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  • Her favourite word is aboriginal.

NDP MP for Churchill (Manitoba)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 51.10% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act June 16th, 2014

In fact, Mr. Speaker, I am being heckled right now by speakers who reject this notion, but we know very clearly that tonight it is New Democrat member after New Democrat member who has had the courage to stand in the House and call the bill what it is. It is a bill in which we see the government trying to hide an ugly agenda. A gaping loophole exists that would allow Canadian soldiers and Canada to sit by or work with countries that kill civilians through the use of cluster munitions.

It is no surprise that the Conservatives often have real issues digesting factual information. Just to be clear, and I know that this fact has been repeated on numerous occasions tonight, 98% of all recorded cluster munition casualties have been civilians. We know that the bomblets coming out of cluster munitions are small, often the size of a battery or a tennis ball, and have a failure rate of up to 30%. Unexploded bomblets, as they are called, become de facto landmines. One cluster bomb contains hundreds of these submunitions and typically scatters them across an area the size of two to four football fields.

Up to 37 countries and territories may be affected by cluster munitions from use in armed conflicts. Nineteen countries have used cluster munitions in combat, and 34 countries have at one point produced the weapons, though half of these have since ended production, some as a result of the convention. We know that in 2006, 22 Canadian Forces members were killed and 112 were wounded in Afghanistan as a result of landmines, cluster bombs, and other explosive devices.

In this House we have been able to bring forward the voices of internationally respected figures who oppose Canada's position. I would like to quote the former Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser. Testifying before the parliamentary committee, he said:

If you want to kill women and children, cluster bombs would be the weapon of choice.

He urged Canada not to enable Canadian soldiers to use cluster bombs in joint operations with the U.S. military. As a result of clause 11 in this bill, we know that this is exactly the loophole that exists. Canada would now embark, as a result of this bill, on a journey that would see us collaborating with countries that use cluster bombs that would cause incredible civilian casualties and take away the lives of innocent people in countries around the world. All of this would be for what?

There are many days in the House when one wonders what the Conservative government's foreign affairs agenda actually is. We know that there have been deep cuts to our international development commitments. We know that every step along the way, the government has sought to prioritize its corporate agenda, assigning top advisory positions to corporate figures in the mining industry and the resource extractive industry, which have incredible sway over our international aid and international development dollars.

We know that Canada now houses about 75% of the mining companies around the world. Sadly, some of these mining companies do not even have production here in Canada, and many of them are complicit in human rights abuses around the world.

Many of them benefit from the services of Canadian embassies. Some benefit from actual investment through Export Development Canada, and many carry the reputation that as Canadian mining companies, somehow they are working to make the world a better place. In fact, we know that in country after country, particularly in Latin America and Africa, all that is happening is that Canada is getting a bad name.

This bill is no different. This bill serves to sully the reputation of Canada, a country that for years had built a strong reputation when it came to banning land mines, when it made commitments to peacekeeping, and when it came to commitments, under its foreign affairs agenda, explicitly to human security. These were not the ideas of just one person, although we certainly think of former Prime Minister Lester Pearson and others who were responsible for the vision of peacekeeping. These touchstones emerged as a result of Canadian values and the push Canadians made day in and day out. They were activists who fought for nuclear disarmament, peace, and solidarity to make sure that Canada was actually contributing to the well-being of people around the world.

Canadians are horrified and will be horrified to hear about the bill the government is ramming through Parliament, a bill that throws out the kind of reputation Canadians value, and a bill that would ensure that Canada collaborates with countries that know that the technology and arms they are using kill civilians.

It is surprising that the members of Parliament who sit across the aisle seem not to be concerned about any of this. We can see that from the fact that none of them are actually rising tonight to make a speech on this issue. They seem to think that their best contribution is through heckling in the House. What kind of defence could they possibly have to share with their constituents who wonder why their members of Parliament on the government side are complicit in ensuring that a bill that will see civilians die is rammed through Parliament without their contribution in debate, but obviously with their full support, as they vote for debate to be hurried and for this bill to become legislation?

I share the feeling of shame, frankly, that Canada would now be a country, as a result of this bill that includes clause 11, that would be complicit in these kinds of horrors. I would say to let history document that members of the Conservative government actively pursued an agenda that does not improve the lives of people around the world and that actively obstructs those, including former allies, who have worked with Canada in disarmament and on the ban of land mines. It is a government that is trying with great gusto to reconfigure the representation of a country that no Canadian will buy.

I look forward to talking about the government's agenda in the lead-up to the 2015 election. I am sure that their arguments, certainly in this area, when it comes to their foreign affairs agenda, will not pass muster with Canadians.

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act June 16th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House to speak in opposition to Bill C-6, an act to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions. I would like to begin today by making it clear that history will note that in this debate, on such a critical issue, we have not seen one government member rise and make a speech in defence of an indefensible bill.

Business of Supply June 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that question, and I look forward to reading Hansard to see that insightful comment.

What we are seeing from the Conservative government is a real misreading of what matters to Canadians, but we cannot just leave it there. I made the comment in my speech that this is fundamentally about a vision of Canada they adhere to every single day. It is a vision where a few wealthy people, who also happen to be some of the Conservatives' friends, benefit. It is a vision where women in our country are worse off. It is a vision of leaving people at the margins and not investing in the kinds of programs that would benefit them and their communities across the country, no matter their income level, no matter where they live or who they are. It is a fundamentally unfair vision.

I share the concern of so many Canadians that our country is becoming more and more unequal. I would say that this is a warning sign. We know that as countries become more unequal, things become more difficult for people who live in these countries, if we look at health indicators and indicators of well-being.

We have work to do here to turn the tide. Sadly, the Conservative government is keen on creating a more unequal Canada, whether in terms of gender equality or in terms of income inequality.

I am proud to stand with the NDP, not just to fight against that inequality but to propose ways we can take our Canada back, our country back, and build a better country for all.

Business of Supply June 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague is hesitant to hear what I have to say, because it is easier to think that income splitting is going to sound good. Canadians are getting to know the truth. This is an idea that they understand is fundamentally unfair, and I can guarantee that if they tell Canadians they could spend $3 billion on something that would benefit them, they sure would not be mentioning income splitting.

Business of Supply June 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, to riff off one of the words my colleague used, “disturbing”, if we want to talk about what is disturbing, it is how the Conservatives are so willing to spend $3 billion each year for something that would benefit 15% of Canadians, and some hardly so, at the expense of investing it in programs and strategies that would benefit all Canadians, including child care, housing, and employment and training strategies.

Business of Supply June 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House and defend our opposition day motion that opposes the government's regressive proposal to bring in income splitting, a proposal that will not benefit the vast majority of Canadians, a proposal that will help turn the clock back on women's equality in our country.

Canadians need a break financially. My constituents tell me this often. They work hard and they try their very best, but at the end of the month they still struggle to pay their bills, or afford adequate child care, or afford the rent and sometimes to put food on the table and clothes on their kids' backs. The bottom line is that we must do more to make life more affordable.

The median income in my riding is $45,961. That means half of the people in my riding in Northern Manitoba earn more than that and half earn less.

I represent many people who live in poverty and people who live in communities with chronic and historic unemployment.

The reality is that the Conservative income splitting scheme will not put even $1 back into the pockets of most of the people who I represent. In fact, 62% of Manitobans will not benefit from income splitting one bit.

Income splitting would not be a gift from the Conservative government to taxpayers. It would be a gift to their wealthy friends. It would cost Canadians billions of dollars to implement the income splitting plan and every Canadian would be paying for it while the same could not be said about the benefits. The question that New Democrats are asking is, how is this possibly fair?

The New Democrats know that we can build a robust economy that will bring shared prosperity to all Canadians. Income splitting reveals, yet again, that the Conservatives only want to give tax breaks to their wealthiest of friends.

As the critic for status of women and as the member of Parliament for Churchill, I would call the Conservative income splitting plan nothing more than a smoke screen. It would not help lower income families, single parents or the majority of first nations and Métis people across our country. Not only would it not help the majority of women, it would have the potential to damage gender equality in our country.

I will discuss the many ways that income splitting has the potential to hurt the status of women in our country.

First, income splitting would not help single parents or single people. We know that many single parents, particularly many who live in poverty, are women. In some ways, income splitting would reward married people and punish single people, divorced couples, lone parent families and intergenerational families, meaning families that raise their children with the help of grandparents and other relatives.

In my experience in my visits across my constituency, I meet many kinds of loving, supportive families. The last thing that non-nuclear families need is the federal government promoting a thinly veiled moral bias against them in the form of bad policy and regressive taxes.

This tax break effectively tells people that only if they are married and only if they are in a marriage where one spouse earns considerably less than the other, do they deserve a tax break.

Many days in the House we wonder, given the policies put forward by the government, if we are going back to the 1950s or the 1850s. In the case of the income splitting proposal, the Conservative government is putting forward the classic vision of the 1950s family, one that might be modelled on June and Ward Cleaver. Earlier in the House I heard talk of Don Draper.

The reality is that Canadians have moved on from the 1950s. It is 2014. The reality of the Canadian family is not that of the 1950s. We should be looking at what we need to do to support today's Canadian families rather than imposing a moralistic view of how the government sees families now.

Furthermore, 88% of lone-parent families are headed by women, and women, on average, earn 19% less than men, so when we talk about who benefits from income splitting, we are not only talking about wealthy people, we are often talking about men who are wealthy.

As I mentioned, income splitting will cost the Canadian public $3 billion each year and will deliver no benefit whatsoever to 85% of Canadians. This is a kind of reverse taxation system, where the large majority will pay their taxes into the pockets of the wealthy minority. As well, it would cost our provinces a further $1.9 billion every year.

I have one major question for the government. What else could we possibly be spending that money on? For starters, there could be a national child care strategy that would see every child in Canada receive high-quality, affordable care that could be established for a fraction of what the government wants to spend on income splitting. A truly national early learning program would cost $5 billion over four years.

Child care is currently costing the average family between $900 and $1,200 a month, a debilitating cost that too many Canadian families in this day and age cannot afford.

Let us think of what it would be like to put most of that money into the pockets of Canadian families. Let us think of what it would mean for women to truly have the choice to continue their careers and care for their children as they saw fit, without economic duress being a contributing factor.

I raise this example, because income splitting is not a take it or leave it program. With its price tag, it is either/or. We could either have our government spend our money on income splitting for the wealthiest, or we could have a national child care program, university tuition subsidies, a national housing strategy, or increased health transfers. Indeed, for the price of income splitting, we could have a bit of all of these things, and each one of these factors would contribute vastly to people's individual finances, their family's well-being, and the strength of our economy as a whole.

We know that increasing women's equal participation in the labour force has a multiplier effect on the economy that would increase our GDP by billions of dollars. Child care is not only the right thing to do to give parents choices but is the economically smart thing to do for our communities and our country.

Income splitting would hurt the status of women in other ways the Conservatives do not want us to know about. When higher income earners, mostly men, transfer a larger portion of income to a spouse, it makes it look as if the lower-income person is actually earning more than they are. Statistically, as I noted earlier, in Canada, due to the gender wage gap, this would likely be the female spouse. Income splitting would work to artificially inflate a woman's income. This would give us a false sense of data. We would lose sight of the persistent challenge women have in this country: earning equal wages. It would get even worse. When a couple broke up, it would seem as though one spouse earned more than they did throughout the partnership. This could have an effect on how much alimony or child support they would earn and could also have an effect on their child tax benefit once they were single. I can see this placing thousands of women in financially precarious situations, brought to them entirely by the government's plan for income splitting.

For these reasons and more, I am proud to stand alongside my New Democrat colleagues in opposition to the government's plan for income splitting. We want our taxes to work toward the collective good and for the health and prosperity of all Canadians.

Conservatives, it is clear, want a system that benefits the few, not the many, and I believe that Canadians understand fundamentally how unfair that is.

Committees of the House June 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

Our dissenting report starts off with that same observation. As the official opposition, we wanted to focus on sexual harassment in the RCMP, since this is a serious issue that has caused a lot of harm to women in the RCMP.

Canadians want the federal government to show some leadership. This is a spectacular example of how the government refused to show leadership and did everything it could to conduct a much broader study and avoid putting the focus on the RCMP.

It is even more shocking that we spent only one session hearing testimony from the RCMP. That is unacceptable, in light of how serious the problems are within the force. Worst of all, the committee did not make a single recommendation specifically about the RCMP.

It means nothing for the federal Conservative government to say that it supports our police officers if it does not take action and focus the study on cases of sexual harassment in the RCMP.

Committees of the House June 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague. It was a pleasure to work on this study with her and the other committee members. She is absolutely right: we need the government to show leadership so that we can change the culture and eradicate sexual harassment.

I am glad she raised a point that we heard about repeatedly during our study: retaliation can be the worst part.

We must learn from the examples people gave about departments that mishandled sexual harassment cases. We heard about people who had been harassed being punished, not those who did the harassing. That makes no sense. That has to change.

The RCMP harassment cases are shocking. Those who repeatedly committed sexual harassment were simply sent home for a few days or transferred to another posting. Unfortunately, there have been no punitive measures yet.

Over the past few months, we have started seeing some things that could deter people from sexually harassing co-workers. This is something concrete that we have to act on. We are asking the government to do so as soon as possible.

Committees of the House June 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her question. Many of the recommendations are centred around prevention. I would also like to add that measures need to be implemented and we need to acknowledge the reality of sexual harassment in federal workplaces. That is not happening right now because the government is not taking action.

In order to prevent harassment, we need to know where it is happening, what it looks like and in which department it is the most prevalent.

As I said, one aspect of prevention is changing the federal workplace culture. That includes increasing the number of women in managerial positions and positions of power. We know that can help change workplace culture.

Training programs also need to be improved. We heard that, because of cuts, the federal government was trying to impose online training as opposed to in-person training. We feel that is unacceptable.

Many other measures were mentioned during the testimony we heard as part of the study. The federal government has decided to disregard these measures, which is disappointing. We hope that the government will look at them and take action as quickly as possible.

Committees of the House June 9th, 2014

moved:

That, the Second Report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, presented on Thursday, February 6, 2014, be concurred in.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to a study on sexual harassment in the federal workplace by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. This is a study that we embarked on a while ago. It took a considerable amount of time because we took the topic of this study seriously. It is a form of violence that, sadly, too many women face in their workplaces. It is a kind of violence that we know as sexual harassment.

Like any other committee, our committee embarked on a study that we felt was very serious. We extended invitations to many witnesses who represent the range of workplaces. We did so with some concern and trepidation. The reason was that the initial aim of the study, and there is no way of denying it, was to study sexual harassment in the RCMP. That initial sense came from the serious situation that we know has existed in our national police force for some time. We have heard of numerous cases of sexual harassment aimed at women police officers. It includes a range of examples, but has also in some cases led to sexual assault.

We know that many of these RCMP officers, including former officers, have put together a class action lawsuit against the RCMP to achieve justice because of the harm that was done to them. We know the sexual harassment that they experienced, and in some cases the sexual assault, has led to mental trauma, psychological, emotional, and of course physical trauma as well.

As I rise in the House to speak to this very issue, I am reminded of interactions I have had, and my colleagues, the critic for public safety and our deputy critic for public safety, have had as well, both in and out of the committee, talking with RCMP members who have experienced sexual harassment. The irony is not lost on us that the people we depend on for our safety, our familes' safety and our communities' safety, have themselves been put in harm's way as a result of the culture that prevails in their workplace and the inaction that has existed for far too long.

Some measures have been taken in the recent year with the aim of putting an end to sexual harassment and sexual assault in the RCMP. However, what we found in the study conducted in our committee was that it is very clear that a lot more needs to be done in the RCMP, and across the federal workplace.

I would point to our supplementary report that indicates we in the NDP noted that instead of focusing on the RCMP, the committee undertook a general study of sexual harassment in the federal workplace. While we believe that this study is important in its own right, we are concerned that the gender-based violence affecting women in the RCMP has not been thoroughly examined by the committee. In fact, we only spent one meeting hearing from RCMP officials. Through the limited witness testimony we heard regarding the RCMP, we learned that there are systemic issues within the federal police force that require investigation and action.

Astonishingly, in spite of hearing this testimony, the report tabled does not include a single recommendation relating directly to the RCMP. As parliamentarians, we are responsible for the RCMP, and we find this report and subsequent recommendations to be insufficient. Therefore, it was our recommendation in our supplemental report, and it continues to be the direction, that the status of women committee move to conduct a comprehensive study on sexual harassment in the RCMP in order to complete the task of ending the widespread harassment suffered by women in our national force.

So it was that the government ensured that we would take on a much broader study. It was something we were concerned to see. We felt that in undertaking such a broad study, we had to do justice to all the women and men who are sexually harassed in the federal workplace.

We engaged 40 witnesses, who testified before the committee. People travelled from across the country. They spoke to us through teleconferencing. We heard from experts in other countries around the world. We got a very full picture of the range of challenges women, and some men, face when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace. We also found out that, once again, the federal government is grossly inactive in addressing these issues. While some measures have been taken at the bureaucratic level, and I am thinking particularly of the Treasury Board, a lot more is needed to put an end to sexual harassment in the federal workplace.

Given the inaction of the federal government, we came up with key recommendations. They are not difficult recommendations, but they require the federal government to take some leadership, leadership it is currently not taking when it comes to ending sexual harassment in the federal workplace. For example, we recommended that Status of Women Canada work with the Government of Canada to develop a national action plan on violence against women. This national action plan would address sexual harassment and violence in the workplace.

This is not a difficult undertaking. First I put forward a motion about a year ago, motion No. 444, calling for a national action plan. It would be a comprehensive action plan, which in its current form called on the government to take various steps to prevent violence against women and to support survivors of violence. It also called on the government to invest in critical factors that we know lead to women's insecurity. We are talking about the workplace, but we know that the violence women face in the workplace contributes to the overall insecurity that too many women face in our country. In particular, we called for action when it comes to housing, education and training, shelters, counselling services, and policing.

When we talk about the workplace, we recognize that violence against women is something that exists in the form of sexual harassment, and it is something that needs to be stopped. It is not enough for departments to leave it to the Treasury Board to make some commitments to ending sexual harassment in the workplace. We need real leadership. We all know that leadership is best practised by those who know an issue well. What better department to take leadership on the issue of sexual harassment in the federal workplace than Status of Women Canada? That is why we in the NDP recommended that Status of Women Canada take the lead in working with experts to study the extent of under-reporting in the federally regulated workplace and commit to taking action immediately. Status of Women Canada is a department that has so much to provide in this area. Sadly, it is not being given the space and encouragement to take leadership in ending sexual harassment in the workplace.

The committee heard that workplace culture, particularly in male-dominated hierarchical organizations such as the Department of National Defence and the RCMP, presents a significant barrier to reporting and preventing sexual harassment and discrimination. Therefore, we in the NDP recommended that Status of Women Canada partner with federal and federally regulated workplaces to increase the number of women in managerial positions and positions of power, including by establishing benchmarks and goals to help promote a workplace reflective of a society that does not accept harassment, including sexual harassment.

We need look no further than the House to recognize the benefit when Parliament is more representative of society. We in the NDP have always been a party that has been committed to gender equality. We do not just make that commitment verbally; we make it through our practice. Canadians certainly rewarded us, and for the first time in history, the official opposition has a high percentage of women MPs, thanks to the election of 40 NDP women. We know that Canadians certainly appreciate that kind of leadership and know that when Parliament looks more like our country, the kinds of decisions we make reflect us better. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the other side of the House or the Liberal Party, where, if we take an average, only 17% of the caucus is women.

We call on departments and institutions such as the Canadian Forces and the RCMP to appoint more women to managerial positions. We are asking them to recognize how having women in leadership and decision-making positions actually helps change the culture. I would point government members to our study. We heard from experts who indicated a very strong correlation between a higher number of women in managerial positions in the public service, particularly, and lower levels of sexual harassment and harassment overall.

We also pointed to the fact that this study indicated a complete dearth of data collection when it comes to sexual harassment. This falls in line with a pattern we have seen with the government, with its cuts to Statistics Canada, its cuts to research in various departments, and basically an ignorance and a neglect of research and its importance in guiding future actions. If we do not know what the extent of a problem is, how can we strive to solve it?

The same, sadly, is the case when it comes to sexual harassment. It may be shocking for Canadians to know that there is a complete lack of data regarding the presence of sexual harassment in most federal workplaces. This was uncovered by the committee. While the public service employee survey asks about harassment in general, we found that there is no question in the survey about sexual harassment specifically. If we are not asking the question, we are not getting the data. We are talking about a problem we know exists across all departments and exists in greater numbers in certain departments and institutions, yet we have no way of tackling it effectively, because we do not know the extent of it.

We can only speculate about what percentage of harassment is sexual in nature, and we are concerned by the knowledge that harassment of all sorts is under-reported. Therefore, we in the NDP recommend that Status of Women Canada work with Statistics Canada to take the lead in establishing a framework whereby consistent data on sexual harassment can be collected by all workplaces and compared accordingly.

I will note that the government's response indicates that there will be a sub-question in the upcoming public service employee survey. While that is encouraging, having not seen the actual text of the sub-question, I certainly would not be able to comment. I hope that in devising the language for that sub-question, and frankly, it should be an entire question, given the severity of sexual harassment, I hope the question is being developed with the help of experts, including the Public Service Alliance of Canada and other labour experts who deal with sexual harassment first-hand in their work.

In conjunction with the complete absence of a question on sexual harassment and therefore a lack of information on the extent of sexual harassment in the federal workplace, we also expressed grave concern that the last time Statistics Canada undertook a national survey to collect data on violence against women in general was in 1993. I was 11 years old in 1993. It is alarming to know that in most of my lifetime we have yet to revisit this tragedy of violence against women in our country and to understand what it looks like today.

I rose in the House last week to say that even though violent crime in our country is decreasing, sexual crime, particularly against women, remains stagnant. This indicates that we have to undertake a study and understand the reality women face when it comes to violence. We need to ensure that this understanding of violence includes an understanding of violence in our workplaces. Therefore, we recommended that a follow-up survey be conducted and that Status of Women Canada use the information to establish a baseline understanding of sexual harassment in the workplace in Canada.

I have mentioned the lack of leadership, the lack of data collection, and the lack of understanding of the current state of violence against women in our country. Another theme we found to be very alarming, which I am sure will not surprise any member of this House, particularly the government member, is the strain being placed on the public service because of the major cuts of public sector workers through the budgetary cuts. The fear of job loss is creating a difficult work environment.

One of the points that was raised, and I want to particularly acknowledge the Public Service Alliance of Canada and members who work so hard fighting for public sector workers and frankly the rights of all Canadians, is that they are seeing, and are fearful, that women will be less likely to report sexual harassment because of the fear of losing their jobs in the times we live in.

Many women in the public service do not feel that their jobs are secure enough to risk reporting harassment. The committee heard that precarious employment in the public sector has grown since 20,000 have been cut from the public sector since 2006.

Therefore, we as New Democrats recommend that Status of Women Canada study the impact of job insecurity, including recent and pending budget cuts, on sexual harassment and the possible under-reporting of sexual harassment.

In conclusion, we felt compelled to write a dissenting report on this study, because we felt that the government, sadly, was showing real inaction on the issue of sexual harassment. In their response to our recommendations, we continue to see a failure to act and a failure to show leadership.

We are proud to stand up on behalf of women and men in the federal workplace, in federally regulated workplaces, calling for an immediate end to sexual harassment.