Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to support the motion presented by the member for London West. I know that she is very committed to women's equality and has fought for that. Therefore, I am pleased, on behalf of the New Democratic Party, to support her motion.
I am assuming that the motion will get support from all members of the House. As we know, because of the outcry that has happened across the country and because the Conservative government took out the mandate of equality from Status of Women Canada, it has now had to rethink its position.
Based on the massive opposition from women's organizations across the country, the minister responsible for the Status of Women has finally agreed that equality will go back into the mandate of the Status of Women.
Therefore, that is a victory and it is a victory for all of the women's organizations and members of the House who pushed back on the government and said that it was completely unacceptable that equality be taken out of the Status of Women mandate.
Having said that, I want to focus on what this issue of equality for Status of Women in Canada means. As we just celebrated International Women's Day, I think it is important to note that while we have won equality in a legal sense, equality in a real sense, day to day in terms of programs and services and the wage gap, and equality in terms of access to the law are still things that are being fought for.
For example, when we look at the wage gap that still exists in this country, the Canadian Labour Congress has produced excellent information that is really quite shocking. It shows us that women working full time all year still make only 70¢ for every $1 men earn. For racialized women it is even worse. It is 64¢. For aboriginal women it is 46¢. In fact, the gender pay gap in Canada is even bigger than the wage gap in the United States and that may surprise some people.
What was most shocking to me to learn from this information is that by age 51 women's average income in this country is only 41% of the average income for 51-year-old men. That is truly appalling to know that, after years of striving for women's equality, we are still so far behind.
We have further evidence of the struggle and what needs to be done by looking at the last federal budget. In fact, at the parliamentary committee on the Status of Women just a couple of days, March 13, Kathleen Lahey, who is a professor at the Faculty of Law at Queen's University, pointed out in her presentation that the only reference to women in the budget had to do with the fact that $20 million was allotted to the Status of Women to develop an action plan for women.
However, when we examine this, we find out that the $20 million that has been allocated in the Conservative budget is actually $4 million less than Status of Women Canada received in the year 2002-03.
Therefore, we are not even keeping pace with the cutbacks that have happened over a number of years in terms of this department fulfilling its responsibilities for the equality of women in Canada.
If we take that number of $20 million and apportion it out for the number of females in Canada, Professor Lahey pointed out that it amounted to $1.21 per woman and child in Canada. That is what women's equality is worth to the government in the budget. That is something that we find quite outrageous and one of the reasons that we voted against the budget.
Another benchmark to see whether or not we are actually meeting the goal of equality for women is to again look at the budget to see what is happening with some of the tax cuts. Again from the professor's analysis, corporate income tax rates have been established and the Conservative government, with the support of the Liberals, has rolled back corporate taxes. This means a loss of about $60 billion in public revenues. Professor Lahey points out that low income individuals, most of whom are women, now pay higher income tax rates than even large corporations.
So much for this gender analysis in the budget because when we strip it all away and look at the numbers, we can see the impacts of cuts and that the tax load is disproportionately being carried by women and in particular low income women.
The corporate income tax cuts “shift the overall tax burden onto low-income individuals at the same time they drain revenues needed to redress growing gender disparities”. That is from Professor Lahey's brief.
I believe that in passing this motion today we should see it as a step forward, but we should recognize that we have a huge struggle here in terms of attaining equality for all women in Canada. I am very proud to say that in the NDP we have a very strong action plan, “Fairness for Women”, which covers everything from political representation to violence against women, pay equity, programs and services, support for women, and child care.
These are the basics that we need to see happen. When we look at a federal budget, we see that there are some very basic choices made by any government when it brings in a budget. Clearly, in the last budget that we saw, those choices were made in favour of people who already have very significant resources. It was a budget that clearly said the government does not care about women in this country and is leaving them behind.
Like my colleague from the Bloc, I have to say that along with other women in this House I was truly dismayed that the private member's bill, Bill C-484, passed through this House a few days ago. We see this as an absolute attack on women's equality and on reproductive rights. It was a bill brought in by a Conservative backbencher. It is clearly a back door way of trying to unravel the decades of struggle for women's equality in this country, for reproductive rights and for choice on abortion. I know that from the emails and messages that I got from across the country, people could not believe that today we are still in this battle to uphold those rights.
Today we are debating this motion to insert the word “equality” in the mandate of the status of women department, and of course that is essential. It is symbolic. It is the whole essence of what that work is all about, but while we do that, and while I have no doubt that this motion will pass today, please let us be committed and understand the reality that women in this country, particularly low income women, immigrant women, racialized women, aboriginal women, and women with disabilities, are struggling for their lives. They are struggling for dignity. They are struggling to have the basic necessities of life, whether it is housing, education, a living income, access to programs and the legal system, and so on.
On behalf of the NDP, we are very pleased to support this motion. I want to congratulate the member for bringing it forward. It is an important motion. We want this Parliament to speak with one clear voice and say that women's equality must be part of the status of women program and mandate. It could not be otherwise. We could not let this go unchallenged. I am thankful to the member for bringing it forward.
However, let us be clear that we have many other struggles and issues to face to ensure that women's equality truly is living and breathing in this country.