Evidence of meeting #145 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 work.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Nancy Gardiner  Assistant Deputy Minister, Department for Women and Gender Equality
Lisa Smylie  Director General, Research, Results and Delivery, Results and Delivery Unit, Department for Women and Gender Equality
Danielle Bélanger  Director, GBA Plus, Policy and External Relations, Department for Women and Gender Equality

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Good morning. Welcome to the 145th meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. This meeting is public.

Today, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), we are commencing our study of the main estimates 2019-20: votes 1, 5 and 10 under Department for Women and Gender Equality, referred to the committee on April 11, 2019.

The committee is pleased to welcome the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality. She is joined by Diane Jacovella, Deputy Minister; Nancy Gardiner, Assistant Deputy Minister; and Stéphane Lavigne, Chief Financial Officer and Executive Director for Corporate Services.

I will turn the floor over to the minister.

You have 10 minutes, Minister.

May 16th, 2019 / 8:45 a.m.

Peterborough—Kawartha Ontario

Liberal

Maryam Monsef LiberalMinister for Women and Gender Equality

Good morning, and thank you, Madam Chair.

Boozhoo. Aaniin.

As-salaam alaikum. Ramadan kareem to my Muslim colleagues in this space and beyond.

We are on traditional territory that the Algonquin peoples have called home for generations upon generations.

This is my first time meeting with you in this room. I'm thankful to be here to speak with you about the main estimates and how they're going to allow Women and Gender Equality to better implement the mandate that it has been given.

As you know, the focus of our government on advancing gender equality is based on two premises. One, it's the right thing to do. It's the fair thing to do. Two, it's also the smart thing to do. It's the economically advantageous thing to do. When women succeed, everyone benefits.

That pillar, our gender equality pillar, has been a big driver for economic growth for us since we formed government. This plan that we've put together is working: one million jobs, the lowest poverty rate on record and the lowest unemployment rate we've had in over four decades. We have lifted out of poverty 300,000 children who are not going to bed hungry anymore. Also, we've been able to sign three trade agreements. This is all a sign that our plan is working.

I want to thank the members of this committee for your important work. When you collaborated and you worked together, you had tremendous results. As the minister responsible for this file, I tell the stories, especially around gender-based violence, of how you came together and how you made a world of difference for a lot of people. You've eased a lot of suffering, for example, with the conversations you had with Facebook around revenge porn.

When women have choices, when they have a voice, opportunity and the right skills, when they have safety, and when they have role models and social safety nets, they move mountains. Every single one of us knows women in our lives—and those women are around this table as well—who are able to do big things because of those choices, opportunities and means.

Our government has worked to apply an intersectional gendered lens throughout everything we do and every decision in cabinet. Now it's the law to apply that lens to budgets. More and more, we're seeing committees do a really good job of that. There are still some inconsistencies around the application of GBA+, but we intend to make sure that we get better.

I do want to thank my parliamentary secretary, Terry Duguid, who has been working very hard with other parliamentary secretaries to make sure that the GBA+ is something that committees apply as well.

The Canada child benefit is giving more money to single moms and helping them make ends meet. The lower taxes for the middle class and the raised taxes for the 1%, along with lower taxes for small businesses, mean that Canadians have more money in their pockets. For seniors, especially for women—I know you've done a study on this—the guaranteed income supplement and the fact that we brought the eligibility age back to 65 is lifting tens of thousands of seniors out of poverty, many of whom are women.

There's the national housing strategy, with over $50 billion now over 10 years to stabilize the housing market in communities across the country. In Peterborough, my own community, the rental vacancy rate is 1.1%. We know that women are the first to lose housing and the last to get housing.

We know that housing is a social determinant of health, but it's also a determinant of gender-based violence. To have a carveout in the gender-based violence strategy—about a third—designed specifically for women-led families is a solution that's going to make a world of difference. There are 7,000 shelter units either being renovated or built anew. That's going to mean that she has a place to turn to when she works up the courage to leave an awful situation.

If we're applying an intersectional gendered lens, talking about feminist governments and working to ensure that we bring others along with us, it's because there has been a women's movement, an equality-seeking movement, that existed long before any of us got here. It will be here long after we're gone. The sustainability of that movement is my number one priority; we know, and results show, that the most effective way to advance gender equality is by investing in them.

For the first time ever, they've received funding over five years, capacity-building funding, with over $50 million as part of the gender-based violence strategy. The point here is that they don't always have to look inward, applying for grants one year at a time. They can have some predictability and stability with five-year grants that go beyond an election cycle.

We also know there are barriers for those women who choose to enter STEM fields, or trades. We're working to remove them. We know that only 16% of Canadian entrepreneurs' businesses are majority-owned by women—16%. Surely we can do better than that in Canada. We have a strategy to double that number by 2025.

We know that care work is most often a big responsibility for women. What if that responsibility and privilege were shared with the second parent, often the father? We have new shared parental leave that allows for just that. Child care is very much in line with that. Our investment in child care means there will be at least 40,000 new child care spaces. Importantly, there are spaces, through a distinctions-based approach, for indigenous children. We have a new child care framework for indigenous kids—Métis, Inuit and first nations. That's been a smart collaboration between our governments in a nation-to-nation way.

Over half the boil water advisories have been lifted, and we know there's a direct link between women and water. We know that in indigenous cultures and in many others women are the keepers of the water. Water is sacred; water is life. To have lifted half the advisories and be on track to lift the rest of them by 2021—in the next two years—is a big step forward. What that means for those communities, too, is that they suddenly become open for economic development. It's hard to invest if there's no clean drinking water in a community, but we're changing that.

Evidence matters. Data matters, so bringing back the census, and the ability of scientists to do what they need to do.... For example, the shelter survey results from a couple of weeks ago indicated where the gaps and opportunities are. Also, the fact that Stats Canada has a centre for diversity and inclusion statistics, a one-stop shop for all the data we're working on, to create better intersectional, gendered lenses, is really important. That's something that stays long after we're gone. Data and evidence anchor the progress we have made.

The billions we are providing to support education, infrastructure, skills, housing and leadership in indigenous communities mean that we are in this era of reconciliation and that we will not be turning back. Communities have more opportunities to self-determine the paths they want to take.

These accomplishments are significant, and many of them have been happening ahead of schedule—for example, the indexation of the Canada child benefit, not once, but twice, and the lifting of people out of poverty. We are ahead of schedule, with one million jobs. Who would have thought, when we formed a government in a recession, that we'd be talking about a million jobs and three trade agreements three years later? This is happening because our government isn't alone, but is working with our partners to do this.

We know that for all the progress that's been made, more work remains, and we're committed to that work. There are some institutional challenges that we're working to address. The fact that GBA+ is now in law for gender budgeting is an important way that we're addressing some systemic barriers.

Indeed, we are taking that diversity lens to the appointments that the federal government makes, and we have instituted a new appointment process. Thousands have been appointed to really important roles in federally regulated jurisdictions. Now, 47% of those who sit around those important tables, and who make decisions, whether it's port authorities, VIA rail or other important agencies and bodies, are women. The Senate of Canada is also at parity right now, at a time when on corporate boards in Canada, only one in five seats is filled by a woman. Again, surely we can do better in Canada.

We have a gender results framework that provinces and territories have agreed to use with us—a common set of indicators to measure our progress. We have proactive pay equity legislation, Bill C-65 and Bill C-51.

Of course, come June 3, the inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women wraps up its work.

I wanted to give you an overview. Thank you again for all the ways you've been a part of this work.

Madam Chair, I'm happy to take any questions colleagues may have.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you very much.

We're going to begin with our seven minutes of questioning. I'm going to pass the floor over to Salma Zahid.

You have the first seven minutes.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Thanks, Minister, for coming to the committee today.

I'll be splitting my time with my colleague, Bob Bratina.

Minister, I understand that the department is receiving $160 million over the next five years, including $10 million in budget 2019 and in the main estimates under vote 10. In addition to supporting the department's work, I understand this can also mean greater support for the women's movement and organizations doing important work, including organizations in my riding like Heritage Skills Development Centre and Victoria Park Hub, a community centre of women organizations. You have been to many of them.

Could you please discuss what this funding will enable for women in Canada?

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Underfunded, underestimated and undervalued is how these organizations have felt. That's something we're hearing from international women's organizations and what we had been hearing from those on the ground. These funds are meant to provide them with five years of stable, predictable and accessible revenues, so that they can focus on going from analog to digital, come up with new strategic plans, diversify their funding sources, and better collaborate and share data. Some of them want to turn what they're doing into a social enterprise. This is one of those ways that we give them support to be able to do that.

Most importantly, Salma, this funding means that when someone experiences a sexual assault, they have somebody to go to and the doors are open and the lights are on. It means that when we're investing in trades and entrepreneurship, there are organizations specifically looking to support women in those communities to start their own businesses, to scale up their own businesses and to benefit from the grants that women in communities have now to go and get a Red Seal trade diploma.

It means that they're continuing their advocacy to make sure that we do what we need to do, especially in this moment in time when the winds of populism are blowing the way they are and when the backlash to our progress is so clear. These organizations are going to hold all of us to account and advocate for more of us to be around these decision-making tables.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

I'll pass it to Bob.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Bratina Liberal Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Thank you, Minister. It's great to have you here.

To be specific because our time is limited, the government launched the independent National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2016. I thought at the time that this took a great deal of courage because we knew it would be a difficult file. It's not just collecting some data and releasing a report, but it's far deeper than that.

The commissioners have been examining the systemic causes behind the violence, the greater vulnerability to violence and why these higher levels occur. The report will be presented on June 3. In advance of the release of the report, what steps has the government been taking or will it take to combat gender-based violence, specifically against indigenous women?

9 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

There have been hundreds of inquiries before. This one was a national one. It meant that provinces and territories had to be a part of it. As you said, it was always going to be difficult. What we promised when we started the inquiry was that we wouldn't wait until we received the report to take action.

The gender-based violence strategy that this committee helped develop was an important step. It is the first time that there has been a federal strategy to prevent gender-based violence, to support survivors, and to ensure that we have a legal and justice system in place that is responsive to the needs of survivors. You helped do that.

Over $200 million has been set aside for it. Part of the funding that's been set aside is to focus specifically on those groups that disproportionately experience gender-based violence in communities across the country. Those include indigenous women and girls, as well as two-spirit and LGBT individuals.

We have also started, based on the results of the interim report, a commemoration fund to honour our stolen sisters, to make sure families are a part of it.

I will say that with regard to those job numbers that I shared—one million Canadians are working today—these are jobs that didn't exist three and a half years ago. There are more indigenous people working now than ever before. There are more young people working now than ever before. We know that economic insecurity is a predeterminant of violence in some cases. It's not always the case because people who are of good economic means also experience and perpetrate gender-based violence, but it's one risk that we can avoid.

We know that, with regard to the boil water advisories and the respect and the honour that need to be in place, we're getting there. However, we have a lot more work to do. This problem was created over one hundred years of colonization, oppression, racism and sexism. Together, we are on that path. The path is long and is not always easy, but we're together. We're committed to doing it.

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Okay.

Passing it on, we now have Rachael Harder.

You have seven minutes.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Minister, your mandate changed on December 13, 2018. The department changed from being Status of Women Canada to being WAGE.

I'm just curious whether you received a new mandate letter from the Prime Minister.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Yes, we're five months into Women and Gender Equality. We went from a small, mighty shop to a full department with equal rights, privileges, authorities and responsibilities.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Minister, sorry. My question is quite simple. I'm just asking if you received a new mandate letter.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

In Bill C-86, the....

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excuse me.

I'm going to put it back over to the question.

Go ahead.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

I'm just asking you a very simple question. It actually just requires yes or no answer.

Did you receive a mandate letter with your new department?

9 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Parliament saw the new mandate in Bill C-86. The scope of the work has expanded to go beyond equality between women and men to include equality between sexes and around sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Okay.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

That new mandate is in law that Parliament passed and that, as you mentioned, received royal assent on December 13, 2018.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

It did.

Interestingly enough, in your original mandate letter from October 4, 2017—which was under the old agency that no longer exists because, as you know, on December 13, 2018, that agency dissolved with the creation of a new department—the Prime Minister wrote:

I expect Canadians to hold us accountable for delivering [on] these commitments....

He went on to say:

It is my expectation that we will deliver real results and professional government to Canadians.

He then went on to say:

We have also committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government. It is time to shine more light on government to ensure it remains focused on the people it serves. Government and its information should be open by default. If we want Canadians to trust their government, we need a government that trusts Canadians. It is important that we acknowledge mistakes when we make them. Canadians do not expect us to be perfect — they expect us to be honest, open, and sincere in our efforts to serve the public interest.

It's a noble goal. It's the right goal. I certainly agree with the mandate or the expectation that was put out. However, having been given a new department without a clear mandate.... It would seem then that there's no longer an openness to transparency, honesty and accountability because it would be difficult for this committee and for Canadians as a whole to hold you accountable.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Rachel Bendayan Liberal Outremont, QC

I have a point of order, Madam Chair.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Ms. Bendayan.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Rachel Bendayan Liberal Outremont, QC

I believe the minister is here to discuss main estimates and to respond to questions on the main estimates.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Could you get to the question?

The relevance there is the main estimates, which look at the entire budget as well. As this is a question regarding mandate and the spending for that mandate, I will allow the questioner to continue.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Not being given a mandate letter just seems odd to me, that you wouldn't be given instructions on where to take this department and what to accomplish on behalf of Canadians, and that Canadians wouldn't be given the opportunity to understand that better by making that public.

My question for you, then is, why didn't you receive a new mandate letter?

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

No, Madam Chair, the whole thing didn't dissolve and disappear into thin air. Status of Women is the foundation upon which we have built this new department.

I will add that our government was the first to put out there, in public, mandate letters. My mandate letter hasn't changed. I am still working to advance the items that you see very clearly on the Government of Canada website that I am responsible for, with the addition, as is very clearly included in Bill C-86, of the need to expand the scope to include LGBTQ2S individuals in the work we do, and to have more rights and opportunities.

This means that this new department is not going to be vulnerable to the whims and values of the sitting government of the day. It's here to stay. The work is basically the same, with the expanded mandate, so it's very clear in Bill C-86.