Twenty minutes, Mr. Speaker.
The riding of Quebec, which I have the honour to represent in the House of Commons, is a very special one.
Many MPs say the same thing about their riding, but this one, which is home to the Quebec government and the National Assembly, as well as the Old City of Quebec, declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, is, for all Quebecers, a sacred place steeped in history, from an administrative, political and emotional perspective.
I want above all to pay tribute to the people of my riding, and state again that I am convinced that the direction taken by the Bloc Quebecois is the only one which will lead Quebec to full economic development and nationhood. To convince everyone in my constituency of that fact will be the greatest challenge of my mandate.
The riding includes several federal sites such as the famous Plains of Abraham, Artillery Park and the Citadel, well known to tourists and visitors alike. It also includes a harbour vital to our region's economy, but which has been experiencing a significant drop in activity in the wake of the general slowdown of the economy.
I promise to raise again, in this House, the problems plaguing the Quebec harbour to show how a harbour, centrally managed by Ottawa which keeps all the revenues, and whose development is controlled from afar, cannot compete against harbours elsewhere in the world which are virtually all managed locally, such as those of Rotterdam and Antwerp.
Next to the commercial harbour, we find the Old Port, an important tourist attraction and recreational facility in which the federal government has been investing considerable sums for more than a decade. The development and vocation of this facility create serious planning problems in our area.
The fact the local and regional elected officials do not have formal jurisdiction over these facilities calls into question once again the whole issue of the inefficient and bureaucratic centralization of Canadian federalism, as we have experienced it in Quebec City.
I am sure we will have ample opportunity to re-examine this issue in the coming months and to call upon the Liberal government to allocate the sums promised during the election campaign, but bearing in mind the real needs identified by local stakeholders.
Aside from these major infrastructures, the constituency of Québec has a number of features that are not so well known to tourists and visitors. The riding takes in the most densely populated area in the region and as such, it is grappling with extensive social problems and with poverty.
Large portions of Lower Town and one neighbourhood in Upper Town present all of the symptoms of social and economic decline, namely widespread unemployment, tenuous jobs, dependence on social assistance and a host of other human problems.
Successive census figures show that the population of these neighbourhoods is decreasing. The average income of Lower Town residents in 1986 was $6,000 less than that of residents in the entire Quebec City area and in the entire province. The census also showed that in Quebec City in 1986, there was a difference of $7,000 in the average incomes of women and men.
The poorer neighbourhoods in Quebec City and elsewhere are feeling the full effects of erratic and shortsighted government policies, against a backdrop of spiralling taxes, complete tolerance of smuggling activities and the ongoing shameless waste of public funds, as evidenced by the annual denunciations of the Auditor General.
For members of the public forced to put up with service cuts and higher taxes, the price-quality ratio, as they say in economic circles, is slipping more and more.
As I stated earlier, the women who live in some of the neighbourhoods in my riding, like women in other constituencies, experience a unique situation, one that puts them at a disadvantage. Now is the time to take a closer look at the broader issue of the status of women and to ask whether this is a priority for the government.
This is the question that must be asked by women in Quebec and in Canada, given the threat of cuts to social programs. For a great many women, these social programs are the only safety net they have and the only way for them to make ends meet.
A number of studies have brought to light the abject poverty in which women live every day. According to a study conducted by Health and Welfare Canada, in 1987, 63.6 per cent of single-parent families with preschoolers lived below the poverty line set by Statistics Canada. These figures alone illustrate the problems faced by many single mothers who account for 10.7 per cent of Canadian families and for 11.7 per cent of Quebec families.
These are not just figures and statistics. We are talking about our sisters, our friends and our mothers.
Even though poverty is not the sole cause of violence, a number of studies have shown a correlation between poverty and violence against women and children. My hon. colleagues in the Official Opposition will agree, as will the other hon. members of this House, that job creation-by this I mean real, sustainable, well paid jobs that contribute to the personal growth of workers-must be at the top of the government's list of priorities. A partnership must be forged with Quebec and the other provinces as well as with the private sector.
Poverty and health problems go hand in hand. The more a family has to spend on housing, the less money it has for food, clothing and medicine. Statistics Canada reports that 57 per cent of single-parent families headed by women live in rental housing, whereas the same is true of only 37 per cent of men in the same situation. These figures cast poverty and housing problems in a decidedly feminine light.
Poverty also means a lack of money for child care. One has often heard women earning the minimum wage lament the fact that it costs them more to work and pay child care than if they were to stay at home and collect social assistance or unemployment insurance. This is not laziness but a recognition of the
system's inability to provide child care services allowing women to join the workforce, to ensure their personal growth, to upgrade their professional qualifications, in order to achieve financial independence and break the chains of dependency.
Mothers who want to work or go back to school or, as the studies show, the large number of them who have no choice but to work outside the home, urgently need government support. They will then be able to go to work secure in the knowledge that their children are in good hands.
It is difficult if not impossible in this debate to deal with all issues concerning women. We will limit ourselves to two aspects for now: child care and violence against women.
Let us look first at the issue of child care. The former Conservative government had promised Quebecers and Canadians a national child care program that was supposed to create 400,000 new child care spaces. This project was abandoned in February 1992. According to a report by the Conseil de la famille du Québec, tabled in May 1993, the Quebec government reduced by $94 million the money it was supposed to invest in child care in the last three years.
We also know that in 1988, according to the Canadian national child care study, more than 1,634,000 Canadian families needed child care services. In Quebec, 385,900 families would need such services for their pre-school and school age children.
During the last election campaign, the Liberal Party promised to create 50,000 child care spaces in each year following a year of 3 per cent economic growth, up to a total of 150,000 spaces. Forty per cent of the costs would be paid by the federal government, another 40 per cent by the provinces, and the remaining 20 per cent by parents according to a sliding scale based on income. We find this economic growth-related restriction puzzling.
There is a crying need for child care spaces. According to assessments by the Office de garde du Québec, these needs amounted to 201,310 spaces in 1988 compared with 130,713 available spaces, leaving a gap of over 70,000 spaces.
The federal government has always trodden very carefully on this issue. It makes promises and then backs off. Some women's organizations and child care associations want a national child care program. The Bloc Quebecois will not oppose the creation of a national child care program.
We recognize that some provinces, because of their organic bond with federal institutions, may want a federally administered and regulated program.
However, as far as Quebec is concerned, we are firmly against the federal government imposing on Quebec families a Canada-wide program with its own list of standards without concern for our needs or our economic, cultural and social situation.
Our intention in this regard is clear. We are asking the federal government to transfer to the Quebec government its fair share of subsidies so that it can develop adequate child care services taking into account the welfare of children and the needs of parents. To us, the transfer to Quebec of all federal social and health program budgets is paramount.
Many hon. members and ministers have stated that the government cannot put its fiscal house in order without cutting social programs since transfers to individuals and provinces account for over half of program spending.
In our opinion, if the government intends to reassess, review, streamline, redesign or, in other words, cut social programs by dumping the deficit problem on Quebec and the other provinces, it is totally unacceptable.
Before thinking of cutting social programs, the government would be well advised to cut defence spending, to save $1 billion in administrative costs, by giving the provinces sole jurisdiction in employment matters.
We think that setting up a parliamentary committee to review spending in order to eliminate waste and duplication and reduce operating costs would be the best way to identify areas where there is still fat to be trimmed. We believe that the federal government must rationalize its own spending before reducing payments to those hit hardest by the serious economic problems.
The Canada assistance plan is the program through which the federal government contributes 50 per cent of the social assistance provided by the provinces. This means that 50 per cent of what it costs Quebec to provide day care spaces, as well as tax exemptions and financial assistance for non-profit child care comes from this program.
This program emphasizes the inefficiency of the cost-sharing formula which lacks incentives to improve financial management practices. Also, the rule of spending favours the have provinces. Because they have more tax resources to spend, they receive more federal funding.
In the end, albeit in the short term, we believe that there is an urgent need to relax the eligibility requirements for tax exemptions and financial assistance to help low and middle-income families pay for child care services without having to cut back week after week on basic necessities.
Now, we move on to the subject of violence against women in Quebec and in Canada. It has become such a widespread phenomenon that, even if it may sound redundant to quote more statistics, we feel the need to do so because the numbers speak for themselves.
Half of all women in Canada have been victims of at least one act of violence since the age of 16. Some 25 per cent of all women in Canada have been abused by their present or previous partner. Six Canadian women out of ten who walk alone at night in their neighbourhoods have reported that they were either very or slightly afraid to do so.
These few figures from Statistics Canada surveys on violence against women published in November 1993 draw an increasingly alarming picture of the situation faced by women in Quebec and Canada.
Clearly, violence has become a serious problem. Over the last decade, 600 children were killed in Canada. One third of these children were under one and 70 per cent were under five.
From now on, family violence against women must be viewed in a broader context so as to include spouse abuse. Thanks to the tireless efforts of women's organizations such as rape crisis centres and other shelters, incest is no longer a subject discussed only behind closed doors. We think that the lack of financial support for these organizations is most unfortunate because it jeopardizes not only their very existence but also the delivery of first-line services to women whose lives, in many cases, are in constant danger.
We also want to emphasize the needs of women from cultural communities, particularly newcomers, women with disabilities and seniors who are abused. Some women, often because of their greater vulnerability, urgently need support to break the code of silence that makes their situation so tragic.
While we notice a certain shift in the attitudes and behaviour of our legal system towards victims of violence, recent events indicate that other challenges need to be met.
In closing, I think that the need to alleviate the hardship of families and individuals in Quebec and Canada must be seen as an underlying principle in any review of social programs.
To this end, it is imperative that the government curb the deficit and cut extravagant expenditures without social programs being affected. In fact, social programs are the only social security net we have as we face a sluggish economy that has shrunk as a result of the irresponsible management of federal funds and costly duplication.
It is obvious that the government has not met the changing needs of our society, in particular with regard to child care. On behalf of all women, we ask that the condition put on investing in a child care program, which is dependent upon a yearly three per cent economic growth, be lifted. The government must release funds immediately and there should not be any constraints put on provinces that would rather set up their own program.
To meet the needs of women, we must develop a joint strategy of adequate child care, decent and affordable housing, abuse control, job training and permanent employment. Women have been waiting for a very long time.