Evidence of meeting #74 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 centres.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Pat Armstrong  Co-Chair, Equity Committee, Canadian Association of University Teachers
Sonya Howard  Policy Officer, National Association of Friendship Centres

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Good morning. I call the meeting to order.

We're going to start today by continuing our study on the economic security of women in Canada.

I see we already have Sonya Howard here. Sonya is with the National Association of Friendship Centres. We'll also be joined by Pat Armstrong, who is the co-chair of the equity committee of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. She will be with us by videoconference today.

We will start today with Pat Armstrong. Pat, you have 10 minutes.

11 a.m.

Dr. Pat Armstrong Co-Chair, Equity Committee, Canadian Association of University Teachers

Thank you for this opportunity to speak on behalf of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, an organization that represents 70,000 academics at 122 universities and colleges.

Women have made significant progress in entering and working in post-secondary education, as you know. This progress benefits us all. Government programs and legislation have been part of that progress.

In spite of this progress, however, women are more concentrated than men in lower ranks, are more likely to have part-time and casual employment, and often receive lower compensation than their male counterparts. Like many other women, they struggle to find and pay for child care, and those from indigenous and equity-seeking groups, as far as we know from the data available, have even less economic security in the academic world.

Today I will discuss three barriers to economic security in the academy as they affect women in post-secondary education specifically: casualization, child care, and discrimination,.

First is precarity. One out of every three university professors has temporary or part-time employment. It's estimated that two women for every man have contracts versus permanent employment. Casual employment now significantly outpaces full-time employment. The data we have indicate this disparity is even more pronounced for racialized women, women with disabilities, and indigenous women.

In addition to providing limited income, few benefits, and no job security, as well as all the negative health impacts that result from from precarity, casual employment makes it very difficult for these women to do the kind of research and writing that could lead to full-time employment in what has become a highly competitive job market as a result of both cutbacks in funding and new managerial strategies.

The federal government can address casualization in universities in a number of ways. First, it can increase transfers to post-secondary education. Federal government operating grants made up 80% of total university operating revenues in 1990. By 2014 it was less than 50%. These reductions have been a driver in the move to casual employment, and more funding, as well as more stable funding, could promote full-time hiring.

Second, the federal government can work with the provinces and territories to ensure protections through employment legislation for workers in precarious employment, including ladders to full-time employment. Such protections require monitoring and enforcement regimes to discourage employers from using temporary or part-time arrangements to undercut permanent full-time jobs or from unduly exploiting precarious workers.

Third, the federal government could use its significant procurement clout to require contractors accessing public money to demonstrate that they provide decent work.

Fourth, the federal government should assess all social programs to ensure that they support precarious workers. In the case of employment insurance, for example, because of the kinds of hours they work and the way those hours are counted, many part-time and contract academic workers are ineligible for benefits, even though they pay into the program.

Let me turn to our second barrier, lack of child care. Like women throughout Canada, women in academe desperately need a universal, accessible child care program, but the lack of such a program has a particular impact on them. The demands of academic work extend well beyond the classroom, and this is particularly the case for women who are in or seek leadership positions. Without reliable, affordable, full-time child care, academic women may turn down such work or even leave employment. Those with unpredictable part-time or contract work may turn down work because they cannot arrange child care or afford to do so when an offer turns up, especially as is often the case when the offer comes with conditions of beginning the work immediately or within a week.

The CAUT has welcomed the federal-provincial-territorial 10-year agreement on early learning and child care. It is an important step, but the agreement falls short of providing the affordable, flexible, high-quality, fully inclusive child care that allows women to participate equitably in the labour force.

Our third barrier relates to discrimination, the intersections of discrimination for many, and how the forms of discrimination affect women in terms of both compensation and professional advancement.

We are pleased to see that the government recognizes that pay equity is a human right that requires proactive legislation. We urge the government to proceed with such legislation and to use it as a means of ensuring those contracted for government work and government-funded research demonstrate they provide equitable compensation for all, including for those doing part-time and contract work.

We also recommend that the legislation take up the 2004 pay equity task force recommendation to look at the ways racialization, indigeneity, sexual orientation, and disability status affect earnings.

The federal government can also help address discrimination by strengthening the employment equity program, specifically in our case the federal contractors program. That program requires employers working with the federal government to tackle the systemic barriers to economic prosperity for aboriginal and equity-seeking Canadians. Changes to the federal contractors program made in 2013 raised the threshold for compliance with employment equity requirements by federal contractors from $200,000 to $1 million, which leaves out many.

We recommend the threshold be significantly lowered to ensure that those receiving federal funding be required to take action on employment equity and that the enforcement regime be strengthened.

The federal government can also help support women's career advancement by becoming a stronger partner in assuring equity and inclusion in research that is funded by the federal government. Women researchers receive fewer federal research dollars than their male counterparts, depriving the research community and Canadians as a whole of valuable perspectives, experiences, and knowledge.

The federal government needs to act on the recommendations of the advisory panel on federal support for fundamental science to increase Canada's investment in independent research via a federal funding increase of $1.3 billion for basic research, with better-balanced allocation across the three research-granting agencies. This is a gender issue because women disproportionately do research in the humanities and social sciences and in basic research, while the money disproportionately goes to the other sciences.

We thank the committee for taking on these important issues for women's economic security and look forward to your questions.

Thank you.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you very much, Pat.

Now we're going to carry on with Sonya Howard from the National Association of Friendship Centres.

You have 10 minutes, Sonya.

11:05 a.m.

Sonya Howard Policy Officer, National Association of Friendship Centres

Madam Chair, distinguished members of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, thank you very much for this opportunity to present to you on the economic security of women in Canada.

I wish to acknowledge the Algonquin Nation, whose traditional territory we are on today.

I'm a member of the self-governing Tsawwassen First Nation in British Columbia, just south of Vancouver, as well as policy officer here with the National Association of Friendship Centres. The NAFC's executive director, Erin Corston, sends her greetings.

Today I would like to share three things with you. One, I'd like to give you a very brief statistical overview of some of the experiences of indigenous women living in urban areas in Canada and an overview of the friendship centre movement.

Two, I'd like to share some concrete ways in which friendship centres—and the NAFC, to some extent—work towards economic security with and for urban indigenous women across Canada, as an example that the federal government might consider.

Three, time permitting, I'd like to share some targeted recommendations about how the federal government might leverage an organization like the friendship centre network to meet its aims around the economic security of women and, broadly, poverty reduction.

To start, indigenous women, as the committee members may be aware, make up more than half of Canada's total indigenous population. Further, more than half of those indigenous women live in urban areas, while about 36% live on reserves. That's according to StatsCan's national household survey data. Further, indigenous women were unemployed at nearly double the rate of non-indigenous women in 2011—again according to StatsCan—and 36% of indigenous women experience poverty in Canada, which is also over double the rate of non-indigenous women.

To address these and other disparities, friendship centres work to create economic opportunities for indigenous women in over 100 cities and towns across Canada. For over 60 years, friendship centres have been providing a broad continuum of holistic, client-focused, culturally appropriate, and complementary or linked supports on a status-blind basis to all indigenous peoples who walk through their doors. As Canada's original, community-driven, and reconciliation-based form of essentially urban indigenous strategy, the friendship centre network is, de facto, Canada's most significant off-reserve indigenous service delivery infrastructure.

To that point, with over 2.3 million client contacts nationwide annually, over 100 friendship centres in cities and towns across Canada delivered over 1,800 programs and services to Canada's—depending on which StatsCan data you look at and for what year—at least 780,000 urban indigenous people in 2014-2015. These programs and services work to try to address some of the barriers that Ms. Armstrong also mentioned as well, including day cares, access to housing, health clinics, emergency relief, mental health supports, employment and training supports, education supports, some targeted economic development activities, justice supports, language and culture, sports and recreation, and community wellness. That doesn't even include the elders programming and youth programming that a lot of friendship centres use on a holistic basis as well.

Further, a full 90% of the over 3,200 staff at friendship centres in 2014-2015 were women, which could potentially be one of the largest representations of indigenous women in urban area workplaces.

I've hinted that friendship centres work with and for the urban indigenous community, and the reason they're successful is that they use a culturally based, community-driven, holistic, wraparound, and complementary services approach. It's customized based on the needs presented by each client who walks in the door. Further, friendship centres offer services in a non-judgmental, culturally safe way, based on and incorporating the indigenous teachings of their respective regions. That non-judgmental, culturally safe space is very important, as it turns out.

Ensuring that indigenous women have access to the opportunities and means to take part in the economy starts from a place of health and wellness as an individual, a family, and as a community.

Further a healthy community is a violence-free community. That's why friendship centres like the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax deliver a domestic violence support program in partnership with the province of Nova Scotia and community organizations. That's also why the NAFC originally developed a NewJourneys website. It's intended to be a secure website that people can log onto with a secure password. It presents an exhaustive list of services in urban areas to assist those indigenous people, including women, who may be choosing to move to urban areas or may be fleeing domestic violence.

Access to affordable and safe housing is another foundational area for supporting indigenous women's participation in the economy. To help indigenous people access affordable and safe housing in urban areas, for example, the Red Deer Native Friendship Society in Alberta is working with the United Way and the Province of Alberta to build the Asooahum Crossing cultural centre and affordable housing development, a 16-unit multiplex facility. In B.C. as well, the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society is developing a 42-unit housing project with the Province of B.C. St. John's runs a 24/7 shelter, complete with phone, Internet access, and meals.

Recognizing as well that urban indigenous women face unique challenges taking part in the labour market, friendship centres also provide targeted employment and training programs. They served over 19,000 clients in 2014-2015. Further, and as Ms. Armstrong also hinted in mentioning the need for safe, affordable child care, friendship centres also house day cares, aboriginal head start programs, and CAPC, the community action program for children, as well as prenatal nutrition programs and other family programs to help indigenous women access affordable and reliable child care in urban areas.

I would suggest that there are many excellent examples of this in friendship centres across the country, but the Brandon Friendship Centre is one that I've had a chance to visit and see the two day cares they run, one by invitation of the province, as an example of the complementary services approach to employment and training and child care housed in the same area.

Examples of the other types of complementary services friendship centres provide are health service clinics like the Val-d'Or friendship centre's Minowé Clinic and a hostel for those flying in from northern Quebec for health services, as well as the Acocan health clinic in La Tuque.

Closing off these examples of the types of services that friendship centres provide are interim and emergency relief programs, whether it's clothing banks, transportation supports like bus tickets, weekly bread programs like at the Dauphin Friendship Centre in Manitoba or food boxes, food banks, community gardens, and nutrition programs. These are all very close to the client and very grassroots interventions, but they're all crucial when addressing barriers that indigenous women might face taking part in the economy in urban areas.

Central to the success of all these programs are partnerships with the federal government, the provincial government, local and municipal governments, community foundations such as United Way, and other service providers, because they recognize that there are many players in the indigenous services delivery space in urban areas.

This partnership-based approach, along with the suite of in-house wraparound services, contributes to friendship centres' success in working with and for urban indigenous women and economic security.

I would encourage you to take a look at the detailed recommendations in the NAFC's brief, but I would hope I could squeeze in four.

One, touching on Ms. Armstrong's points as well, is to consider ways to increase accessibility, qualifying for, and uptake of EI part 1 and part 2 employment benefits and support measures, perhaps doubling the window of time within which people can bank EI insurable hours, perhaps lowering the EI insurable hours requirement by at least 25% for groups like urban indigenous women.

Two, when renewing any federal indigenous program and funding streams that address economic opportunities or poverty across federal departments, consider taking into account evidence of where indigenous people live, because that's where the services need to be. If over 60% of Canada's indigenous people live in cities and towns, that should perhaps factor into any funding decisions that are made.

As well as respecting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you, Sonya. You've used your time. I would recommend that everybody continue with this excellent brief.

Today as we continue, we'll be going into our round of questions, but I'd like to welcome Michael Levitt, who is here today, as well as Rachel Blaney.

We're going to start our rounds of questions, starting with seven minutes.

I'd like to start with Sean Fraser.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Thank you very much.

We have only seven minutes, so I'd ask you to be concise.

Ms. Howard, I think you had one final recommendation you wanted to state. If you want to start by finishing that, that would be great.

11:15 a.m.

Policy Officer, National Association of Friendship Centres

Sonya Howard

Thank you.

Essentially, support the continuation of urban programming for indigenous peoples through friendship centres to facilitate indigenous women's equitable participation in the Canadian economy through this proven wraparound services model.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Excellent.

I'll begin my questions with Ms. Armstrong. Thank you very much for your helpful testimony.

Starting with the issue of child care, one of the things you talked about is the need to enhance access across Canada.

One of the things I struggle with is that a one-size-fits-all model can be difficult. I come from a rural community. Nova Scotia has, I think, 10 universities and many more colleges, often in small communities outside of Halifax. A federally funded, stand-alone service might be great in a lot of parts of the province, but in others, supporting service delivery that's already happening on the ground could be a more effective strategy.

I'm wondering if you have recommendations that would enhance access to child care in smaller communities where a stand-alone, big facility might not be the right answer.

11:20 a.m.

Co-Chair, Equity Committee, Canadian Association of University Teachers

Dr. Pat Armstrong

I don't think you need to have one-size-fits-all in order to say that we have universal accessible child care. We have universal accessible access to doctor and hospital care without having that uniform across the country, including in rural areas.

I think that small universities—many of which I have been to in the Maritimes—can have their own facilities even within the university, with funding through a federal program that sets standards as we do for health care, such as that they have to be, for example, accessible to all, and accessibility doesn't mean treating everyone the same. It could mean designing specific programs of the sort that we just heard about but that get funding for all children under a particular age or of a particular age.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Just to change subjects for a minute, you discussed the issue of discrimination in terms of where research dollars go. This is a very real and present problem.

I saw Minister Duncan took some steps to enhance equity and inclusion in research by requiring a gender diversity plan, essentially, for universities that would give them access to CRC positions. Is this a prudent approach, or are there other things we can be doing to further enhance gender equity in directing where our tri-agency research dollars go?

11:20 a.m.

Co-Chair, Equity Committee, Canadian Association of University Teachers

Dr. Pat Armstrong

I think there are very important recommendations in the task force report that address some of these issues. I've served on many committees, both in the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and in the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and training researchers' evaluators to think about equity is a good place to start.

For instance, if you sit on a committee and an application to look at homelessness comes up, I ask, “Where is the gender analysis? Where is the analysis in terms of equity-seeking groups?” and I am told, “Oh, well, it's just all men, isn't it?” Not only is it not all men, but not all men who live on the street are the same. We need training within those groups, but we also need a more equitable distribution of the money.

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council gets less than half of what NSERC or CIHI get, as a starting point.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

On that issue, one of the things you hit on is that there is a need for a bit of a culture change and a change in the way people think.

Changing culture from Ottawa can be a very difficult thing in communities across Canada. I'm wondering if you think the right approach might be to find groups that could enter into partnerships with universities. My home university is St. F.X. in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. We have a wonderful women's resource centre in the same town. Would it be a prudent approach to say that there are people who are experts in this in the community, fund those women's centres, for example, to help work in partnership with universities and colleges to bring about this kind of cultural shift.

11:20 a.m.

Co-Chair, Equity Committee, Canadian Association of University Teachers

Dr. Pat Armstrong

I think it's important to encourage partnerships. Also, a number of CAUT reports as well as the task force suggest that we should be valuing research that is done with communities, as opposed to much more traditional kinds of academic research, and that we should be involving communities in research development as well.

I think there can be a risk, though, in requiring partnerships that mean that the partner has to put in money, because then you can only go to certain kinds of partners.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

I'm curious, and perhaps I could ask Ms. Howard a question. You discussed that friendship centres are doing great work in communities now. We heard in some of our previous studies that some of the things we can do to screw things up is get too involved as the government when there's already good work happening on the ground. Sometimes giving people the resources they need and getting out of the way can be the best recipe for success.

One tool that we have through Status of Women Canada is calls for proposals that target different kinds of outcomes. Is this the most effective way to be delivering the kind of change that you envision to promote gender equity through friendship centres, or is there a better model that we can implement from the federal government's perspective?

11:25 a.m.

Policy Officer, National Association of Friendship Centres

Sonya Howard

What I've heard from various friendship centres across the country is that stability in program funding is the most helpful when considering community-driven research like the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network—and I should do a shout-out to that—as well as when considering the programs and services that are offered to women, to families, and economic, employment, and training programs.

Yes, of course, targeted calls for proposals are great. Should some organizations be facing challenges with core funding, however, it can be challenging to also then provide additional targeted responses to calls for proposals.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Thank you. That's my time.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you very much.

We're going to move to Rachel Harder for her seven minutes.

October 26th, 2017 / 11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you very much for being with us today, both by video conference and here in person. We appreciate your time.

I'm going to direct my first question to Sonya.

Sonya, you draw a compelling case for the value that friendship centres have in our country and the way they empower women, so I really appreciated the picture you painted. One thing I noted in what you said was the idea that a federal policy should consider funding where indigenous people live rather than not. With that, you drew attention to the fact that many indigenous people live within urban centres.

I'm curious as to how you would see the funding rolling out into those areas then, specifically to indigenous people, if that's what you have in mind. What would that look like?

11:25 a.m.

Policy Officer, National Association of Friendship Centres

Sonya Howard

I will try to respect the time of the committee and keep it brief.

I should mention that of course we recognize the right of first nations and other indigenous organizations to provide services to those members as well, no matter where they live, and that the federal government should keep in mind that if there are certain outcomes that we're hoping to achieve together, let's be targeted in how we do that.

I think this is where a very diplomatic partnership approach is helpful. We also need to take a clear-eyed look at, I wouldn't say picking winners, but providing a framework that allows those who are most effective at delivering those services to access that funding to do that work.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Sorry, but that's still not clear for me. How would that work? How would you make the funding available and who would be able to apply for it?

11:25 a.m.

Policy Officer, National Association of Friendship Centres

Sonya Howard

I would suggest not small piecemeal calls for proposals, but perhaps larger calls for proposals. You could do that avenue and have the federal government issues those calls directly, or you could also leverage existing networks like the National Association of Friendship Centres, and friendship centres, and support that type of funding stream with some funding set aside, perhaps, for indigenous people living in urban areas.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Okay.

If the government were to do that, if they were to allocate more money to the urban centres, most of us understand we would have to live within a budget, and it's limited. There's a certain amount that has to be allocated. I would imagine, then, that this would mean that a certain portion of the same pot of money, if you will, would be allocated to, let's say, urban areas, and then another portion would be allocated to those living on reserves.

Would this not cause dissension within indigenous peoples' groups?

11:25 a.m.

Policy Officer, National Association of Friendship Centres

Sonya Howard

That's why a partnership approach, which is the space that friendship centres have operated in for over 60 years, is crucial. We recognize, of course, remoteness factors and factors related to specific and unique conditions faced by people living on reserve, which we're certainly not suggesting are not also important.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

You mentioned that many of the people who are working within the friendship centre—I think you said the majority, even—are women, which is wonderful.

What are the friendship centres across Canada doing to empower other women to acquire employment outside of the friendship centres in the mainstream Canadian job market?

11:30 a.m.

Policy Officer, National Association of Friendship Centres

Sonya Howard

The answer is twofold. They gain that significant experience at the friendship centre, and to be blunt, we often hear of friendship centre staff being poached by the provincial government or by other governments because they've gained those baseline skills. That's one: they are hubs and incubators for those skills.

The second is the employment and training supports and those broader supports that aren't just focused on the friendship centre but help indigenous women gain job skills, gain work placements, and access affordable child care.