Evidence of meeting #5 for Status of Women in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was pandemic.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Yes, I'd appreciate that. I do remember the announcement. It was $9 billion in total for students—I believe on April 22, was it?—and then it did take about two months to roll out the program. I'm sure you would agree it was a bit of a disaster of a rollout. I do believe that this grant is very important, so I'm very keen to see it be successful, but I am concerned.

Was this decision brought forward at all to cabinet so that the women and gender equality minister could provide her feedback regarding the impact on women or the GBA+? Are you aware of any of that?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I cannot of course divulge cabinet confidence, but as a matter of process, the cabinet does have such discussions.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Can you confirm—or maybe Minister Monsef can confirm—if she provided feedback regarding the sole-source contract to WE and the impact on women?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Thank you for sharing a bit of your own personal story. As someone who worked in a restaurant for five years, I appreciate it.

As Minister Qualtrough said, we obviously can't divulge cabinet matters, but let me be very clear. The purpose of these programs is to support students who are ready to step up and to do things in their communities that make a difference, that ease suffering, and we remain committed to that—

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

For sure. I'm sorry, Minister. We have to move on. I only have half a minute left.

I'll just get right to it. I'm just looking for confirmation from either of you in any of your involvement on this, and particularly Minister Monsef, with the approval and the women angle.

Minister Qualtrough, can you confirm that your department will turn over all documentation and make witnesses involved in this WE “scam”, as it has been called, available to the Ethics Commissioner for the investigation, and will your department fully co-operate with the Auditor General and the procurement ombudsman?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I can absolutely confirm that we will work with the Auditor General and comply with any such requests.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you so much.

We're now going to Marc Serré.

Marc, you have five minutes.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I want to thank Minister Qualtrough and Minister Monsef for their presentations and for their work in assisting organizations in Canada, particularly during the pandemic.

My first question is for Minister Monsef. It concerns the $50 million in funding to help women's shelters and to combat domestic violence.

When I was speaking to local organizations, I spoke with Linda Lafantaisie Renaud, the executive director of the Horizon Women's Centre in West Nipissing, and with the executive director of the YWCA in greater Sudbury, Marlene Gorman. They're very, very thankful for the support during this pandemic, especially the support related to the women being quarantined. There is additional support, so organizations don't have to worry about the pandemic and can focus on the support for women and the flexibility in the funds. Madame Lafantaisie mentioned that she was so relieved about the work done in partnership between the federal government and the Province of Ontario, with Premier Ford. Earlier the opposition mentioned cherry-picking, but the organizations were really supportive. They were really thankful that the federal government and the provincial government are working together to make sure that we support women's organizations.

I wanted to give you an opportunity, Minister Monsef, to elaborate on the partnership that you've been working on closely with Premier Ford in Ontario to support women's organizations across the province.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

MP Serré, it's wonderful to see you well.

When the pandemic hit, the moment that really hit home for my team and I was when the Prime Minister had to self-isolate. At that time, we got on the phone with women's organizations, our partners across the country. In the next 48 hours there was a series of phone calls. Organizations all said the same thing when we asked them what we should do first: The last place that women will go when they need help is shelters and sexual assault centres, so we better make sure that when she knocks on the door, it is open to her and she's safe.

We've been very fortunate to have very positive relationships with all of our partners across the country, the other ministers responsible for women and gender equality in every province and territory. We realized that the rate of response was key. We had to get the money out very quickly. Flexibility was also going to be key, and we knew that to ensure there was no overlap of our funds, as resources are always limited, we had to make sure there weren't gaps created in the supports we were providing to organizations across the community. In that regard, working very closely with our provincial and territorial counterparts would be key.

After we came up with a list of partnerships with women's organizations, including Women's Shelters Canada and the Canadian Women's Foundation, we were able to share it with provincial and territorial partners, which then went through it and added to it, and told us who was getting funding already. When we rolled out the funds, they went out in a coordinated fashion to organizations that are providing support to some three million women and children across the country.

Those partnerships are going to be key not only in the ongoing efforts to respond to COVID, but also in the work that will need to happen with the national action plan.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you, Minister Monsef, for your response.

I have one minute left, so I will combine my questions.

The issue of Internet access in rural areas is important to our rural communities, and not just during the pandemic. Issues concerning support for our indigenous communities, first nations and women are equally important.

In the minute I have left, Minister Monsef, I want to give you an opportunity to talk about rural connectivity and the importance of the Internet and about our support to indigenous communities. This is really important in my riding of Nickel Belt.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

High-speed Internet is an essential service that Canadians deserve access to. While 87% of Canadians have that access, first nations communities and those in rural parts of our country disproportionately do not. We're moving into the world of telework and telehealth, and we are staying connected to our loved ones more and more online. While some 400,000 households are and will be connected to high-speed Internet because of our government's support, too many, some two million, have yet to have that connectivity.

The universal broadband fund, which we'll have more to say about, has the goal of connecting 100% of Canadians to this essential service. This is a matter of fairness, productivity and having a competitive advantage for our country.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you very much, Minister Monsef. The time has expired.

Now we're moving over to Nelly Shin for five minutes.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Nelly Shin Conservative Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Thank you.

Minister Monsef, the most haunting statement I heard from the witnesses yesterday was from Lorraine Whitman, an elder with the Glooscap First Nation in Nova Scotia, and president of the Native Women's Association of Canada. Essentially she said that the indigenous community is hurt because they made themselves vulnerable by telling their stories in good faith that the government was going to follow through with their promise of action on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, but didn't. There's deep disappointment.

It's simply wrong to toy with people's pain and make them relive their trauma over and over as they retell their story, and then crush their hope by not following through. This is another barrier that brings us backward in the process of reconciliation. Indigenous communities already struggle with hope. We see it in the high cases of youth suicide.

The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was meant to be released in June, and the government has used COVID an an excuse to delay the release. What is the government's plan if we get a second wave? This is a matter of justice, restoring trust and being serious about reconciliation. When can these communities expect the final report?

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

I was a student activist when the Prime Minister of Canada in the previous government said that the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls was not a priority; that was crushing.

We are moving forward to respond to the calls for justice. My colleagues, including Minister Bennett and me, have been working with indigenous communities across the country. We held virtual gatherings, with Yukon, with Manitoba, for example. The work is ongoing. COVID has changed things, but we heard clearly from families, from survivors, from indigenous leaders, “nothing about us without us”, and we are co-developing that response.

We didn't wait to respond. We've already invested historic amounts in women's organizations supporting indigenous communities across the country. We are already working to close gaps. The K-to-12 education gap, for example, the cap on funding, that was removed. Over half the boil water advisories have been removed. Sex discrimination in the Indian Act has been removed. We put forward legislation around indigenous languages and supports for children in care and restoring those rights to those families. Some hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested directly—

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Nelly Shin Conservative Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Sorry, Minister—

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

We have a long way to go, and more will be done.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Nelly Shin Conservative Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

I'd like to ask another very important question.

How will the minister protect indigenous women and children in abusive homes now and if there's a second wave, because many have repeatedly said they're more afraid of domestic violence than they are of COVID?

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

They have every reason to be afraid. They are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence, and we, as a country, are going to benefit when our communities are safer for indigenous women and girls.

MP Shin, it's not if there will be a second wave, it's how the second wave or the third wave will look and where it will hit hardest. In indigenous communities where there have been containment efforts, where communities have been in charge of their own health services, able to share their data, they've been able to respond really effectively. I want to thank them for that.

We are going to continue to support those who are providing shelters for indigenous women and girls on and off reserve. We are going to continue to ensure they are at the table and that we are hearing directly from them, and we are going to continue to ensure that they benefit from the various government supports in place right now so they are not made even more vulnerable because of COVID. Provinces and territories are also committed to this work, and I'm grateful to see multi-party support for this work in 2020 because indigenous communities have been let down by government for too long. We can do better, and we will.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Nelly Shin Conservative Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Thank you for that.

What is the long-term plan for the next wave; what will that look like? This cycle needs to be broken.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Unfortunately we are out of time.

We are going to move to Sonia for five minutes.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Minister Monsef, Minister Qualtrough, for being here with us today. Thank you for the work you are doing for all Canadians.

My first question is to Minister Monsef. Minister, yesterday at committee we heard that women have been hit hard by COVID-19. One key to restarting our economy will be to ensure that there's proper child care—I know that question was asked before, but my question's a bit different—so that women can return to the workforce.

Some of the industries that have been affected the most by COVID-19 are made up mostly of women: as examples, we heard that 91% of nurses are women; 76% of teachers are women; and 56% of those in food and accommodations services are women. As well, we are seeing that the majority of jobs coming back recently are being filled by men, not women.

How is the government looking to address child care in collaboration with the provinces?

July 8th, 2020 / 11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Thank you so much for that important question. We were already working to support the creation of some 40,000 child care spaces in the country. Minister Hussen and I have a joint mandate, from the Prime Minister, to develop an early learning and child care secretariat. That work is under way.

Ninety-seven per cent of early learning and child care workers are women. The wages that they're paid, and the way the different provinces and territories treat early learning and child care affect them.

I've been working with the Canadian Teachers' Federation very closely for the past few months—and a shout-out to Cassie Hallett. They're having their AGM this week. These women, these teachers were expected to look after their own kids while coming up with online modules for children across the country. They've endured incredible hardships, and we thank them for stepping up.

We are working very closely with provinces and territories. Minister Freeland and the Prime Minister have had weekly meetings, first ministers meetings with provinces and territories, with the premiers. Of the many initiatives that we are working together on to ensure a safe restart to our economy, child care is one of them. It has to be one of them.

This sector was hard hit before COVID. The sector needed support before that. COVID has changed their entire business model. We owe it to them, to our children and to our economy to get it right. Those negotiations are ongoing, and more needs to be done.

I do look forward to one of the other good things coming out of COVID, being a stronger, more whole system of early learning and child care.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

In the Region of Peel we've had an increase in human trafficking. We already had discussions on that many times, but there's a concern that these young women are more vulnerable due to COVID-19. As well, we have heard that domestic violence is on the rise during this pandemic. How is the government working to ensure that young girls and women are feeling safe during COVID-19 and moving forward?

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

The rates of online violence are increasing, particularly rates of sexual exploitation of children. We know that human trafficking affects children. People say girls under the age of 18 are being trafficked. Those women under the age of 18 are children. That is something we can talk about differently, only to raise the alarm.

We are expecting, and paying very close attention to what front lines are telling us: there is a surge in supports being sought by those who experience increased rates of gender-based violence during the pandemic, when we were in phase one, during the isolation measures. We are preparing for that increase with 1,000-plus organizations across the country.

On human trafficking, the hotline hours are restored and the hotline is open 24-7. There's additional funding coming, too, very soon, in partnership with Minister Blair and Public Safety, to provide those organizations that are doing really important work an opportunity to apply and seek greater supports.

This is a heinous crime.

It's also part of our response to the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls inquiry, the calls for justice. It's our daughters.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you, Minister Monsef.

We're now going to move over to Andréanne.

Andréanne, you have two and a half minutes. Thank you.