Madam Speaker, 50 years ago this year, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women exposed widespread discrimination against women in Canada. Fifty years later, that promise of equality is still not realized.
Liberal and Conservative governments have ignored the commission's recommendations, and successive Liberal and Conservative governments have cut social spending. That has had a direct impact on women's equality. Since 1995, Canada has dropped from first on the UN gender equality list to 25. How long will the Liberal government fail to rectify 50 years of women's inequality?
I will not argue with gender equality week, which is the subject of the debate here, Bill C-309. The government has set a good tone. It has put a lot of women MPs on its front bench. I laud it for that. The Prime Minister talks a good talk on feminism. The tone change is welcome. What we are pushing for is action to match the feminist rhetoric.
Despite the Prime Minister's good words about gender equality, he has failed to act in the year and a half the government has been in power, and the United Nations is calling him on it. The United Nations committee to end discrimination against women told Canada in November to get to work on legal aid, abortion access, pay equity, child care, and indigenous women's safety. The list went on and on. This is a big list and it is a big deal. The UN only digs into countries' commitments around their pledge to end discrimination against women every five years, and this is an important road map for the government to follow.
The government says it cares about the United Nations, says it cares about women, yet the United Nations says that the Liberal government is failing to act.
In February, we saw hundreds of women's groups and human rights and labour organizations calling on the Prime Minister to heed the United Nations' demand and step up for women's equality. The month before, in January, thousands of Canadians marched for women's rights. New Democrats stood with them, but there were no Liberal cabinet ministers I am aware of, although they might have been there. All of us were urging the government to get to work, use the tools it has at hand, use the majority it has, uphold its election commitments, uphold human rights, and make gender equality a reality for all women.
New Democrats have very specific actions in mind, and many of them have been long in the making, but the Liberal government has failed to translate these words into action. We would have wanted to see the government voting for my colleague from Burnaby South's private member's bill, the gender equity act. It had a very specific mechanism that could have moved this Parliament beyond having just roughly 25% women as members.
Canada ranks very low on the world index around the proportion of women. The increments are suggested by Equal Voice, an NGO committed to increasing women's representation in elected positions. They say that at this rate, it is going to take 89 years to reach gender equality in the House. A specific tool would have been helpful, but the government voted against it. In fact, the sponsor of this private member's bill, which purports to represent gender equality, also voted against that bill. The government did not propose its own alternative solution, which was discouraging.
Second, along with the United Nations committee to end discrimination against women, we have been urging the government to adopt a national strategy to end violence against women. That is the commitment Canada made to the United Nations. The government says that it is going to do a much narrower federal strategy instead, which will focus on data collection and internal government operations. That is not the commitment that it made internationally, which was to a national strategy that would exercise federal leadership to coordinate provincial, territorial, and municipal responses around social services and policing so that women in different corners in the country would have equivalent access to justice and equivalent expectation of safety.
Again, that is something that the government still has not done.
A third action that would make a big difference to women on the ground would be to legislate pay equity. I was very glad to have the government support a motion the New Democrats and I brought to the House in February 2016. It agreed to add pay equity to its commitments to Canada. The all-party committee recommended a year ago that by June 2017 legislation be tabled in the House. The government is now saying maybe late 2018. There is no rationale for that. Not a single witness recommended anything later than June 2017. Women have been asked to wait more than long enough, and there is no rationale for ragging the puck on pay equity. It is, honestly, an international embarrassment. We are way behind the mark on this.
A fourth action that would make a real difference to women on the ground would be ensuring no woman or child is every turned away from a domestic violence shelter when they need it. About 500 women and children are turned away every night from domestic violence shelters in Canada. Imagine the danger they would have to feel themselves to be in for them to gather their children, leave their family home, and ask for help. It would be embarrassing, and scary to conger up that courage, and then to be turned away, being told there is no room at the inn. That is heartbreaking.
For indigenous women, we keep hearing again and again that domestic violence shelters on reserve are 100% a federal responsibility. Its commitment is to build five shelters over the next five years. That is just a single digit, while the organization Pauktuutit tells us 70% of Inuit women have no access to any domestic violence shelter anywhere. That is something that would make a difference to people's lives on the ground right now.
We could also support the proposal submitted by my colleague from London—Fanshawe regarding free prescription birth control. It could be included in a pharmacare program. It is very expensive for women, young women especially. Birth control access is a vital part of women's economy, and ability to control their family planning, so they can fully participate in the workforce. The costs of family planning fall disproportionately to women, and real action on this would make a difference.
However, the private member's bill we have before us is simply to celebrate gender equality week. We had urged at committee to tie the enactment of the bill to such a time as pay equity is implemented, then maybe we would have something to celebrate. When I made that proposal, the sponsor said the bill is more intended to give citizens an opportunity to protest for gender equality, to put pressure on the government, to which I said, “This government says it is a feminist government and the Prime Minister is a feminist prime minister, and therefore we do not need to protest. For goodness' sake, women have had decades of practising their protesting, and I really do not think they need to be given any more opportunities.”
Therefore, because no one should ever vote against something as motherhood as this, I am going to support it, and so are my fellow New Democrats. We voted for it at every stage, but let us put those good intentions into action. Let us move beyond these celebratory, emblematic gestures by the government and its members, and let us do the hard work of legislating, so that when this enlightened, feminist government is no longer in power, there will be a legislative framework that the women of Canada can count on to make sure whoever is in power and whatever their intentions, gender equality is guaranteed for women now and in generations to come.