Evidence of meeting #140 for Status of Women in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was important.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Kathy Majowski  Board Chair, Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse
Bonnie Brayton  National Executive Director, DisAbled Women's Network of Canada
Helen Kennedy  Executive Director, Egale Canada
Chaneesa Ryan  Director of Health, Native Women's Association of Canada
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Kenza Gamassi
Roseann Martin  Elder, Native Women's Association of Canada
Shirley Allan  As an Individual
Arline Wickersham  As an Individual

9:55 a.m.

National Executive Director, DisAbled Women's Network of Canada

Bonnie Brayton

It's absolutely the case, Dr. Leitch. That's exactly what's happening. Again, it's because of the size and the breadth of Canada. One of the issues is that we don't have a national pharma care program, for example. We have all of these issues.

If you're a senior in one place or another, you may or may not be able to get access to certain services. You may or may not be able to get palliative care or caregiving if you have a family member with Alzheimer's. It's all of these issues.

Again, some advocates are trying to piece together recommendations and policy, and its very complex. I've been coming to this committee for a long time. When I first started coming to this committee, I didn't even know how to make a parliamentary brief. I think it's very important we think about these things.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Sorry.

Sonia, you get the final three minutes.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

Thank you all for being here.

Seniors deserve a better life. Loneliness among adults is a main issue, which leads to isolation. Even though the new horizons for seniors program is here, language and culture differences are the main barrier for seniors to participate in the community and access services.

How can the federal government help more seniors with the right kind of infrastructure to keep older adults happy? I know that access to health services is not in the federal jurisdiction, but even the social climate, as Roseann Martin said, is changing.

Before, we were aiding and would provide for the elders. I know that in some cultures they do, but how can we help give infrastructure so that seniors can get more services?

I want to give everyone the chance to jump in.

9:55 a.m.

Director of Health, Native Women's Association of Canada

Chaneesa Ryan

Concerning what you just said, I would point out that for indigenous people on reserve specifically, the federal government has responsibility to provide health care services—for all people on reserve, but for seniors as well. Making a sustained effort to invest in additional continuing care supports, home care, long-term care, so that people don't have to leave their communities and be vulnerable to a lack of access to culture and language and then don't have to deal with as much social isolation, is really important.

As well, off-reserve....

Do you want to add to that?

I'm sorry, I lost my train of thought, to be completely honest, so I'll transfer my time to someone else.

9:55 a.m.

National Executive Director, DisAbled Women's Network of Canada

Bonnie Brayton

Please, go ahead, dear.

She has her hand up.

9:55 a.m.

Board Chair, Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

Kathy Majowski

Thank you.

As I mentioned in my presentation, breaking down the silos, encouraging communication across provinces, and looking at a repository of best practices and programs that are working in areas of Canada and making sure those program guidelines are easily accessible is very important.

It's actually the mandate of our program to be that knowledge-sharing hub. We search out all kinds of different programs and reports and research so that the expert stakeholders in the field are able to develop programs based on evidence rather than try to reinvent the wheel with a brand new program every time.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

We have about five minutes left.

9:55 a.m.

Executive Director, Egale Canada

Helen Kennedy

Let's just say that we don't respect our older adults in Canada at all. We don't treat the care and needs of older adults as a priority, and I find that fascinating, because nobody is getting any younger: We're all going in the same direction.

I think a national seniors strategy leading to one of my recommendations, on forming a national steering committee, would go a long way towards making older adults and the care and the issues of older adults a priority for any government. In Canada we are sadly lagging behind other jurisdictions around the world.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent.

I recognize we didn't get around to everybody, but it's 10 o'clock.

On behalf of the committee I'd really like to thank the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, the DisAbled Women's Network of Canada, Egale Canada and the Native Women's Association of Canada.

There are murmurs that there may be a vote coming up very shortly, so I'm going to ask that we immediately switch panels, have about a minute break here and flip things over so that we can get to the next panel.

We will suspend for one minute.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Welcome back to the 140th meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

For the second hour I am pleased to welcome, as individuals, Shirley Allan and Arline Wickersham.

What we are going to do is see how far we can get. We'll get your testimonies done and will see when we can get to rounds of questioning.

I'm going to turn the floor over to Shirley.

Shirley, you have seven minutes.

10 a.m.

Shirley Allan As an Individual

Good morning.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this morning and to share my story for your study on challenges facing Canadian senior women.

My story outlines the path that refined me into the woman I am today. My choices and experiences over 62 years moulded me into who I am and what I hold dear.

As a newly married woman I chose to remove myself from the full-time paying workforce in order to stay at home with my children. Even though society does not seem to place value on the choice I made, I feel that this decision was of great value to me, my family and society as a whole.

I was born in Scotland, and my parents and I immigrated to Canada. I also lived in the United States for seven years and returned to Canada at age 17. I graduated from Queen's University in 1980 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. While at Queen's I met an officer cadet at the Royal Military College of Canada. My husband and I were married in 1981.

We knew we wanted to have children and we felt very strongly that, as a result of our expectations of the military lifestyle, it would be wise to have a parent at home. Part of my decision was based too on my understanding that reasonable gainful, continuous employment would be difficult as part of a military lifestyle. Together—

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

I'm going to have to interrupt for just one moment. I'm sorry about this. We do have votes. Looking at the time—we're in the same building, and the votes will be at 10:35, in 20 minutes—what I would like to do is finish your testimony and then have one question from each party.

I will need unanimous consent to continue.

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Please continue, Shirley.

10:05 a.m.

As an Individual

Shirley Allan

Thank you.

Together we made the decision that I would stay at home with our children. I would like to emphasize that this decision was made together. My husband is my number one supporter.

When I married, I became a D/W, dependent wife, in the eyes of the armed forces. In 1981 there were no supports for families: no military family resource centres, no supplementary health plans and no dental coverage. When we were posted to Calgary in 1986, D/C, dependent children, were not allowed to accompany their parents on house-hunting trips. We had to make arrangements for our two-year-old to be cared for by family members. Our four-month-old was allowed to accompany us because he was still being breastfed.

My husband was away on a six-month course when we were to be posted to Halifax. I had to go myself, to a city I had never been to, and in five days find a home for our family. Again, our children were not allowed to go, and I had to make arrangements for them to be cared for.

Over the course of the first 22 years of our marriage, we were posted 10 times. We lived in the west and down east. We lived outside of Canada twice. We were blessed with two children. We had no family living near us at the time of their births. In the first five years of marriage, my husband had been away from home on courses and exercises more than half of that time.

Before the birth of our first child, I worked full time. I stayed out of the paying workforce from 1983 until 1997. In 1997 I returned to the workforce on a part-time basis. I returned to full-time work in 2005, with a break from 2011 to 2015 when we were posted. I worked in administrative positions in churches, a private school and a community sports organization. I retired from paid employment in 2018.

One of the losses of not working full time is the loss in status in the eyes of society. The first thing people ask when they meet you is, “What do you do?” I told people that I had the privilege of staying at home with my children. I did, and still do, see it as a privilege. Many of my university peers are now retiring from powerful, well-paying positions in the private and public sectors. I gave up this opportunity when I chose to stay at home.

Other losses are financial. Our family income was smaller than it could have been. We had one car, other than for a few years when our children were learning to drive. We did not travel for vacations. We owned a small home in Ottawa, which we rented out when we were posted elsewhere. Many times we anxiously awaited payday.

I do not have a private pension. My CPP payment is just over $375 per month. If my husband predeceases me, I will receive approximately half of his government pension.

In the eyes of society, I may be viewed as a failure or my choice as folly. However, I see much value in the choice I made. Because I stayed at home, I was able to volunteer extensively. I volunteered in my children's schools, at my church and in homeless shelters, and I served on the boards of directors of a number of not-for-profit organizations. I helped mobilize two churches to support refugees new to Canada. I was able to donate many hours of time and expertise to organizations and I know that I made a difference to those organizations. I currently mentor four young women, and I know that my experiences provide especially relevant support to two of them, who are stay-at-home mothers. I still volunteer in my church and at a seniors health centre.

I believe that staying at home as the stable rock in my family has, in some part, resulted in a still vibrant marriage of 38 years. Most importantly, my choice enabled me to be a central influencer in the upbringing of my children. I was the reliable parent who was always there when their dad was away on course, on exercise or deployed to Afghanistan.

My children are both well-adjusted adults who are contributors to society. Both of my children completed the rigorous international baccalaureate program in high school. My daughter holds a master's degree and has educated children in five different countries in her role as a math teacher in the international school community. My son is an engineer, a pilot, and a major in the Canadian Armed Forces. He recently returned from a deployment overseas.

I believe the family is an important foundation of society. I feel it is important for a parent to have the choice to stay at home with their children and to be supported in this choice.

The government could support families by allowing income splitting for tax purposes; providing a stay-at-home parent tax benefit; financially supporting senior women who never have engaged in paid work; and changing pension legislation for surviving spouses who do not have a private pension.

If I had a chance to go back and to change my decision to stay at home, would I? I would not. Do I see myself as a failure because of my choice? I do not.

Thank you again for this opportunity to share my story.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you very much, Shirley.

We're now going to turn the floor over to Arline.

Arline, you have seven minutes.

10:10 a.m.

Arline Wickersham As an Individual

Good morning.

I am honoured to be here, but it surprises me that you think my story is worth sharing. All I did was go on a ride and I didn't quit. I have been asked to share my story in the context of your study on the challenges facing senior women in Canada.

To offer an honest reflection of my life now, it is important for me to reflect on the journey that has brought me to where I am today. We don't become seniors overnight; there is an entire life course that needs to be considered.

My father died when I was eight, and I never thought twice about doing jobs that some people would label as a man's work. If I saw something that needed to be done on the farm, I did it. If the cows needed to be brought in from the field, I brought them in, even though I was afraid. Fear and inability were not obstacles that would hold me back.

When I was 17, I got married. It was a challenging time. Our faith in God and searching to understand our purpose in life has helped us through the difficulties. In the beginning, I thought that when I got married I was going to have a Cinderella story and that my knight in shining armour would come along on a white horse and swoop me off my feet. But I soon realized that where fairy tales end, real life begins.

As a young newlywed I never could have imagined the journey I was heading on; in my mind, I would be a stay-at-home mom and eventually find a conventional job. As my children grew older, I found there were unique opportunities as a stay-at-home mom. I had found my place.

Being at home was meaningful to me, and I knew there was value in what I was doing and whom I was reaching. I loved raising my babies, and by the time I was 24 we had four children. I was there to participate in the growth of the children through the stages from baby to childhood to adulthood.

Kids don't always see the sacrifices a parent makes, and some of those years were harder than others. Often a mom is left cleaning up the messes and preparing the meals while the rest of the family is out exploring the world around them. At times I wasn't even aware of the sacrifices I made. When I did recognize them, I felt that it was a hard and thankless job.

I was happy to be a stay-at-home mom. It allowed me to send my kids off to school each day and to be there for them when they arrived home. I was not only present in my kids' lives, but also in the lives of their friends. Often, over a fresh plate of cookies, I would find teenagers opening up about their lives. One girl came to me in her twenties to thank me for being a listening ear. She told me that I was a lifesaver for her at a time when she felt there was no one else she could talk to. Our door was always open. Some stayed the day, and others stayed the night. Our house was a home away from home for many. There are countless stories I could tell about the people who came into my home. I hold each person and their story near to my heart.

When my children were teenagers, I thought I would like to try working outside the home. I worked some part-time jobs, but I found they interfered with our family's priorities and weren't as satisfying as I thought they would be—but I had some extra spending money. At home I found myself busy sewing, cooking, baking, cleaning, canning, doing yard work and gardening. No task was too big for me, and when my husband and I decided to build some houses, I was actively involved in the process. I worked like the man and loved it. The physical activity was rewarding for me.

In 1991 we purchased a broiler farm. We raised up to 30,000 chickens at a time. This meant that I was a full-time farmer making sure equipment was functioning properly, and I became the chief problem-solver. I took care of the chickens and did much of our yard work. Much of the work was mine, since my husband was employed full-time in the city. We stayed on the farm for 10 years.

For 20 years my mother struggled with severe health issues, and I was very involved in her care at her home, in our home and ultimately in palliative care. A few years later, we were providing the same care for my in-laws, and in more recent years we helped provide care and support to our son along with our daughter-in-law. It was important to me that the people I loved were able to die with dignity.

I wanted to be there for my children as they raised their children. I was not one to parent my grandchildren, but I wanted to support them and help them feel loved. We have always been there for our grandchildren, offering them love and support through the good and the bad. Even now we support our grandchildren as they raise their children.

Throughout my husband's career I have had many opportunities to volunteer in our community. We have hosted and supported a variety of events. Even after my husband retired from his position, we have continued to be involved. Throughout my life I have accomplished many things, but it was nothing that I did alone. My husband of 57 years has always supported me. He recognized my contribution to our family and encouraged me. We have worked side by side to achieve great things together. Through the many thankless, messy, hard times, we worked tirelessly to overcome many obstacles.

Something we wanted to instill in our children is that determination to work through obstacles is important: don't just give up. We wanted to teach our kids to be independent thinkers, to be people who sought truth and who in finding truth had a solid moral foundation and value system. For my part, I had four children, and it was my responsibility more than anyone else's to raise them. That was my choice.

For women who make this same choice, respecting their choice is important. Family income-splitting is important. Letting women keep more of their money by decreasing taxes is important, and financial support for seniors who haven't paid into CPP is important.

Looking back on my life, I can see the great impact I have had in the lives of family, friends and community. I was once asked whether, if I had the chance to do it all over again, I would. Yes, I would.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you very much.

As I indicated, we're going to do one question per group. Try to keep your preamble extremely short, because it's going to be about a minute.

Bob, you have the floor.

May 2nd, 2019 / 10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Bratina Liberal Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

That's a shame, because they are both wonderful stories and we could elicit so much good information, but I'll stick to one question.

What do you tell your daughter, or have you talked to your daughter, about the kind of choices she might have to make in her life? Is she married?

Shirley.

10:15 a.m.

As an Individual

Shirley Allan

My daughter is not married. At this point in her life she certainly doesn't have the choice to make that I made, but she certainly knows—I've discussed with her—how my husband and I came to the choice we made. She knows, though, that she's free to make her own choice, if that time ever comes.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Bratina Liberal Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

What I'm getting at is that some young women I've talked to really want to do it all, and I'm not sure.... My wife couldn't do it all.

10:15 a.m.

As an Individual

Shirley Allan

No, I don't believe you can do it all. I don't believe that; something has to give. If you choose to devote yourself to your career, then I believe your personal life has to take some hits and, vice versa, that if you choose to stay at home as I do, your professional life takes a hit. I don't believe you can have it all.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you very much.

I'm going to move over to Rachael, for one minute and a couple of seconds.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Ladies, thank you so much for taking the opportunity to be here and to share your personal stories with us.

In the midst of a whole lot of data and theory, it's really important to settle into personal, lived experience. You've certainly provided that within the context of this study, so thank you for being willing to do that.

One of the things I hear in both of your stories is the importance of respecting a woman's choice, whether that is to be in the workforce, and both of you spent some time there, or to invest time and energy into the home. One of the advantages I see of having invested in your family and having made that your priority is that now on the other side your children are returning that favour and they're able to invest in your lives as seniors, which decreases, then, the chances of being isolated or lonely.

Starting with Arline, I wonder if you can talk a little about the value in raising your own children rather than working at a full-time job and sending them off to day care.

10:20 a.m.

As an Individual

Arline Wickersham

Well, I wanted to raise my kids. I wanted to be there. I saw a lot of situations where, if a kid is sick, who is going to look after the child? Your day care won't look after them. I just wanted to be there to raise my kids.