Madam Speaker, it is a particular privilege to join in this very important debate for the people of Canada and for members of the House of Commons. I would sincerely hope that as members of Parliament and Canadians from all regions and all backgrounds we are beginning to undertake an examination of our social safety system which will be in the best interests of all Canadians. This reform is the first step in making our programs more responsive to the social and economic needs of the people of Canada as we prepare to enter the 21st century.
I pledge my support to the Minister of Human Resources Development who has the necessary courage and dedication to tackle such a complex and important task as this review. The life of every Canadian will be affected for many years to come by the results of this reform.
This is why the minister is taking measures to ensure that all Canadians will be heard and that they will not be hurt by this initiative but will benefit from it. The minister has said he is
asking each and every one of us in the Chamber to participate in the review so that the government is better able to serve the people through an open and transparent system.
He asked us to sit down and speak with our constituents, to seek their opinion and to get their advice. He is also asking Canadians to come forward with their ideas and suggestions for solution. The time line is not just a short two months, as the member for Mercier seemed to suggest. The time line is far longer than that.
If hon. members really are concerned about the people of the country they will get their business and information together. They will respond to the wonderful new transparency that we are presenting as an option for Canadians and will get their suggestions and their ideas to the parliamentary committee in a variety of different forms as will be determined by the committee.
This reform of our social security system is of great importance to me and to all women in Canada. Women must participate in the process, and I am committed to doing whatever I can to ensure that they have that opportunity.
It is my hope that Canadian women will seize this opportunity, will provide the guidance as to what kind of social security system they would feel comfortable with, what they think would be important for us to maintain, and where the sense of well-being will be ensured. They can in this way contribute to the progress, and to their own progress, toward equality.
As the minister has pointed out, close to half of Canadians no longer have a sense of security about their lives, and that is dramatic. Many are afraid that the company they work for may close or restructure and as a result they will lose their jobs. They are afraid that should they have to look for another job, they would not have the opportunity, the training, or the education needed to find one. If they are over 50 years of age they are terrified that they may never find another job.
Over and above the concerns that are being expressed, I think it is important to recognize that there has been a dramatic change in the structure of the family. There has been a growth in the single-parent family. There has been a change in what we would call the traditional two-parent, two-child, white-picket-fence image of that particular word "family".
There has been a change in the work force. There has been a change in the workplace. There are too many changes taking place for many people, who seem to feel there is a loss of hope, and they do not understand where things are going. Along with the globalization of the economy, this change to a knowledge-based economy, this restructuring of our bigger firms and the growth of the small business sector are all undeniable elements of the new reality that confronts Canadians. As I said before, many are fearful of these changes.
The consequences of these changes are wide-ranging and diversified in scope. We have to look at them from a different perspective from that of a company's bottom line. I think that people's lives and people's ability to live in this country have to be taken into consideration, not just, as I said before, the bottom line.
We have to look at the social impact with respect to the issues we are facing, adjust our focus and redirect our very scarce resources. Men and women in Canada are proud, hardworking and dedicated people. Canadians want to be contributors, not dependants of our society.
Collecting unemployment insurance cheques or living on welfare is not good enough for any of us. This is not our aspiration and our hope for ourselves, for our families or our children. We want to work. We want to feed and care for our family, and we want to be able to put a little money aside for some pleasure, as well as to protect ourselves in our older age.
This is not a dream. This is the Canadian way of life. This is what has made Canada so rich and so appealing both for Canadian-born people and for all those who have chosen to join us over these years. Now we must take steps to ensure that the social programs that have helped guarantee our envious standard of living over the past decades will continue to serve us well for a long, long time.
The last decade has undoubtedly been a lot more beneficial to the rich than to the general population. Individual purchasing power has fallen and the middle class, caught between tax increases and runaway inflation, has been hit hard.
Food banks, which were the exception and only existed in the big cities 10 or 15 years ago, have now become a familiar sight and that is sad.
I think that the most important and revolting sociological phenomenon to emerge in Canada in the last few years is the face of poverty. Poverty is increasingly taking on the face of a woman and, if that was not bad enough, of a woman carrying a child or of an old woman. That is the face of poverty here in Canada.
When I talk about women, I think of women of all races and ages, but I must admit that our immigrant, native and handicapped women are in an even more difficult situation as they also face discrimination and poverty.
In a country as rich and as fortunate as Canada, we cannot accept this disintegration of our social fabric or leave these hungry children and desperate women at the mercy of market forces. We cannot ignore the unemployment and poverty that
contribute to such serious problems as violence against women and children or the formation of youth gangs usually leading to crime and violence. We cannot forget that racism, intolerance and discrimination are devastating parasites that we would like to eliminate from our society but which continue to do a lot more damage than we are willing to admit.
I feel very emotional when I think about this situation we must face, and I think that our Minister was very brave to implement global changes by listening to society in order to improve our current situation.
It seems to me that one of the single most important factor to take into account in this review of our social safety system is the situation of women. I say women because we represent the majority of the population, and I say women because we make an enormous contribution to our society and our economy. However, as women we are often economically disadvantaged due to the disproportionate responsibilities that we bear for both our homes and our families. I say women because we have diverse needs and concerns that are often overlooked and neglected. Our roles have undergone tremendous changes since the social security system was first established. I say women because we have to struggle for the right to have many choices in our lives: to pursue an education, a career, voluntary activities, caring for children and for our parents. We must continue to value and protect this right to choose.
This is unpaid work that we take, and it does contribute very significantly to our collective wealth as a country.
I say women, because the new social security system must take into consideration the economic and social realities of women today and our aspirations for tomorrow.
Finally, I say women because it is still largely in our hands that the future of our children lie, and that is the future of Canada.
Madam Speaker, the sad reality of the difficult situation of women is revealed in simple statistics; that is, cold, hard fact. Today women of all ages, cultures and backgrounds represent 45 per cent of the work force. They are expected to account for almost two-thirds of the new entrants into the job market between now and the year 2001.
Despite the unprecedented participation of Canadian women in the work force, most women work for low wages in low-status jobs. Almost one-third are still employed in clerical positions and, on average, Canadian women working full-time today earn just 72 cents of every dollar earned by men.
In 1950 about 5.4 million income recipients received a total income of less than $10,000. Of this, 36 per cent were men and 64 per cent were women. That is those who get $10,000.
At the other end of the scale, looking at those who earn $40,000 or more in income, of these 78 per cent were men, whereas only 22 per cent were women. I would say to you that that is inequity.
Women, especially women of child-bearing age, experience more career interruptions. In too many cases fathers do not share fully the financial responsibility of raising their children.
In 1991, 82 per cent of all one-parent families were headed by women. They made up almost two-thirds of the 900,000 families living in poverty. Those are chilling statistics.
Children living with a single mother are five times more likely to live in poverty than those living with two parents. The vast majority of women have very little money to put into an RRSP or a pension plan. Only 48 per cent of women workers aged 45 to 64 can expect to receive company pensions upon retirement. So by the time they reach the end of their careers, only a small percentage of women are financially secure. All the others have to rely on government programs. For too many a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice is rewarded with poverty and deprivation.
If we do not fix our social security system, we will pay a terrible price for our indifference. Women's poverty is not just a woman's problem, ladies and gentleman and colleagues; it is a problem that every Canadian has an interest in solving.
As we initiate this social security review, it is time to recognize the extent of women's poverty in our country and to fully examine the basic cause: women's inequality.
Any plan to end women's poverty must be pursued within the context of the overall efforts to promote the equality of women in all aspects of human endeavour. That requires broadly based co-operative efforts that involve Canadians from every walk of life.
To change this we must place a higher value on the work that is traditionally performed by women. We must offer women the opportunity to diversify their occupational qualifications and seek advancement. They must have the ability to compete for the better paying, more challenging and responsible positions within the work force, because in many cases they are able, willing, ready and competent.
Improving the education and training opportunities for women is central to achieving this goal and is central to sound employment practices. Issues such as training in non-traditional occupations, encouraging girls to continue with studies in math and science, support for school work and home-school transition, and better financial resources must all be addressed for men and for women.
I would say that the economic situation of women is such that should pay particular attention and make sure that it is addressed as we go forward with this review. This is true for all women, but particularly, as as I have said before, for immigrant women who have special needs such as language training and recognition of their credentials. They also need guidance to be able to access and use all the services available to them.
I will work with my counterparts in the provinces and the territories, along with the minister, to improve women's access to education, training and retraining in order to give them equal opportunity to compete for jobs in the workplace of today and tomorrow. I shall work with these ministers and with our minister to ensure that our immigrant women are given equal access to federal government services as well as vocational training and language courses.
And finally, we must think of young people. We can never exaggerate the importance of our young people for a country like Canada. On them and in them we place all our priorities, all our hopes and all our dreams for the future. I have to say that few things are as painful for me as to see young people fall victim to violence, to discrimination, and to poverty.
As the minister said so well, there is a human deficit in our country and we all have to realize that if we can deal with this human deficit and put Canadians, all Canadians, back to work, it will be much easier to deal with the financial deficit. I think there is a tremendous interlinking between both these things.
I said in this House on Friday that from now on this government will follow a simple but important path, an action-oriented path. I also said that governments must deal with change in full partnership with Canadians. We have today the perfect application of these two principles.
Yes, we are taking action to review programs that in some cases date back to 1942. Yes, we have refused to take the easy path of amending something here, increasing a part of something there, adjusting something here and imposing a few cuts there.
I would suggest that any members who are really interested in this process read the minister's speech and get a fuller picture of where he intends to go in a large number of areas that are of importance to each and every one of us.
I would suggest that instead of the easy path, we have chosen to remake our entire social security system after we have done the necessary consultations. Once change of this nature is made, one does not jump into it in two minutes flat. The minister has laid out a very comprehensive and intelligent plan of consultation, which will allow groups, including women's groups, to get together, consult with their grass roots and feed back into the process.
We have the parliamentary process, we have the standing committee process, we have members going into their riding for an open hearing in that way, and we have the standing committee to do something.
We really must do something now and do it with full participation and collaboration for all Canadians. To do this we must ensure that organizations representing women-that is, all women, including immigrant and visible minorities, which so often have limited resources and broad mandates-have sufficient time and support to consult their grass roots and get back to us.
Knowing that this government and this House are quickly confronting this complex and difficult issue facing this country hand in hand with all citizens I think should only assure and reassure even the most skeptical and bring hope of a brighter future for all in this nation. That is what we are in this House of Commons to do, address the concerns.
We have to take into account the concerns of every Canadian, no matter where he or she may live.
This is exactly what Canadians have elected the Liberal Party, this side, this government, to do, and that is precisely what we are going to do. Whether you live in Newfoundland with your problems, in Manitoba with your problems, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, it does not matter. We are concerned, and certainly with the Northwest Territories and certainly with our aboriginal people, and we have a global view of society. That is how this government intends to allow us to bring this change; it is through consultation, through transparency, without dogma, without dictation, but with an open heart, an open ear, to effect the changes that the Canadian people want for themselves.