Evidence of meeting #3 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 list.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Meena Ballantyne  Head of Agency, Status of Women Canada

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

I call the meeting to order.

Seeing that it's after 3:30 p.m., I'll invite the members to sit, and I would say bienvenue encore.

We have a very exciting meeting today. We are very fortunate to have the minister. Minister Hajdu is here. I don't know if all of you know her, but in the short time I've come to know her, I've been very impressed with her credentials, which include a degree from Lakehead and a post-graduate degree from the University of Victoria. What is even more important is that she has a huge history of work with shelters and addicted folks and helping with the whole social infrastructure.

It's my pleasure to welcome Minister Hajdu today. I'll turn it over to you.

February 23rd, 2016 / 3:35 p.m.

Thunder Bay—Superior North Ontario

Liberal

Patty Hajdu LiberalMinister of Status of Women

Thank you so much, Marilyn, for your very kind words. I appreciate that. I've started making my way around, but I'm a talker, so I didn't get all the way around. I hope to get to know all of you in a little more detail soon.

Madam Chair, I welcome the opportunity to appear before this committee today. I understand that Meena Ballantyne and the executive team of Status of Women Canada met with you last week to give you an overview of the agency and its work.

Today I first want to take the opportunity to commend the committee for all of its important work ahead on issues that make a critical difference in the lives of women and girls across our great country. I very much look forward to collaborating with the committee as we work together to create promising futures for all women and girls across Canada.

Let me say at the outset how proud I am to have the opportunity to serve all Canadians as Minister of Status of Women and to serve my constituents as a brand new MP. Both of my new roles allow me to continue my own professional and personal journey, which includes service to the community and social advocacy.

What has most often motivated me in my career, and still does today, is the desire to improve the lives of others and to help ensure that everyone has a real and fair chance to succeed. I intend to fulfill my duties by working with others in a renewed spirit of innovation, openness, and collaboration, just as the Speech from the Throne committed our government to doing last fall.

As a government, we are strongly committed to ensuring the full participation of women in the economic, social, and democratic life of Canada. As you heard from my agency last week, women have in recent decades made significant progress in educational attainment, participation in the workforce, and taking on leadership roles through the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors.

At the same time, we know that more progress is possible. It may be 2016, but violence against women and girls persists. Women remain under-represented in many sectors of our economy and in many leadership positions.

One of our government's first priorities is to address the urgent need to reduce and prevent gender-based violence in our society. It goes without saying that violence against women is not acceptable, and it should never be tolerated in our society. In my previous role, leading one of the largest homeless shelters in my home community, I saw first-hand the effects of gender-based violence, deep-rooted gender inequality, and victimization. As we know, these conditions cause profound suffering for women and girls. What I also saw was how the ripple effects from violence, such as poverty, inadequate housing, and lack of victim supports, can lead to overwhelming cycles of intergenerational poverty and violence that are very difficult to overcome. Still, we do know that change is possible and that we can create more hopeful futures.

How we respond to the issue of gender-based violence can make a real difference in the lives of women and their families. Our government is taking action. We have launched an inquiry into the high number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in our country. Over the past three months, as part of the pre-inquiry process, I and my colleagues, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and the Minister of Justice, have met with and listened to survivors, families, and loved ones. We've also heard from representatives of front-line services and indigenous organizations, and we've been profoundly touched by the stories that we've heard from family members and loved ones who have been directly affected by these tragic deaths and disappearances.

In the coming months, we'll be announcing details of the inquiry and how the inquiry will contribute to the government's commitment to reconciliation and a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous people in Canada.

I've also begun meeting with organizations, advocates, my provincial and territorial colleagues, and international experts to discuss innovative ideas that can be part of a comprehensive federal strategy to reduce and prevent gender-based violence. As part of this effort, our government is also committed to growing and maintaining Canada's network of shelters and transition homes as part of our infrastructure plans. We're taking these actions because enabling women and girls to live violence-free lives can remove a critical barrier to realizing their full potential and move us closer to gender equality.

When it comes to advancing gender equality, our government is also committed to leading by example. Under the Prime Minister's leadership, women now hold 50% of cabinet positions for the first time federally, and we are committed to ensuring that the federal government's senior appointments are merit-based and demonstrate gender parity. We also believe in making sure that the needs of women and girls are fully understood when we design new policies, programs, and legislation. For this reason, we will be applying a gender lens to the work that we do, taking into account the different impact our decisions will have on women when compared with men.

We've also accepted the recommendations of the Auditor General's report that was released this month. It recognized that progress has been made in implementing gender-based analysis, commonly referred to as GBA, across many federal organizations. However, we agree with the Auditor General that more work is needed to enhance the implementation and the impact of GBA.

As we move forward, Status of Women Canada will continue to promote GBA as an important competency for federal officials that will strengthen its application across the federal government. I will be working closely with my cabinet colleagues to ensure that departments are using GBA so that the work of the federal government is even more responsive to the needs of all Canadians, both women and men.

Madam Chair, these actions we are taking to move us closer to gender equality are not just the right thing to do for women but they are the smart thing to do for our economy. Women's contribution to the economy was $130 billion in 2012, or approximately 7% of the GDP, according to the RBC. If we make gender diversity a priority in all sectors of the economy, this contribution to Canada's growth and prosperity will be even greater.

As you also heard last week, our international ranking when it comes to the gender wage gap is falling. Canada now ranks 28th out of 34 OECD countries for the wage gap between male and female full-time, full-year workers.

Our ranking with respect to gender equality has also been losing ground internationally. Canada dropped 10 positions, falling to 30th out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum 2015 Global Gender Gap Report.

Canada's persistent gender wage gap and the lack of gender balance in democratic institutions are cited as reasons for the significant decline. We know Canada set a record in the last election, with women now holding 26% of seats in the House of Commons.

As a government we have clearly stated that we want to make meaningful progress on reducing the wage gap between men and women across this country, and our government is strongly supportive of the principle of pay equity. That's why we supported the motion recently passed by the House of Commons to have a special committee examine this issue.

However, pay equity is only one small piece of the puzzle. No single individual, organization, or level of government will be able to single-handedly solve the gender wage gap in our country. We will need the support of our provincial and territorial partners to find innovative ways to close the gender wage gap. In fact, I expect this issue to be among the topics addressed with my provincial and territorial colleagues at our annual meeting this June, and, of course, we as a government are committed to doing our part.

Status of Women works collaboratively with stakeholders in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors on projects at the national, regional, or community level that increase the representation of women in leadership and decision-making positions. In fact, last week I announced a new call for proposals, inviting organizations to propose projects that will empower women in two different ways. The first will identify projects that engage indigenous woman and strengthen the role they play in their communities. The second involves projects to empower women for political or community action.

Another way to address the gender wage gap is by removing specific barriers that affect the labour market participation of women. This is why we are committed to addressing issues such as child care, better access to flexible work arrangements, and more accessible home care.

Finally, Madam Chair, it is important that we take advantage of occasions such as the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York next month to make sure that Canada's voice is heard internationally when it comes to advancing the rights of women and girls around the world. I look forward to doing just that on behalf of Canada.

We will also be celebrating International Women's Day next month in Canada, in order to bring even greater attention to the need to advance gender equality. We will promote the vision that women and girls who are empowered are better equipped to fulfill their potential for themselves, their families, their communities, and indeed their country. This theme reflects the fact that we know women's empowerment is an essential ingredient in achieving gender equality. However, we must also move from vision to action and acting together.

Each of the actions I've spoken about today reflects the confidence I have that if we do work together, we will increase opportunities for women across our country, move Canada closer to gender equality, and inspire young women and girls all at the same time.

Let me end by saying how much I look forward to working with this committee over the coming months to tackle some of the barriers to achieving gender equality in this country. My agency and I would be happy to provide any information you need as you deliberate on your priorities for action going forward.

Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Thank you very much, Minister Hajdu.

The committee is going to continue the work we began last week when we had Ms. Meena Ballantyne and Ms. Linda Savoie with us. Thank you for coming again.

We are developing a list from which we will select areas of interest where we're going to begin working. There are so many things to do.

We wanted to give the opportunity for committee members to quiz you regarding your mandate letter and try to identify which things you already have on the go and which things have not yet been addressed, or areas where you have a focus and there's more work to be done that we might be able to contribute to.

In that light we'll be following our usual timing protocol, and I will keep you in line. We will start with my colleagues to the right, and I will let you just free-for-all it for seven minutes.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Thank you for being here, Minister, and also for the important work that you and Status of Women are doing.

You have a background in gender-based violence. You've been on the ground and now you're the Minister of Status of Women. You're bringing a unique perspective to the role, which is welcomed by all of us.

There are many things involved with gender-based violence: prevention, education, intervention, and recovery. Do you see any gaps in the legislation or any issues that we as a committee could be looking at to help inform what you and the department are doing?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Thank you very much. That's an excellent question.

When we start moving toward the development of the gender-based violence strategy, that's when we will be able to identify with more clarity what legislative gaps exist. I've heard some concerns from different groups of stakeholders, but what we need to do is assess in a more thorough fashion—which is exactly the role of developing the federal strategy—to make sure that we're listening to stakeholders. Stakeholders from across the country, whether they're political stakeholders, whether they're community-based stakeholders, or whether they're advocates, have some strong perspectives on exactly that. What are the legislative gaps that put women at risk, that are making us not able to respond to women at risk, and that are creating barriers in terms of the ways that women even report gender-based violence?

I can't answer your question directly in terms of specific legislation, but I can say that it is a big part of the federal strategy.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

I know you're going to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women later in March. Can you share with us what you're hoping to achieve at the session?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Absolutely. I'm thrilled to be leading Canada's official delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. One of the things we want to do is work with our international partners to promote the idea of gender equality. We know that countries are in different places across the world in this regard.

We want to also include the notion of empowering indigenous women. There will be a strong focus on indigenous women at this particular conference, and we're looking forward to being strong partners in terms of that form of empowerment. Enfolded in that is the right to indigenous women to live their lives free from violence as well.

We're also supporting an inclusive and transparent approach to international diplomacy, which will give a greater role to NGOs, non-governmental organizations, at the UN. We want to empower the people who are working at the grassroots level to have a strong voice in these regards.

We'll be bringing five representatives that we're sponsoring. Of course, other NGOs will be sending Canadian delegates as well, and we're excited about that. We think we have a good contingency with a diverse group of women who will represent Canada admirably. A number of federal departments, as well as officials from five provincial and territorial governments, will also be part of the Canadian delegation.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

I'm going to share my time with my colleague to the right.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Good afternoon. Welcome, Minister.

I have a proposal. There is a large gap between employment in the genders in certain fields. Some fields that are particularly male-dominated include mathematics, engineering, the sciences, and skilled trades. While there have been many studies attempting to deduce why women take jobs in different fields, there has been no serious study on the interests of these women versus the realities they experience, both in the workforce and in academic settings, that may dissuade them from pursuing further studies and professions.

Academic environments and social circles, particularly in the fields mentioned above, still present challenges for and biases against women. The old boys' club, so to speak, is still alive and well in many of these disciplines. Engineering in particular, and the academic culture that promotes it, has been known to be hostile toward female students. The harassment they feel has visibly pushed females from pursuing their dreams in that profession. University culture can often be more intimidating than the professional realm for any teenagers or young adults who are still not as confident and secure as they would be in years to come, and would not be prepared or willing to face such adversity.

To what extent is university culture in typically male-dominated disciplines hindering women from attaining careers in the professions that interest them?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Thank you very much.

You're absolutely right. One of the ways to address a gender wage gap is to encourage more women to enter what we call STEM professions—science, technology, etc. Status of Women knows this and has been working on it. I must commend the agency, because they've been leaders on this issue.

Much of the work we've done through granting has been around encouraging women to either enrol in STEM studies or to take that education and then gainfully apply it to employment.

There are two issues, really. There is the issue of engaging women to be interested in STEM, which is, as we can see from our academic outcomes, starting to decrease as a problem, but the bigger problem is actually moving women who are educated in STEM areas into the workforce. For example, the rate of women in mining is incredibly low. It's something in the range of 7%.

These are the kinds of things that Status of Women is very interested in. I had the great opportunity to visit one of the not-for-profit organizations that receive Status of Women funding in Vancouver. They have a very innovative program in which they have almost an online matching system whereby they connect young women who are seeking or pursuing a career in STEM jobs, for lack of a better word, to mentors they have sought out who will help these women navigate their way in an often very male-dominated field.

These are the kinds of things we're actively exploring to make sure that women who are interested in those careers have an opportunity to not only gain the education but then gain access to those fields.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

We will now move to my colleagues on the left.

Ms. Harder, you may begin.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

I'll reiterate what my colleagues across the table have already said and thank you for coming and giving us your time today.

I have a number of questions for you, but maybe we'll take them one at a time.

My first question has to do with human trafficking. In my perception, this falls within this mandate concerning violence against women. I understand you are working on a national strategy.

In December there was a report of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking that states the following:

Status of Women Canada is supporting the development of culturally specific services for immigrant and refugee women victims of violence and human trafficking at an Edmonton area shelter.

I think that's to be commended, but I wonder whether, in funding this one shelter, there are any plans moving forward to fund future shelters in this same capacity. As well, what do those plans look like, if they are in place?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

I think we have two questions in one. One is the issue around human trafficking. The justice department is taking the lead, and we will definitely support them in any way we can to protect women and girls, in whatever capacity that is.

In terms of shelter access, from my perspective—and this is something I know a tremendous amount about—we really have two distinct issues. One is the issue of enough shelter spaces, regardless of the programmatic issue. The other issue is around access. I'll be working very closely with my colleagues and with Status of Women to uncover what kinds of levers we have available to us to make sure that women have access to shelters.

Women face all kinds of barriers to shelters, whether cultural, whether related to their health practices or even to how shelters define domestic violence. From our perspective, we know we have limited capacity to control at an organizational level what an organization will do, but we know that we can also offer some best practices, some training, some guidance and support, so that women's shelters are able to meet their mandate, which is really to support women fleeing violence, regardless of where that violence is coming from.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

As a follow-up question, what do you as a legislator feel can be done with respect to addressing the social problems we see that lead to women being in places of violence from which they have to flee to these shelters? I'm curious whether you can shed some light on that aspect.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

I think it's a complex answer. I'm sure you agree.

There's legislation, but there's also practical support.

Prior to running a homeless shelter, my background was public health. That's why I'm thrilled about our government's investment in things like affordable housing, support for women in the burden they face in caring for elders, and support for child care as a solution. These are the kinds of things that will enable women to have safer lives and enable women to have more prosperous economic futures.

In terms of legislation, as I said to your colleague, as we move forward with our federal strategy, we'll be able to uncover specific legislative mechanisms that can either protect women or address some of the violations that we see women face.

In terms of the prevention piece, which is an excellent question, it is those foundations of a healthy beginning that I think provide the best opportunity for prevention. Investment in indigenous communities, for example, to equalize education opportunities is one of the best ways to prevent violence against women. The more a woman has at her hands and at her fingertips—even if she does end up in a situation of domestic violence, for example—the more tools she has to deal with that problem and to move from that problem more quickly than a woman who's living in dire poverty.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

My next question has to do with a bill that was brought forward by the former Conservative government. We brought forward a provision to prevent cyberbullying and the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. It was a direct change to the Criminal Code.

These laws were brought in because of a number of tragic incidents of teenage girls committing suicide because they were coerced or blackmailed into putting images online and then bullied severely at school.

It's my understanding that you've said, as the Liberal government, that you're going to reverse these laws going forward. You would reverse the laws the Conservative government brought in during our time in power.

I'm wondering if in fact that is the intention, and if you would lobby your cabinet colleagues to keep these Criminal Code provisions in order to protect young women?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Thank you.

I share your concern. I've followed with interest some of the stories that we all know about with women who have been severely bullied online, perhaps through sharing activities that should remain private, etc. It's an extremely concerning issue. It's under-reported. Many women and girls suffer in silence. In particular, young girls are extremely vulnerable. We live in a digital world that we don't fully understand yet. We don't fully understand how powerful the tool is and what the consequences are on the private lives of girls.

As a person who has been a young woman, I can imagine what it's like when you take schoolyard bullying to the next level and it becomes bullying at a global level, and when anybody can have access to anything you've ever said or done.

This is an area that I would encourage the committee to spend some time looking at, because any federal strategy needs to include the reality that women are facing digital violence on a regular basis.

Look at some of the women that are commenting on violence on Twitter, for example. One woman I met, Julie Lalonde, who has taken on the issue of gender-based violence in a digital world, has had incredible.... If you follow her Twitter feed, you'll see that it's unbelievable what gets thrown at her.

She is committed to raising and elevating this issue, and she stays online despite the fact that she has been threatened, harassed, smeared, stalked—you name it.

I would encourage this to be part of your deliberations. As we move forward into this brave new world, how do we protect the women and girls, especially the young girls, who are coming up in this world? It is almost like a lawless wild frontier.

There was also recently another case in which some women pursued legal action against a man who had been extremely violent on Twitter. He was found not guilty.

These are the kinds of things we need to look at in terms of legislation, in terms of protective measures, in terms of education, and in terms of prevention.

Thank you. That's an excellent question.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Excellent. All right. We'll move along to Ms. Malcolmson. You get seven minutes too.

4 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you to the Minister.

There is lots of common cause so far as to what you want to achieve, so I'm going to focus right into the timelines of some of the specifics. That's so we can get a sense of what to prioritize in our own work.

One concern is shelter funding. We know the numbers. As many as 8,000 women and children are in need of shelter on any given night. With the running-down of the shelter enhancement program under the previous government, I think there is an near-term need to look at how much money you are returning to that program. What's the timeline? How many beds are you able to create?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Thank you very much for that question. You know that this issue is near and dear to me as well.

I have to say, “Stay tuned.” You know that our budget will be released on March 22. There will be more detail in that budget about how we specifically intend to address the significant social infrastructure deficit. I'm extremely proud of the work that my colleague, Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, is doing on this issue. Certainly he is very well aware of the needs of vulnerable people, including women. I have confidence in him and I have confidence that he'll be addressing this issue in a very thorough way.

4 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

At that point, will we be able to see what your goals are as far as number of beds and a timeline are concerned?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

I think that we will not be drilling down to the specific number of beds, but certainly you'll have a sense of the budget portfolio. Then as we move forward with our stakeholders, we'll able to define in a clearer way where that money needs to go in terms of provinces and programs.

4 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Is there any sense of the general timeline, of how soon you think you might get to that point?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

At this time there is not.

4 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

All right.

Concerning the murdered and missing indigenous women's inquiry, another one that's thankfully very high-profile in your work, I'm curious whether you have, within your ministry, a mandate to implement, and also whether you are confident that you will be able to secure funding to support the families, advocates, and survivors of violence within the murdered and missing indigenous inquiry.