the fact that they were the most right-wing, neo-Conservative government in the history of Canada and that their idea of social policy, their idea of addressing poverty in the inner city of the city that we share, was to cut, hack and slash every social program by which we define ourselves as Canadians?

The Canadian people tossed her party out of government, ran them out of government on a rail, virtually tarred and feathered them on the way out because they broke faith with the Canadian people. They not only broke their word and broke their social contract with Canadians to act in their best interests, they stole from them. They were corrupt.

I have listened to this self-serving opposition day motion of the Liberals today and it boggles my mind that they have the temerity to stand up with some revisionist history, and try to paint themselves as the champions of social justice and poverty fighters when they, who had it in their ability to do so, chose to do nothing.

I do not know if it was Dante, but somebody reserved a special corner of hell for those who had the ability to prevent evil, and chose not to do so and not to act.

The Liberals had the ability to make a big impact on child poverty, social inequity, women's rights and child care. Instead, when they were faced with surplus budget after surplus budget, they cut and hacked social programs, and chose to give tax cuts to their buddies on Bay Street and nothing to Main Street.

The area I represent in Winnipeg is the poorest zone in all of Canada. Believe me, in the 13 year tenure that the Liberal Party ruled this land it went from bad to worse. Child poverty: 52% of all the children in my riding live below the poverty line. It was 40% when the Liberals took over. Instead of using--

Opposition Motion--Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member, but the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre needs some time to reply.

Opposition Motion--Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague behind me says he really feels sad that we have to listen to that. I listened to the bluster and gamesmanship from that member. I know his riding. I know it well. I represented part of it, both as a member of Parliament and as a school board member. I have worked actively.

I can tell that member that I have worked with members of his community to effect programming in his riding that made their lives better. I have done it under a Liberal majority government and a Liberal minority government, and I have done it under this government. It is a lot of bluster from this member.

Opposition Motion--Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague who just spoke. We are both members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. I find all of this surprising. The Bloc probably would have supported the Liberal Party's motion today, because it is exactly in line what we have said, what we want and what we want to develop.

But I must also say that the question the NDP member just asked makes perfect sense. The Liberals were in power for 13 years, and we never saw so many cuts. It is not the Bloc's fault or the NDP's fault that they lost power. It is their own fault. How will they re-establish their credibility on the issues that caused them to lose power through their own fault?

Opposition Motion--Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I, too, enjoy a positive working relationship with my colleague and I am pleased to answer his question. I do not think there is an issue of re-establishing credibility. This party has credibility, and has credibility on these issues.

Canadians know that this party signed agreements for a national child care program. Canadians know that the Liberal government brought in a homelessness policy. Canadians know that the Liberal government balanced the books of this country, only to see it mangled and perhaps obliterated by members opposite.

I do not think there is an issue of establishing credibility. It is an issue of responding to the needs of Canadians.