House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was commissioner.

Topics

Canada Shipping Act, 2001
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Public Safety and National Security
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

June 18th, 2008 / 3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in relation to the study of conductive energy weapon tasers.

Public Safety and National Security
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for the unanimous consent of the House for the following motion: That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) call on General Motors to maintain production at the Oshawa truck plant throughout the term of the 2008-11 collective agreement with the Canadian auto workers; (b) insist that multinational auto manufacturers respect the principle of the Auto Pact requiring one vehicle to be manufactured in Canada for each vehicle they sell in Canada; and (c) adopt a green car strategy that would require auto makers to additionally allocate a proportional share of environmentally advanced vehicles and components to the Canadian production facilities.

Public Safety and National Security
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Public Safety and National Security
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Status of Women
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move that the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Status of Women presented on Wednesday, April 16, be concurred in.

I am very proud today to have the real honour of moving this motion for the appointment of an equality commissioner. This is a motion that I put forward in the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. As some members of the House know, the report on gender based analysis, or gender budgeting analysis, as tabled in this House by the standing committee, makes the same recommendation for an equality commissioner.

This has not happened at just the last minute. We have been discussing it for some time. Some people have asked why we are doing it now and not later. The reality is that we have been doing research and consultations and we have been discussing it for some time now.

In fact, in the fall of 2005, the previous Liberal government appointed an expert panel, which came back recommending a commissioner's position, with legislation attached, and it talked about how that would happen. Canada would not be the only jurisdiction to do this. In fact, the U.K. and South Africa have similar positions. This is a very important step for Canada. It is important because it deals with fundamental rights. Specifically, it deals with women's equality.

Many people say that women already have equality in the law. They say that the Charter of Rights and other pieces of legislation give women equality. That may be true, but if the legal document does not become real in everyday life and is not practised in everyday life, affecting all policies, then it really means nothing, and it does not help women.

We are talking about substantive equality, which is defined as women having the conditions for realizing their full human rights and their potential to contribute to national, political, economic, social and cultural development and benefiting from the results of these. We are talking about substantive and real rights that women can actually experience and benefit from.

An independent commissioner of equality is needed to report to Parliament. It is very important that he or she be an independent commissioner who reports to Parliament to ensure that governments are meeting their goals on equality, regardless of which government is in power and regardless of which policies governments are developing. It is very important that the commissioner be an officer of Parliament and therefore not subject to any government's change of decisions.

Again, the independent commissioner would be looking out for women in this country. This is very important. The commissioner would monitor discrimination in all government policies, including all legislation, budgets presented in the House, and all government policies practised and put forward by government.

As well, the commissioner would review all policies to see how government spends its money and who benefits. If the policies do not benefit women equally or actually hinder or are a detriment to women, they need to be addressed.

Women need this advocate because in many cases government policies to date have not benefited women. In fact, they have done the opposite. Therefore, it is very important that this happen.

In addition, the current government has put forward budgets that have actually silenced women in this country even more. Under the Status of Women Canada, we used to have funding for research and advocacy groups. That traditionally brought necessary research forward to the governments, research that governments relied on, or at least it brought forward analyses of where women were winning or losing in any way. This has been eliminated.

Funding for research and advocacy is no longer allowed at the national level, so women have lost a further voice. Again, this is all the more reason why we need an equality commissioner.

For those reasons, we need a separate entity to oversee the gender based analysis practices of the government. This would be an independent body. The commissioner would work not just within his or her own department but in the development of policies and on the impact of those policies across Canada.

The commissioner would be responsible for evaluating how the government is succeeding or not succeeding in doing proper gender based analysis from the time the policies are developed to the time the polices are actually implemented; that is, are all policies in government, including budgets, informed by gender analysis or not?

Many policies put forward by the current government and previous governments do not stand the test of a proper gender based analysis. Time and again, women are brushed aside in this country. Based on its commitment to and action on women's equality, Canada has dropped internationally in ranking, from first place in the mid-1980s to 18th place in 2006.

This is not something that we can be proud of in this country. We have dropped from number one in the mid-1980s to number eighteen in the world. That is pretty sad and is largely due to how we address women's issues in this country.

Canada's ranking has dropped because of a number of factors. I will go through some of those examples because they show where the commissioner in fact could be of great assistance and could have a major impact. Let us look at these examples, which show why women in this country actually have dropped back since the mid-1990s and are actually dropping further as we go.

Changes to the income tax system that were brought in by former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney in 1987 made women more vulnerable and economically insecure. For example, at that time, the lowest bracket for taxes paid was 6%, which was increased to 17%. Sixty per cent who lost in that--

Status of Women
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Order, please. It is with regret that I interrupt the hon. member. The hon. member for Avalon is rising on a point of order.

Fisheries and Oceans
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Fabian Manning Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, I apologize to the hon. member opposite, but there is a time sensitive issue that I would like to raise. I appreciate her cooperation.

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations between all whips and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, in relation to its study on the seal harvest, seven members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans be authorized to travel to Brussels, Belgium, in September/October 2008 and that the necessary staff accompany the committee.

Fisheries and Oceans
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move this motion?

Fisheries and Oceans
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Fisheries and Oceans
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Fisheries and Oceans
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Fisheries and Oceans
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

(Motion agreed to)

I declare the motion carried.

The hon. member for Beaches—East York.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Status of Women
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me recap just a little. As I was saying, in 1987 when former prime minister Mulroney changed the tax structure, the lowest tax bracket at that time was paying 6% of taxes, which was increased to 17%. In the lowest tax bracket, we find about 60% of women. Individuals were paying 34% at the higher end, which was decreased to 29%. That is where we will find about 77% of men who are paying taxes.

In other words, the lower end increased considerably and the upper end dropped. The majority of men saw their tax rates drop as a result of this, while the majority of women saw their tax rates increase, so 60% of women paid a lot more taxes as a result of that change.

In fact, in regard to the first budget the Conservative government brought in, we had lowered the lower bracket from 17% to 15%, but the first action of the government was to put it up from 15% to 15.5%. The subsequent budget lowered it to 15% again and the Conservatives called it a tax cut.

However, the reality is that women have lost tremendous spending power in this exchange. This means that the single mom who is struggling to pay rent and feed and clothe her children is now paying a lot more in taxes than the men at the top who are earning a lot more. Those men are paying a lot less in taxes.

Also, the Conservative budgets in the last couple of years have used the tax system to deliver social programs at the expense of women's economic security. Let me give members some examples of that, because generally the policies benefit single earner families, which are usually led by males.

One example is the government's tax-free savings account, which was introduced in the last budget. In this case, the higher earner could place $5,000 in his or her own tax-free account, $5,000 in his or her spouse's account, and $5,000 in the accounts of any adult children, leading to possibly tens of thousands of dollars in tax shelters for wealthy families. This is a great boon for people who have a lot of money and earn enough.

The reality, though, is that this type of tax measure does not at all benefit women, who tend to be in the lower income bracket. In fact, 68% of women in our country earn under $40,000.

Let me give members another example. On pension splitting, again part of the Conservative government's plan, the greatest benefit goes to those with private pensions of $80,000 or more whose spouses have no incomes, whose spouses actually do not work. In this category, men predominate among the higher earners. In cases where both spouses work, splitting that income would provide little or no benefit. In other words, if both spouses have worked all their lives, they really do not benefit from that too much. They benefit only if one of the couple is a single earner with a very high income.

Thus, there is no help for middle income families in this particular plan. There is no help for single Canadians. In fact, for single seniors in our society, or single women in particular, who are the majority of the seniors in our society, there is nobody to split with.

In fact, this program benefits only about 12% of wealthy Canadians. It is male seniors who benefit most from this measure. Again, this is another tax measure that does not benefit women.

The tax measures that are used tend to benefit higher income Canadians, not middle income or low income Canadians. This does not work for women, especially those who are in the lower bracket.

If a proper gender based analysis had been done and if there had been a commissioner who could actually have advocated for women and pointed this out, these kinds of inequities would not have crept into our policy development.

Another example of this is the universal child care benefit, which of course is not a child care program at all. In this case, while it is supposed to be $1,200 a year or $100 per month, it actually works out to approximately $48 per month. For parents who are spending $1,300 to $2,000 per month in child care, if they can find a space, that is, obviously this does not help them in any way whatsoever. I believe the lowest child care costs that can be found are at $800 a month in some cities.

Women often have to leave the workforce in this case because they cannot find child care. There are no spaces. Single women with no option but to work often use their entire paycheque for child care. Women have come to my office and told me that they have quit their jobs because they have been unable to find child care spaces. The money does not do it. It does not create any spaces; it creates no choice.

Therefore, what is the point of the tax policy structure when it really does not help in terms of providing a real social program for families, specifically middle to low income families?

We are talking about very substantive economic and social issues. Governments develop plans to deliver social and economic benefits to sectors of our society through the tax system. Most often, if not always, those structures do not benefit women because they do not earn enough money to take advantage of those things. This is where a gender equality commissioner is really important, to point out where these problems exist, because they exist constantly, and possibly to advocate for women.

It is quite clear then that the gender based analysis conducted by governments currently are not very effective. Some analyses are being done. Work was introduced in 1995, by the previous Liberal government, and a lot of work has been done. However, it is not enough.

At the standing committee, we received a report from the deputy minister of finance who conducted a gender based analysis on the government's most recent budget. What was tabled with the committee was not adequate. The committee brought in its own experts who talked about the items that finance had identified as being gender neutral, affecting men and women equally that is. The finance department said that the budget did not impact negatively on either gender, that it benefited them equally. However, according to the experts, it was actually detrimental. They also showed that 94% of tax measures introduced in the 2006 and 2007 budgets harmed women.

Again, this is a trend of delivering social and economic programs that do not benefit women. We said that an analysis should be done on budgets. The analysis that the deputy minister of finance presented to our standing committee indicated that the last two budgets were gender neutral when, in fact, they were very detrimental to women.

Again, a gender equality commissioner in this case would certainly be able to do his or her own analysis and speak out on behalf of women to ensure we did the right thing for them.

It is important to understand that 40% of women do not make enough money to pay income tax and most cannot take advantage of the tax credits. It is also important to remember that the average income for women in Canada is $37,000. What is the best way to help women in our country? Sometimes we talk about various policies, tax cuts and so on. Most of the current government's programs have come through the tax system, through tax credits, tax cuts and so on. These do not help women.

All our research shows that the best way to impact on women and children, the best way to cut poverty and to assist middle and low income families is to invest not through the tax system, but in social programs. Programs delivered through the tax system do not work. We need to have investment in housing, child care and post-secondary education in our communities. This is the best way to make a big difference for low and middle income Canadians and, in particular, women in our society.

As I said, 40% of women do not make enough money to even pay taxes. Instead of using money for tax credits, which go primarily to those who have lots of money and no one else, they would benefit far more from the government investing in our society.

The whole point of a gender based analysis and a gender equality officer is for the government to look at society and say that it has so much money in the pot this year and it wants to invest in Canadian society, for good social objectives like good housing, good education and child care. Then it has to see who benefits. The analysis lifts the veil to see who benefits from these programs. If we find that women do not benefit, then we have to change the programs.

As I said, 80% of unpaid caregiving is done by women and they do not benefit from any of this. Therefore, gender budgeting is needed in all government departments to change the discrimination. Policy development must be conducted in such a way that it is gender aware, from the hypothetical to the policy to its implementation.

Gender based analysis legislation is needed to enforce this analysis in every department. An independent gender based commissioner is needed to monitor government policies to ensure a gender based analysis is done and to act as an advocate, defending women and their rights to full, substantive equality. Accountability is necessary if we want to see real progress for women's equality in our country.

How do we move forward? Through the appointment of an independent commissioner, with accompanying legislation based on the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, and implementation of real gender based analysis and gender responsive budgeting. It is not enough to deal with women by inserting a paragraph committing to an action plan. We need to do more than that. We must lift the veil on government policy and identify who really benefits.

Women have lost out because of gender based analysis not being done properly. It is time that we actually do it right.

Our party has made a commitment. Our leader made a commitment to reduce poverty in Canada with a 30/50 plan. One way of doing it, with respect to families and women, is to do a proper gender analysis to ensure that all government policies and all government actions benefit all society and, in particular, those families that need it the most.

The political will is necessary in order for women's equality to happen. I am pleased to move concurrence in this motion and I do hope I have the support of the House on this matter.