House of Commons Hansard #140 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.


SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am indeed pleased to rise today to speak to this motion put forward by the Bloc which condemns the federal government's lack of political will in refusing to take positive action in its areas

of jurisdiction to promote economic equality between men and women, and so on.

Today, as I speak to this motion, I would particularly like to dwell on the elements of the motion that deal with economic equality between men and women and the government's place in that.

It certainly is a discussion that is appropriate for this, the day before International Women's Day, and in the period of International Women's Week.

As I speak to this idea of economic equality between men and women, it is an issue that affects those in Quebec as well as in the rest of Canada. As I go forward, I want to address two issues. First, what has the government done on each of these parts of the question, and what has the government done specifically on the economics of this country? Second, what has the government done in terms of equality issues in this country?

Lately the government came forward with its budget. This is a government that has been in power for the last three and a half years. I would like to put to this House that the Liberals are hiding the facts of their record within that time period.

We now have in Canada record consumer debts. We have in Canada record personal bankruptcies. Today there are 1.5 million Canadians unemployed and 76 months straight of unemployment at over 9 per cent. This is the worst record since the depression.

Today two to three million Canadians are underemployed. Today one in four Canadians is worried about losing their job. We have to show for the last three years over $100 billion more in debt and now we have a record $600 billion debt to pass on to our children as they come into the workforce. In this time, average family incomes have been cut by $3,000.

Earlier today I heard Liberal MPs saying that it is up to Canadians who have had to make tough choices. There have been cutbacks. I want to talk about those in a minute.

I hear Liberal MPs talking about tough choices to other Canadians while increasing payroll taxes by approximately 73 per cent and making the tough choice to maintain their own pensions. It is five times greater than what other Canadians can have. Is that making tough choices on that side of the House?

Most of the deficit fighting this government has done has been on the backs of taxpayers with 36 tax increases since 1993. Most of the rest has been on the backs of the provinces with $7.5 billion reduction in transfer payments.

About 92 per cent of the reduction in the deficit to this date has been a direct result in tax revenue increase. As I have mentioned, they are ready to kill more jobs with the CPP tax increase of 73 per cent.

While with the transfer cuts they have cut funding to health and post-secondary education funding, the government will spend $4.2 billion to subsidize its crown corporations like the CBC and Canada Post.

This government's vision, the Liberal vision, is a country where average taxpayers send $10,200 to the federal government each year, and $3,400 of that every year from every taxpayer is to service the debt alone.

The Liberal vision is a country where 7.3 million Canadians earning less than $30,000 pay 17 per cent of their incomes to the federal government.

What has this government done in terms of economics? It has slashed transfer payments. It has made choices that have not been the priority of Canadians, like health care. It has increased our debt. It has made no commitment to deficit elimination and it has done poor service to Canadians.

What has this government done on equality issues? I would like to spend most of my time, as other speakers have, on this area. Canada has taken a leadership role. I saw that firsthand at the UN Beijing conference. It has taken up the standard of gender equality along with other nations. With this gender equality stance, it has promoted the theme of equal outcome for men and women.

The Reform Party looks at this theme and says equal outcome is not the issue. Individuals, regardless of who they are, should have equal opportunity in the job opportunities.

Success in terms of gender thinking is measured by full workforce participation and economic independence and autonomy, as we have already heard from the secretary of state many times today.

I ask, is this true equality? I say to the House that a person, whether male or female, who has equal protection under the law of the land and the equality of choice and opportunity in society: that is equality.

If we look at the history of the women's movement there have been equality seekers, first in the fight for the right to vote, the opportunity to put their name on a ballot. There has been equality of entry into occupations. There have been pioneers throughout the years who have put forward arguments to put women in certain occupations. There has been equality for entry into positions of leadership. Women have been elected to the House who are helping to lead the country politically; there are women business leaders, in teaching and in the sciences.

The history of the women's movement is the fight for equal opportunity, for their place in society and they have done well. The history of the women's movement is the freedom to make economic and political choices according to their own desires and dreams. Women want freedom to make those choices. True feminism is a belief in women and in the choices and in the wisdom of the choices they will make. As I have travelled through Canada and through my own riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam my belief in that kind of feminism is strengthened by what I see. The majority of students graduating from university are women. They are taking positions of leadership with great success.

More women than men are starting up their own businesses. Statistics show that the likelihood of their success is greater than that of their male counterparts. They have shown excellence in non-traditional roles. Yesterday I learned of an insurance company that in four of its six regions the top sales persons were women. There is also excellence in the traditional roles.

The Liberals are out of touch with the real women, with their potential. In their very policies they deny women the respect for the abilities they possess.

The greatest concern I see in gender analysis and equality philosophies is the rejection of diverse opinion. In gender analysis there is a blindness to constructive alternatives to ways of doing things in society. The main theme of gender analysis and policy making, as I saw in Beijing and I see in government policies, is that it drives always and ever to economic independence and autonomy for women. It drives to equal outcome and equal participation in the workforce. It would demand a social revolution, a remaking of society, and a mandate for people to follow in its dictated choices in order to do so.

In the last 20 years we have been witness to the progress of this agenda. In the last 20 years the movement has been toward two working parents. Presently it is seven out of ten households, up from three out of ten. However, within that time the total household income is virtually the same.

Seventy per cent of women are now in the workforce. In the last 30 years divorce has increased 800 per cent. In fact, Canada has one of the highest divorce rates in developed countries. As we have heard, the tragedy of that is the poverty rate. It is greatest among the single mothers who are very often the product of those family break-ups. It is shown that the economic impact of divorce is the greatest on women.

Federal taxes of the average family, according to the Globe and Mail , November 1992, was $1,894 more in 1990 than in 1984. Recent statistics have told us that the after tax earnings of an average household have actually fallen by $3,000 since the government came to power. As I have mentioned, 36 tax increases have been implemented by the federal government alone to help make that happen.

These kinds of things happening in society have very real results. They are not just numbers. According to government statistics child poverty has increased by 40 per cent since 1989. Youth violent crime has doubled in the last nine years. Canada is among the highest in the world in youth suicides. Today we have less money because of cutbacks to direct toward needed programs for those who actually need government help because of debt servicing charges and wasteful government spending.

In the last couple of days we have heard about government spending going toward a prison art foundation in New Brunswick of $100,000; $87 million to Bombardier; $300,000 to friends at the Shawinigan Industrial Centre. Are these the choices of the men and women in Canada? Is this compassion? Do these programs reflect the priorities of most women?

Who sets the goal? Who defines the standard of success for women? Do most women define success as equal workforce participation? Or do most women define success for themselves, that of their friends and of their communities as safety in their streets, an opportunity to achieve for all Canadians, a government that can provide help for those who cannot achieve hope for their youth and for their children and strength in their homes. This is what most women and men define as success, not equal workforce participation.

The government, as I mentioned, rejects diversity in its definition of gender equality. The government has chosen to follow a gender feminist philosophy. Quoting from the government's material: "Status of Women works to ensure women's equality is integrated into all federal government legislation, policies, programs and initiatives" .Women's equality is defined as autonomy and equal workforce participation. What is the price of that? The simple dollar price for the status of women in the main estimates is $17 million of tax funds every year plus $8 million more in grants both in 1996 and 1997, and that was tripled from the previous year, 1995-96.

The price of the status of women policies goes far beyond the dollars that go into that program. I will quickly give three examples. First, the government's commitment is to women working. The finance minister in a letter refused to even consider tax change proposals that might be a disincentive for a spouse to work.

I have with me today a letter from a constituent who supports the fresh start platform of our party which increases the spousal exemption from $5,380 to $7,900, thereby levelling the field for parents who choose to stay home to care for their children and extending the child care deduction of $5,000 to every preschool child, including children whose parents stay at home to care for them.

My constituent states: "Before my child was born in 1994 I was employed as a social worker for the B.C. government. I saw the effect of parental absence from the home in young and teenage children and decided that to raise a child properly I needed to be in the home caring for my child. My husband and I have faced extreme financial hardship as a result of this decision but still feel that children and family are the most important factor in our lives".

She goes on to say: "I hope that all women and men merely have a choice to be parents first, and to find this role to be of equal importance to a career".

The Liberal Party rejects Reform's proposal of a child care tax credit to all parents, and instead chooses to reward only those who put their children in receiptable day care.

The government shows zero tolerance feminist style. It seems appropriate that I mention a Vancouver planning meeting at the the Vancouver status of women location which was held last November. I have the notice for that. It says: "Come help organize for the 1997 International Women's Day event". This meeting was held on November 19 at 7.30 p.m., at the Vancouver Status of Women, Grant Street, "all women welcome".

Two women were refused entry at that meeting. They were identified by the people there as pro-lifers. Not only were they refused entry but there was attempt made to forcibly remove them. Police were called. By the time the altercation was finished, medical attention was required. Cameras were broken and bruises were received.

The Vancouver police have recommended to the crown prosecutor that charges be laid because of this event at the Vancouver status of women location. The Vancouver status of women has received federal grants which total $917,000 since 1984. When the Secretary of State for the Status of Women heard of this, she gave her apologies but replied in a statement that this was not in her backyard. This mind-set is in her backyard.

Last year she made this statement: "This government believes each and every individual, group and community in Canada must be treated equally and with respect". Yet what has she done to address this very real event that occurred at the Vancouver status of women location which is connected with her department?

Status of women and the gender equality thing is no equality of choice and no recognition of various sentiments or ideas of many women. It does not recognize the importance of parenting. It does not recognize the importance of other opinions.

Another example of rejection of other opinions is what we saw lately in Bill C-41, a bill that spoke to child support and access. Like so much of what the Liberal government does, it referred to one side of the argument and forgot that there are two players. In fact in Bill C-41, which dealt with divorce and child support, there are more players. There are the custodial and non-custodial parents and the children.

This bill gave rights to the custodial parent, responsibilities to the non-custodial parent and basically left the ball there. Who will pay for unequal treatment? Who will pay for a bill that does not address the real needs of those who are involved in child support and access issues? Who will pay for the unequal treatment of Canadians in Bill C-41? Not only the non-custodial parent but the children involved in the process of a divorce procedure which will not serve their purposes.

I will reiterate. We have a society that would like to recognize the uniqueness and the freedom to make choices for all Canadians. It is not equal workforce participation but things like safety on the streets, incentives to achieve, help for those who cannot, hope for our youth and strength in our homes which is where most Canadians feel the priorities of government should be.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was quite surprised by the comments of my colleague, the fact that she skipped away from the main subject matter, which is to recognize that there is a lot more work that still needs to be done in order to ensure there is equity in our society.

Simply put, all she had to do is look at the latest Statistics Canada report which shows that women still earn less than their male counterparts. They earn only 73 per cent of what males earn.

As well, there is a lot more work that needs to be done in particular for women with disabilities, women from visible minorities and aboriginal women. Opportunities for those women are still not there.

I want to also indicate that my colleague did not take into account what this government did in terms of action taken, particularly in the area of the Employment Equity Act which recently was introduced by this government. How handy that Employment Equity Act is. It is incredible.

On the occasion of International Women's Day, this new legislation would extend coverage to include federal public servants, agencies and commissions in ensuring that employment equities are a must. It would increase the legislative authority of the Canadian Human Rights Commission to initiate investigations of employment equity issues and subject federal contractors to mandatory compliance with the principles of the act.

As well, I would like to inform my colleague in case she is not aware that a total of 350 large private sector employers, crown

corporations and industries such as banking, communications and transportation are covered by the legislation.

Under the act, these organizations have to satisfy their obligations in terms of employment equity. For example, they have to conduct a workforce analysis to determine the degree of under representation of the designated groups, as I mentioned earlier.

They have to review employment systems, policies and practices to define employment barriers to members of these groups. They have to prepare a short term plan, one to three years, with measures to remove any barriers, make reasonable accommodation and institute positive policies and practices by setting goals and timetables for hiring and promotion.

Finally, they have to set longer term objectives and strategies to increase the overall representation of designated groups in their workplace.

These are examples of what this government has done over the past three years in order to address employment inequities that exist in our society. These are some of the measures that this government has taken in order to ensure that women receive the treatment and equality they deserve and which they have earned and which is their right in our society.

To that extent, my colleague made reference to the government initiatives on attacking child poverty. The government should be very proud of what it has done on the whole notion of child poverty and trying to deal with the question of child poverty.

We will not cease to continue our work to ensure that children who need assistance and support will receive the support and assistance they need.

Members opposite, particularly in the third party, were up on their feet opposing the vast majority of initiatives taken by this government in trying to address issues of equity, equality, fairness, support for people who need support and assistance.

Now we stand up and talk about initiatives that the third party has proposed. Let us put them on the record. Let us examine some of those initiative. In fact, none of those initiatives will seriously and effectively deal with the issue of poverty, particularly child poverty.

I would like my colleague to tell me what her difficulties are with the latest federal government initiative dealing with child poverty, and specifically what part of the federal government's proposed legislation in dealing with child poverty does she disapprove of. How would she replace it and with what?

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure where to start with what I have just heard. From employment equity to child poverty, this government's policies are abysmal. It has caused the very child poverty it is talking about. It used to take 40 hours a week to maintain a household on an average wage. Now it takes over70 hours a week to maintain a household in this economy.

How in the world can a single parent on an average salary not be in poverty with what this government has done to our Canadian families? Is it any surprise that single parents are in the highest percentage of poor people in this country? It is simply because they cannot survive on what this government has done in the marketplace.

We have a policy that we brought forward that is very different in concept and philosophy to what the Liberal government has done. In our fresh start program we state that we must first reduce the size of government. We must go through government programs that have duplication and are wasteful. Let us take $87 million to Bombardier, for instance. That may be a good start. We have programs that give money to crown corporations which waste Canadian tax dollars. It is taken from programs that it wants to have and it is taken from the pockets of taxpayers.

We must first reduce the size of government and then give tax relief to families. Our tax relief proposals will take 1.2 million Canadians off the tax rolls altogether. Right now, why should someone earning $30,000 a year pay any tax at all? We would take the vast majority of those same Canadians off the tax rolls altogether. That is how you help the poor. Do not tax their families and say we are helping the children. That is Liberal logic and makes no sense at all.

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12:35 p.m.


Jack Ramsay Reform Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Port Moody-Coquitlam for her comments and for what she has contributed to the debate. I would like her to comment on some observations I have made during this whole debate.

I would like to quickly touch on three or four gifts that the Liberals have given to women in this country and their children. The first gift is that 50 cents of every $1 a working woman and man makes in this country goes to taxes in one form or another because of this Liberal government's contribution to that high rate of taxation. How can we expect families not to live in poverty if50 cents of every $1 that they earn is taken away in taxes in one form or another?

This government's policies have created the very child poverty and family poverty it is now recognizing and pretending has suddenly appeared. It has appeared because of the misguided, reprehensible policy directed at reducing the economic power and stability of families.

We look at the double digit unemployment that has hovered in that area for the last three years which includes women. We look at the $100 billion addition to our federal debt and the enormous amount of interest we have to pay in addition to the tax revenue we have just to pay the interest on that debt.

We also, of course, look at the latest statistics, another gift from this Liberal government, 44,000 women unemployed this month alone. That is the gift from this Liberal government to working women and their children. I wonder if my colleague would care to comment on some of those points.

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12:40 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, simply put, I think my colleague has addressed some of my concerns very well.

The government that thinks it has the solutions to all Canadians rather than leaving those solutions and those choices in their hands is a government that is headed for disaster and is heading our country and our children into disaster.

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

The hon. member for Mount Royal informed me in writing that she would be unable to present her motion during private members' business, on Monday, March 10, 1997.

It has not been possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence. Accordingly, I am directing the table officers to drop that item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence.

Therefore, private members' business will be suspended and government orders will begin at 11 a.m.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, on the eve of International Women's Day, it is appropriate to take a look at the current situation. I would love to be able to tell you that I am pleased that progress has been made. Unfortunately, I cannot do so in reference to women, and the children for whom they are responsible, in Quebec and in Canada.

In fact, the new unemployment figures released this morning reflect a situation that women have been experiencing for the last three years. Indeed, this morning we learned from Statistics Canada that 44,000 full time jobs were lost last month, while-and this is no compensation, far from it-14,000 part time jobs are said to have been created. The net loss for women is 30,000 jobs.

It would be one thing if this was just a blip, just a bad month in a period during which the situation was improving for women, but it is not the case. Since this government came to office, in fact since one year after the beginning of its mandate, only 10,000 full time jobs have been created for women, compared to 140,000 part time jobs. The reality for women is that a large number of them are part time workers because they have no other option.

In Quebec and in Canada, the majority of part time jobs are held by women. Also, the unemployment rate for certain groups of women is higher than the national average. We know that women are in jobs that have traditionally been reserved for them, and for which they are often paid less than the average salary for men.

In 1993, women's earnings represented 75 per cent of the average salary for men, a proportion which remains basically the same year after year. Given these conditions, and knowing how hard it is to find full time jobs-with these being usually low paying occupations that pay less than men's occupations-one realizes the importance of social programs for women.

But what have we seen since this government came to power? Not just an erosion, because "erosion" is a word suggesting slow breakdown; and "illusion" does not really describe the situation either. What we have seen is a radical decrease in the coverage provided by social programs to women and women with children.

Whether it is employment insurance, the successor to unemployment insurance, slashed deeply by this government, or the equally radical decrease in social transfers that forced the Government of Quebec to cut social services, education and welfare, social programs have been very hard hit.

I was struck by a passage in the finance minister's budget speech, enthusing how proud he was that Canada had gone from the bottom spot among the seven richest countries, the G-7, to the top. Why was he proud? Because of the fight to bring down the deficit. So Canada is congratulating itself because it is the most successful in bringing down the deficit.

But I asked him the other day why he was content to be near the bottom, not this time of the richest countries, but of the 28 developed countries in the OECD. Canada is bringing up the rear, with New Zealand and the United States. And this is on the basis of the 1990 figures, which do not take into account the radical cuts we have seen over the last three years.

There is a widespread myth in this country that Canada's social programs are extremely generous. This is not the case. Compared to other developed countries, our social programs are anaemic. So when we see the Minister of Finance crowing because Canada now tops the list of countries that are making cuts in order to lower their deficit, with no concern for the effects on women and children in particular, on families, on the most disadvantaged in society, when

Canada was already lagging behind in this social protection, there is cause not just for concern but for real distress.

There is also the fact that many women are poor, not only women who are heads of single parent households, but also women who are in a relationship and who are obliged, because of the many cuts to the social programs, to invest more of their time in addition to the effort they put into looking for a job, even a part time one.

What they find is that unemployment insurance is less accessible than it used to be, that the tax benefits for children the government promised will in fact increase by only $33 per child in poverty this year and that, as far as the rest is concerned, this election promise is just as empty as the promise of a national daycare service, for which not one single cent has been forthcoming.

When we see the effect of the measures on the poor and the reduction in welfare because of cuts, the life of women who are heads of households and those who live with a partner, who may be just as poor or who is a part of the middle class, and they want to have children or are having a difficult time giving the child a reasonable education, we realize that the situation for women has deteriorated. It is distressing. It is worrisome. I have a hard time swallowing the government opposite's smugness in the face of the void that women are having to face.

Employment is hard to come by and it is poorly paid. Employment insurance is hard to get and available for a shorter time. Maternity leave is not so readily available, and welfare has been cut and is hard to obtain. I hope next year's status report is different.

Count on us to be a vigilant and effective opposition. We will not let you out of our sight. The women we represent today have enormous needs.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I think all members would agree the economic autonomy of women is an important issue, not only to talk about but also to act on.

I raise for the member's consideration another aspect of the consequences to women and to children. We talk in this place about child poverty. The member will know according to the Vanier Institute that 50 per cent of marriages break down in divorce. When we consider the breakdown of common law relationships which are not reported in those figures we could conclude the Canadian family is in crisis. We need to address family issues as part of a strategy to address the economic issues related to women.

The reason for this is that children are involved in 60 per cent of divorces. The custody arrangements by the courts are basically automatic. Women are awarded the custody of the children. The courts and society as a whole have decided that women are in the best position to care for children.

We know that 23 per cent of all families in Canada represent lone parent families. What is worse is that those 23 per cent of families account for 53 per cent of all children living in poverty.

Would the member care to comment on whether she feels the Canadian family is in crisis and the role or the economic condition of women might be helped if we were to help find ways to make the Canadian family stronger?

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, I must say I am somewhat surprised by what the member opposite has just said. Tomorrow is International Women's Day and I would have liked him to address this issue for once. What concerns him is that so many marriages end up in divorce and that there are so many common law relationships.

A caring society provides families, single families and couples alike, not only with emergency help but also with the means to meet their needs. Down through the centuries, the family has evolved, and if it is evolving now it is largely due to the fact that the industrial society has become post industrial and disruptive.

It is not up to society or to the government to decide what constitutes a family, and to spare no effort to make sure it remains that way. In any event, even if it tried, the government would not succeed. What we have to expect is that society will evolve to adjust to changes, and that the elements therein will follow suit.

I agree with those who say we must help couples, but we cannot prevent society from evolving. We could mention education too; and I agree. Obviously, since relationships are not forever, we should teach men and women to put the well being of children first. I did say men and women. But this will never be an excuse for not providing a minimum of help to find employment, get an education, and support women and children. This will never release society from providing the bare minimum.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on the hon. member's motion, which deals with the government's lack of action to improve women's living conditions.

I want to put this issue in a global context and go back to the federal cuts and their harmful effects on health, social assistance, employment insurance, old age pensions-not to mention the forgotten promises made regarding employment and health-be-

fore finally discussing the federal government's inaction regarding the problems women are facing, particularly violence, poverty and children.

The federal government cannot merely appoint a Secretary of State for the Status of Women and think that women's problems are automatically going to be solved. In spite of the valiant efforts of the secretary of state, any government action to help women must get the support of all the ministers, particularly the Minister of Finance, otherwise it is doomed.

Recently, we noticed problems in several departments, including national defence, where a woman, who might have become Canada's first woman to reach the rank of general, was forced to leave the military because her colleagues were giving her a hard time. Women know how hard it is to be a woman in a woman's world, and even more so in a man's world. When it comes to work, we all know that women must do more to find their place in the sun.

I feel strongly that concerted action by the government is necessary to further the cause of women. What we see is that the government has unfortunately failed to deliver. It has not really undertaken any concerted action and has considerably reduced funding for various social programs that might have helped improve the cause of women in this country.

Some cuts and their effects: there are still, theoretically and legally, one and a half years left in the Liberal government's mandate, and we are hearing a lot more about the likelihood of a spring election than about new programs to try to keep a few promises.

Has the government kept its promises to protect and to promote the rights and the cause of women? Unfortunately not. Women were the first to be hit by the Liberal government's never-ending cuts in funding for health, social assistance, unemployment insurance and education, as well as by the announced reform of the pension plan.

In the area of health, in 1995 the federal government announced a revolutionary new program: the Canada Social Transfer. What this program really boiled down to was $7 billion in cuts in transfers to the provinces for health, social welfare and education.

These federal health cuts are coming at a time when the aging of the population requires an increase in resources aimed at seniors, such as home care. Older women will pay the cost of lowering the government's deficit.

As for social assistance, tighter eligibility criteria for employment insurance and continued high unemployment have forced many women to go on welfare. In 1995, Quebec held the dubious record of 485,000 households receiving income security benefits.

As for employment insurance reform, which bases eligibility on the number of hours, not weeks, worked, this penalizes part time workers, and we must keep in mind that 70 per cent of these are women. These workers will now contribute to the system from the first hour worked, but will have little chance of accumulating sufficient hours to qualify for benefits if they lose their job.

By depriving numerous women of a replacement income between jobs, while the unemployment insurance fund surplus will total $12 billion in 1988, the federal government is choosing to make women who are working, and women who are unemployed, foot the bill for part of its deficit reduction.

As for seniors' pensions, the federal government plans to bring in a system for calculating pensions according to family income in the year 2001. The calculation of how much pension a woman will receive will, therefore, depend on her husband's income.

This measure will mean less money for couples, but also less independence for women. After all the years of struggle to obtain the recognition of women as persons in their own right, seniors will be treated differently depending on how much their husband's income is.

Yet, 44 per cent of women over the age of 65 are living below the poverty line, compared to 25 per cent of men. Why, then, reduce women's pensions?

A few promises have been forgotten. On March 4, 1994, the government voted in favour of the Bloc Quebecois motion urging the government to recognize the principle of economic equality between women and men and to implement measures to guarantee equity in employment, wages and living conditions for women. But the federal government has never put its money where its mouth is, despite its great eloquence on the matter at the time.

A federal pay equity bill was passed, in 1977 according to our sources, but in 1978 according to the minister's, and the government is dragging its feet unduly on its implementation. The Public Service Alliance estimates that women may be owed in excess of $2 billion.

The federal government's inaction in the area of job creation affects women in particular for they are, more often than not, the ones in precarious, underpaid, temporary or part time jobs. Women hold 69 per cent of part time jobs, but not by choice, for 500,000 of them would like to have full time work. Only 20 per cent of women have a full time job which pays more than $30,000, compared to40 per cent of men. Women, whatever their level of education, earn less than men. Even female university graduates make only 75 per cent of the salary paid to their male colleagues.

In the health and employment sector, the Liberal government also failed to keep its promises. It considerably reduced transfers for health care and did nothing to create jobs, although in its red book, it said on page 81, and I quote: "The social and economic experiences of women provide the context within which their health needs must be reviewed. Canadian women are poorer than Canadian men, and there is a clear link between poverty and poor health".

The government's inertia continues. The government has done nothing about certain major problems that affect women, including violence. Community agencies that provide support and counselling for women who are victims of domestic violence, as well as the shelters for women and children have been severely affected by federal cuts in community assistance. The very fact that this sector was not spared by the government proves that violence against women is not a priority concern for the Liberals.

In 1994, 70 per cent of poor people in Canada were women or their children, which adds up to 2 million women and 1.3 million children, and under the Liberals, the situation continues to deteriorate. We now have 1,600,000 poor children, and the average family income dropped by about $1,000 between 1994 and 1995. The government, instead of taking vigorous steps to deal with this problem, has reduced transfers to the provinces for social assistance, plans to provide minimal amounts that would be barely enough to survive and suggested that disadvantaged citizens go begging in the streets.

When the latest budget was brought down, the Minister of Finance realized all of sudden that child poverty was a problem. I would like to point out that to fight child poverty, we must first help families with employment policies, social security and community support.

The Canadian Institute of Child Health calculated that the best way to improve the standard of living of our children would be to develop a national job creation strategy for adults who have to support a family. That is pretty obvious. To improve the circumstances of women and their children, the government should listen to the suggestions coming from the official opposition and many women's groups, and act on those suggestions, and act positively by creating jobs for women and stopping cuts in social programs. Although theorically and legally women have equal rights, only economic equality will make them truly equal. Then maybe we will no longer need March 8.

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1:05 p.m.


Jack Ramsay Reform Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Bloc for her comments and concerns in this area. We all have a vested interest in the whole question of the equitable standards that women live and work in.

There are three women in my family whom I love very much. Two of them are working. They would like to see from government a greater reduction in the taxes they have to pay. They look at their paycheques and they would like to see more expendable income left for them to support their children and buy the goods and services they need. I believe every working woman in the country would like to see that. That is how to strengthen the economic stability of working women.

What has happened? The government participated in taking50 cents in taxes in one form or another from every dollar a working woman earns. I think this is wrong.

In addition, in the next six years or so working women will have to pay another 9 or 10 per cent on their Canada pension contributions. This is what is weakening the economic stability of working women. Over the last month these policies have resulted in 44,000 women becoming unemployed and their children living in poverty.

When I hear the minister across the way speak as she did this morning about all the wonderful things the government is doing for women, I cannot help but fight the feeling and thoughts of hypocrisy that well up in my mind. It was reprehensible, pathetic rhetoric.

The best way to help working women and the children living poverty is by examining the policies that led to the situation. What policies over the last two and a half decades led to child poverty and were recognized by the government?

One child in five is supposedly living in poverty. If the child is living in poverty the family is living in poverty. How could we expect anything but that when the three levels of government are taking 50 cents from every dollar they earn? How can we expect anything but poverty for these women and their children?

I listened very carefully to my colleague's comments. I would like her to address the policies of the government that have led to family and child poverty which the government recently recognized exists directly as a result of the policies of the government.

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1:05 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is all too clear that the government opposite is arrogant and has a certain disdain for the people of Canada because of its absolute majority in the House. It may continue to think it has no opposition across from it. The papers continue to say that the opposition is not playing its role and that the government continues to do what it likes.

There will be a Grand Prix Sunday, because negotiations went on all night and all morning to reach an agreement with the government, which did not want to lose face and change things.

It is always the same with this government. It makes the policies it likes. It rises in this House to defend the health of children. We are not allowed to use the word that comes to mind. I have little time left and I do not want it taken away from me. To be able to claim to be protecting children's health, the government should have made fewer cuts. When it decided to cut transfer payments to the provinces, it decided to increase poverty. It would bust its britches with its own self importance and continue to make everyone poorer.

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March 7th, 1997 / 1:10 p.m.


Beryl Gaffney Liberal Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in my place today to speak to the motion by the hon. member for Laurentides concerning the socioeconomic condition of women.

In the course of the debate I hope the House will not lose sight of the government's role to help women support their families. The issue of how Canadians care for their families should not be separated from a discussion about the socioeconomic condition of women.

I will outline how the government is moving on three fronts to improve the well-being of women who care for families. Maybe this will respond to the previous questioner's concerns. They are assessing the value of unpaid work, reforming the national child benefit system and ensuring that child support payments are made when a family breaks up.

The first issue is the unpaid work many women perform. It includes housework, care of children and care of other dependants such as the elderly. Most of this work is done by women, two-thirds according to Statistics Canada. This unpaid work provides the foundation of society. It keep our families strong. It serves as the bedrock of the social order upon which our paid economy can be built. This unpaid work is extremely valuable to society.

In 1994 Statistics Canada placed a monetary value on it of$285 billion. Even while it contributes so much to society and the economy, unpaid work often has a detrimental impact on the socioeconomic well-being of women. For many it means they do not have the choice of entering the workforce. For others it means their chances of advancing in their careers is limited. For some it means a double shift that can wear them out.

We need a better understanding of the role unpaid work plays in helping us promote the equality of men and women. It would help Canadians rebalance the sharing of family responsibilities.

The government has established an overriding, long term initiative to measure and value unpaid work. In 1996 we counted unpaid household work, child care and elder care for the first time in the census. We expect to see the results in 1998 and will add the information to the time use surveys and evaluation methods that have already been conducted.

Our efforts are now being directed toward a framework for evaluating the policy implications of unpaid work. Part of this is being developed through joint research with other OECD countries. In the years ahead we will use the information to improve our initiatives and to promote the socioeconomic equality of women.

While the government takes long term steps to promote better policy it has also taken immediate action to improve the socioeconomic impact of how women care for their families. Nowhere is that more important than in the case of child poverty, the second broad issue I will outline before the House.

Children's poverty is intricately linked with women's poverty. Many children live in poverty because they are under the care of a lone parent. That parent is usually a women and that woman usually has to make ends meet for herself and her children with a low paying job or with the support of the social safety net.

The government has moved on all these fronts. In the last budget the Minister of Finance introduced an historic initiative, the national child benefit, which will provide more money to families where lone parent mothers must care for children. It builds on the child support reform introduced last year.

Under the benefit system, a Canada child tax benefit worth $6 billion will be in place by July 1998. That is one step in a two step process to create the new system.

Every step involved in the working income supplement, which will increase in July 1997 from $500 per family to $605 for one child, $1,010 for two children and $330 for each additional child, is good news for low income families with children who want to get into the workforce.

In July 1998, one year after we increased the working income supplement, we will combine it with a child tax benefit. Benefits will increase to all low income families in which the parents have paid work as well as those who receive social assistance.

As a result of these measures, more than 1.4 million Canadian families will see an increase in federal child benefit payments by July 1998. That represents 2.5 million children. Many women will see their socio-economic condition improve and find themselves able to take better care of their families.

The third broad area where the government has moved to improve the socio-economic condition of women through family initiatives involves the support payments for children should a family break up.

Recently this House passed child support legislation based on the premise that when parents separate or divorce, a child's standard of living should reflect the means of both parents. Children are a shared responsibility. Both parents have an obligation to support their children.

The legislation changed the way that child support payments are taxed. Child support paid under a written agreement or court order made on or after May 1, 1997 will not be deductible to the payer or included in the income of the recipient for tax purposes. Therefore the new tax rules will apply to all new orders or agreements made on or after May 1, 1997.

The legislation also introduced measures to complement provincial and territorial efforts to enforce court orders. As a result, in a province's effort to enforce a court order, federal licences can be suspended and federal pensions can be diverted.

Federal data bases, including Revenue Canada's, can be used to track defaulters. Passports can be suspended if a debtor is in persistent arrears.

We also introduced child support guidelines to make the system more predictable and offer a simpler means to update awards. They have three main elements: child support payment schedules, rules to adjust the award to reflect four types of special child related expenses, and rules to adjust the award in cases of undue hardship.

Part of the reason for introducing these guidelines was to cut down on the legal costs of determining child support. Money that is spent on lawyers would be better spent to support these children.

These changes in child support legislation were long overdue. Soon lone parents will begin to benefit from them. In many cases these parents will be women, many of whom must struggle to keep their children fed and clothed.

The burden of caring for a family under these hardships adds an enormous strain to the health and well-being of these women. It is a burden that contributes greatly to the socio-economic inequalities that women face.

This is International Women's Week. It is a time to rededicate ourselves to the challenge of creating socio-economic equality of women. We acknowledge that much remains to be done to advance women's equality.

The advances must be an inclusive process that engages all sectors and individuals to make changes happen. Governments cannot do it alone, but this government under the Prime Minister has taken some very important steps to help ensure that we will all get there together.

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1:15 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech by my hon. colleague, for whom I have great respect and who has given considerable thought to social concerns in general.

I would like her comments on the fact that, in Canada, one in five children still lives under the poverty line and the number keeps growing. I would like her comments on the 10,000 jobs cut at Canada Post, the majority of which were held by women.

I would also like to know what she thinks of the cuts in social housing made since this government took office, the fact that housing used to be subsidized but now government no longer spends a red cent on developing social housing. It has passed the buck to the provinces. Add to that cuts in transfer payments, which interfere with the provinces' capacity to maintain their own social safety net.

As she pointed out earlier, initiatives like the child tax benefit were indeed put forward. But, for a single mother raising two or three children, an extra $800 per year is not enough, when the time comes to pay rent at the end of the month, pay telephone bills or the groceries, if she wants her children to be well fed. Without adequate housing, when cuts are made, there is less for health, food, and so on; that is where the money has to come from. I would like to know what the hon. member thinks about this.

I sincerely believe that all the policies that have been put in place will never compensate for the lack of focus on the needs of women, and therefore children, because they are the ones looking after the children. I sincerely think that the provinces should get more, they should get their fair share. The provinces are not asking for handouts. They want what is supposed to be theirs, the transfer payments they are entitled to, and to be able to meet the needs of women and children, within their jurisdictions.

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1:20 p.m.


Beryl Gaffney Liberal Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member from the Bloc Quebecois for her kind comments.

I do not think any government in history has been as concerned about the lives of women as this government in trying to improve the lives of women and to decrease the amount of poverty among women and children.

When the finance minister was preparing his budget every government department was asked to look at every issue where there was a proposed cutback or whatever it was with regard to gender equality and gender issues. It was one of the most important things a government could be concerned about. It is too important to leave to one person, as the minister responsible for women's

issues said this morning. We have to draw in all government departments.

Maybe the member from the Bloc Quebecois was not listening too carefully to me. I outlined many areas where this government is concerned with women's and children's issues and the poverty in this country.

I have time to expand on a couple of them. When one in five lives under the poverty line that is not acceptable, I agree, but if she had listened to what I said there are many measures that we are putting in place to try to decrease that amount.

With regard to transfers to the provinces I can only speak for the province of Ontario, the area I am most familiar with. In terms of transfers to the province of Ontario, and I assume it is the same with the province of Quebec, the federal government has decreased the transfers since 1993 to today by as little as $1.5 billion. That is less than what our government departments were asked to cut back. I think it is around 11 per cent. Each government department has been cut back by 15 per cent.

Why would a premier of a province then initiate a tax benefit to the people of Ontario? Who does this tax benefit or tax cut go to? It goes to the wealthy in the province of Ontario. They are the ones who are benefiting. Who are the ones who are being hurt in the province of Ontario? It is the poor people who are not benefiting. In addition, why has the premier cut back in education and hospitals? He must come up with $4.5 billion to cover his tax cut in the province of Ontario.

Let us not blame this on the federal government. It is not our fault. That is four times the amount of money that the federal government has cut in transfers to the provinces. It is about time to put the onus where the onus should be, back on the premier of the province of Ontario.

With regard to the 10,000 jobs lost at Canada Post, I have to assume the member is referring to junk mail.

It is my understanding that that those 10,000 jobs will be picked up in another area with regard to the private sector which will then be providing the same quality of service. I hope that will be the case.

With regard to the cutbacks in social housing, it is not my understanding that there are cuts in social housing. We are working with the provinces to increase social housing in this province. In fact, we are very concerned about some of the aspects of what different provinces are doing. Again I cannot quote on Quebec, but I know that in Ontario there is talk about privatizing and we are very concerned about any effort to privatize social housing in Ontario.

I hope I have responded to her concerns.

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1:25 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I just want to ask my hon. colleague a couple of questions specifically about gender analysis.

I am aware that because of the fourth UN conference on women, to which Canada was a signatory, it was recommended that there be a review in every federal department. It was interesting to note that the hon. member suggested that it was going forward and was in place at the present time.

We should review all legislation as to how it affects women in particular, which is called gender analysis, although I think the secretary of state would say it is men an women, but it specifically goes to issues dealing with women.

I know my hon. colleague is very concerned with families in Canada and certainly realizes their importance. I would ask if she feels that a similar kind of review should take place as to how government policies affect families in Canada. Are they not as important an institution as any other in this country? Should there not be a similar kind of government activity addressing how government policy affects family units in Canada?

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1:25 p.m.


Beryl Gaffney Liberal Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Port Moody-Coquitlam.

I addressed in my speech how the child tax benefit helps families. I outlined the different amounts of moneys. Maybe the member was not in her seat at the time but I would be delighted to repeat what I said.

Through the working income supplement and the enriched Canada child tax benefit program, the 1997 budget will help to improve the assistance available to children in low income families who are the ones who most need help. This will be increased by $195 million in June 1997. This will provide a maximum supplement of $605 for the first child, $405 for the second and $330 for each additional child.

If this is not a major benefit and a major expense that this government is putting forward to help children, families and moms and dads, then I cannot understand her question. This is a major effort on behalf of this government.

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1:25 p.m.


Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, just for the record, this has been a great day where we all had a chance to make some brief and some lengthy comments concerning International Women's Day. However, we certainly all recognize the fact that notwithstanding what every government has done over the years, a lot of work still needs to be done.

As my colleague from the official opposition very eloquently put it, in Canada, the richest country on earth, where we still have over one in every five children living below the poverty line, it is clear that our work is not done.

However, one could say that at least we know the task has not been completed.

Over the past three years the government-it has only been in power for about three and a half years-has done a tremendous amount of things in order to address many of the concerns that were raised by my colleagues. It has taken a number of initiatives to restore confidence which was one of the most important elements and concerns that faced Canadians over the past nine years. That was done.

The second initiative undertaken by the government was to put its house in order. I would suggest, and my colleagues would agree, that our house is in order. The deficit is controllable. It is below$19 billion. The economy has grown at an incredible rate, higher than any other country in the western hemisphere. Interest rates are low and inflation is low.

The next move is to invest. I would suggest with the budget discussion that was initiated by the Minister of Finance the government is now moving toward investments. Before I sit down, I would suggest that with another mandate I am sure many of the concerns raised by my colleagues will be addressed.

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1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Since debate has now ended, the proceedings concerning the motion before the House are completed.

It being 1.30 o'clock p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Unified Family CourtPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider, in conjunction with the provinces, the active promotion and implementation of the Unified Family Court in order to emphasize mediation in family law issues, and to improve the administration of the interjurisdictional aspects of family law.

Mr. Speaker, for the record to be complete, I am pleased to speak to this motion and I will repeat the motion now:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider, in conjunction with the provinces, the active promotion and implementation of the Unified Family Court in order to emphasize mediation in family law issues, and to improve the administration of the interjurisdictional aspects of family law.

I brought this motion forward because the landscape of family life in Canada is changing dramatically and radically. Many factors are involved in this change.

Those factors range from changes in technology to the mobility of persons, changing expectations even within society. But I would put to this House that perhaps the most notable change of all has been the change in marital breakdown within society.

Divorce in Canada is too important to be ignored. It is too important for government to step aside and let what is happening happen. The patchwork legislation such as Bill C-41 is simply not enough, so I am pleased again to bring forward some suggestions that are in the process and relate to this very important item of divorce.

Divorce is under federal jurisdiction and was made so in the British North America Act in 1867. At that time divorce was granted only if it could be proven that one spouse committed adultery. The jurisdiction was shared between the federal Parliament that enacted the law and provincial legislatures that gave courts the authority to grant divorce.

In 1968 the grounds for divorce were expanded to include marital breakdown and marital offences where breakdown was defined as such things as desertion, imprisonment and separation for at least three years. Marital offence was defined as physical or mental cruelty. It was quite a span of time from 1867 to 1968 before any changes were made at all to the law.

In 1985 the Divorce Act was opened again. It was amended so that marital breakdown was deemed the only ground for divorce. That was defined as separation of at least one year, adultery and/or physical or mental cruelty.

It is interesting to note that the no fault provision, that is separation for at least one year, was used in 91 per cent of the divorces in the first year after the passage of that bill in 1985.

Between 1965 and 1988, before the first change to the bill and after the second, Canada has the record of going from one of the lowest rates of divorce to one of the highest in the industrial countries. The latest statistics state that approximately one in every two marriages today ends in divorce, showing another increase.

This eight fold increase in divorce since the changes in 1968 underlines a fundamental shift in our understanding of the basic concepts of marriage, children, relationships and others. They reflect a change in things like social mobility, lower birth rates, equality rights and entry of women into the labour force.

Even though divorce is rampant, it is true that seven out of ten Canadians remarry. Marriage is not forgotten. However, the process of divorce takes its toll.

As a society our concern is the major effect of this process on children and, therefore, the social and economic effects that result from that.

Children are our country's most valuable resource. Scientists have said that there are certain developmental and cognitive predictors we can look at to see how successful they will be and how they will contribute to society.

Scientists have noted life changes that affect children and have listed and quantified them. Some of the life changes that have dramatic effects on children are negative economic circumstances, particularly of women after divorce; erratic or no contact with the non-custodial parent; ongoing parental conflict or less availability of the residential parent because that parent may have to work.

In contrast, the top factors that work toward positive consequences in the event of divorce would be the extent to which parents resolve the conflict surrounding the divorce, the quality of the custodial relationship and the extent of not feeling rejected by the non-custodial parent. These all have positive effects on children.

As the government looks at legislation relating to divorce it has a responsibility in these areas, not in just one or two of them because they all affect children, the products of the marriage, and all too often the victims of the divorce.

The signs of stress from this epidemic are everywhere. Youth suicides are escalating, teen pregnancies are escalating, youth violent crimes doubled in the last few years. Even such things as academic achievement, which has been shown to relate specifically to the security of the child and the feeling of belonging, in recent days has shown to be lacking in Canadian standards.

When I think back to what the government did in Bill C-41, I see it as a dismal failure. Bill C-41 will create renewed legal wrangling between custodial and non-custodial parents and that will work directly against the best interests of children.

The Liberal government is out of touch with the realities faced by Canadian families in their homes and in the process of divorce. Bill C-41 essentially relegates the non-custodial parent to the role of a money machine. The guidelines lack any recognition or encouragement of special circumstances or commitments of time or resources unless it is above a 40 per cent access threshold. It encourages an all or nothing mindset as to whether someone is a custodial or non-custodial parent. The justice minister has claimed that this legislation is designed to reduce conflict. Because of this legislation, the battle lines will be drawn earlier and the battle will go on longer.

Other factors are that access to the non-custodial parent are ignored and the non-adversarial atmosphere that is recommended is ignored. The government is blind to the real needs of Canadians and has refused to consider support and access together, despite the testimony of many Canadians and experts.

One thing the government can do is move in the direction of a valuable change to promote more aggressively something that came through in 1974 from the Law Reform Commission of Canada. This was a suggestion to establish a unified family court system across the country.

Federal officials say that the government has supported the idea of a unified family court ever since the law commission issued this report. Yet 27 years later we have very little to show for it. In 1974, the Law Reform Commission said: "In some provinces, as many as five different courts may handle family problems. Overlapping and fragmentation occurs in the areas of custody, wardship, adoption, maintenance and divorce. This not only leads to multiplication of effort, but can produce irreconcilable decisions". Twenty-seven years later, this is still the case.

The commission also said: "The most distressing effect of the present state of affairs is the despair, confusion and frustration it causes to the participants". I would add, to the children of the participants. Divorce and separation are traumatic enough without being made more difficult by the court system. Yet little has been done to remedy the situation.

Shortly after the commission report in 1977, Ontario implemented a unified family court pilot project in Hamilton. In 1978, Saskatchewan set up a unified family court. Today, Saskatchewan has a family court in three urban centres and Ontario has it in five. Also, Manitoba and Newfoundland provide province wide access to a unified family court. Previous debate in B.C. and Alberta about the implementation of a unified family court has collapsed.

Twenty-three years after a commission report, we have a convoluted variety of family court systems with no visible national commitment to establish a nation wide family court. Meanwhile, those who are suffering from the lack of action are families, especially the children.

Stronger leadership is needed from the federal government to encourage all the provinces to establish unified family courts for the sake of children.

A unified family court, according to the Law Reform Commission, should have the authority over most family matters, including the formation of marriage, divorce, judicial separation and separation orders, alimony and maintenance, custody, access, adoption and child neglect. The commission recognized differences of opinion over such matters as interspousal or interfamilial torts and contracts, guardianship of the property of minors in interspousal or

interfamilial offences of a criminal nature including, of course, family violence.

A unified family court offers several clear advantages for litigants over the present system. First, it will eliminate the problem of overlapping and fragmentation in many present rulings along with the confusion and frustration litigants face with this state of affairs. It can also save time and money.

As the Law Reform Commission said: "Present systems cause duplication of effort by judges, lawyers, witnesses, court administrators and the parties themselves". This naturally leads to increased costs.

Consolidation of family law jurisdiction in a single court would reduce the cost of legal services to the litigants. Not only are initial costs lowered but future costs can be as well.

A spokesman for the Hamilton unified family court said:

If you come back to the court, say, five years later to seek a variance on a ruling, you can apply for it in the unified family court through a motion, which is simpler and less costly than the usual application that is required in other courts.

The Hamilton unified family court has also implemented case management, a more efficient way of processing court cases. A case is assigned to one judge who is responsible for seeing it through to completion. He can deal with the various aspects of the case and while doing so develop a familiarity with the litigants and their problems which will help him to guide them through the process as quickly as is helpful to them.

Further to these benefits is the commitment in unified family courts to consider the dynamics of family conflicts. Judges in a unified family court specialize in family disputes and therefore can more effectively work with them on a personal and individual basis. A judge having developed a familiarity with a case can often offer advice. Also the litigants are saved the confusion of having various judges involved in different aspects of their situation offering contradictory advice.

Family court judges also look differently at situations than criminal court judges. For example, they are responsible to take into consideration the best interests of the child. In the case of a wayward child, if the judge knows the child is involved with social workers from within the same court he may well treat the case differently from one in which the provision of help for the child is less clearly defined.

Unified family court can also facilitate more effectively the use of mediation, an alternative to the adversarial and more destructive litigation process. Mediation is becoming increasingly popular as people experience the benefits of this approach to conflict resolution.

I will speak specifically to mediation. Last year the civil justice task force report by the Canadian Bar Association made strong recommendations for increased use of alternative dispute resolution instead of litigation to resolve civil cases. Noting the increased use of dispute resolution methods such as mediation in place of litigation that is already taking place, the Canadian Bar Association urged even more dedicated commitment to pursue that such methods be made.

It recommended that every jurisdiction make available as part of the civil justice system opportunities for litigants to use non-binding dispute resolution processes. While it did not advocate mandatory mediation it did suggest the use of incentives to encourage litigants to use dispute resolution methods and to do so as early in the process as possible.

The Ontario government has recently launched a pilot project that imposes mandatory mediation as the first stage in all civil disputes. Interestingly enough it has accepted family conflicts.

Why do we want to stop and look at mediation in family disputes? The Canadian Bar Association did not go specifically to matters of family law, but the principles and recommendations made by the bar have also been used effectively to resolve family disputes and are being used to one degree or another in different jurisdictions in Canada.

The main concern about family conflicts that led to their exemption from the mandatory mediation pilot project was that in some cases it could involve domestic violence and other power imbalances in family relationships that some say would disadvantage women in the mediation process. However all provinces have had quite a bit of experience with mediation already and screening systems can be implemented to filter domestic abuse cases out of the mediation channel.

The Divorce Act already requires lawyers to make their clients aware they can pursue mediation in place of litigation and to different degrees provincial governments encourage the use of mediation.

Let us consider mandatory mediation. The commitment to mediation in family disputes must be stronger than simply a suggestion. Extensive documentation already exists about the negative effects of divorce on children. The adversarial nature of litigation and common battles over child custody leave even more scars on these innocent victims.

As the Canadian Bar Association stated, court trials should be seen as "an option of the last resort". Rather than mediation being an option within the hands of lawyers I suggest that lawyers become an option only if mediation becomes unworkable.

Is mediation the entire answer? Should consideration be made for counselling as well? The idea of courses before divorce, premarital courses, marriage and parenting courses has some real validity. The government minimizes by neglect the implications in societal contribution of strong marriages and so ignores such suggestions. The government minimizes by neglect the devastating effect of marital breakdown on children.

As usual government policy is working against families without these recognitions being in place. Financial incentives for counselling such as tax credits or at the very least a GST exemption for counselling services would be a step in the right direction.

Whether we make mediation mandatory or simply offer strong incentives which make it or counselling a more appealing alternative in most cases, the federal government needs to urge each Canadian jurisdiction to take seriously the importance of providing Canadian families with a practical alternative to litigation.

The Law Reform Commission of Canada report calls for reform in our court systems to aid families. The recent Canadian Bar Association task force suggests dispute resolution approaches that are already proving effective in resolving family disputes in some jurisdictions. The benefits of unified family court and mediation process offer families something that is not now there in the process.

Due to the growing concern over family conflict with today's level of divorce, due to the non-partisan nature of concern for Canada's children and due to the recognition there is much that can be done to prove their lot in society the motion deserves more than just one hour of debate. I therefore ask for unanimous consent to make the motion votable.

Unified Family CourtPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Is there unanimous consent?

Unified Family CourtPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


Unified Family CourtPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

There is not unanimous consent.

Unified Family CourtPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.


Shaughnessy Cohen Liberal Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the issue of a unified family court although it took a long time to get around to that in the hon. member's address. It occurred to me that perhaps she was trying to use Motion No. 147 as a way to go back over Bill C-41. It is interesting that would be the case.

It is also interesting since we are so close to International Women's Day that the member would again promote an anti-feminist agenda which promotes the interest of the boys and not of women as the Reform Party usually does.

She suggests the federal government has somehow failed in the area of unified family courts when these courts virtually exist all over the country. We are talking about a court system that requires a lot of provincial co-operation. She should return to her own province and speak to them about the importance of unified family courts and of co-operating with us on that process.

It is unfair to suggest the federal government has failed here. A simple reading of the Constitution by a child would indicate that the court system is the responsibility of the provincial government.

Unified family courts as they exist now have provided a model of co-operation in the administration of justice. Governments, providers of professional and community services, the judiciary and the bar have all co-operated to establish these in some provinces. Unified family courts send a strong message of what can be accomplished through the development of partnerships and the sharing of ideas. The federal government is ready, willing and able to be at the table but not all provinces co-operate. The federal government has supported the establishment of unified family courts for over 20 years.

It is interesting the hon. member would cite the 1974 Law Reform Commission of Canada report. When we recently reinstated the commission the Reform Party voted against it. In any event she is relying on their old work and I suppose we should be thankful for that.

Discussions followed shortly after that report with all governments. What we found out at that time is that all governments were concerned over the division of jurisdiction of family law matters between two and sometimes more levels of court.

In some provinces as many as five different courts were handling family problems. There was overlapping, fragmentation and different judges for custody, wardship, adoption, child maintenance and divorce. This led to a multiplication of efforts but also sometimes to irreconcilable decisions. This complexity also had an effect on the ability of families to resolve their disputes quickly and at reasonable cost.

An additional concern for governments was the provision of adequate support services for family litigants. It was agreed that intake services, including referral to community based professional services, was essential for the effective operation of a unified court. Family counselling and family life education programs were recommended by the Canadian Law Reform Commission and enforcement services were also recommended that could take on the responsibility for ensuring that court orders were respected.

In Ontario those enforcement provisions have fallen apart because Ontario wants to put in a multi-billion dollar tax cut which results in their not having enough money for their enforcement proceedings. My office and the office of other Ontario MPs are receiving requests for assistance every day to enforce their orders.

The hon. member might want to keep that in mind when she is talking about tax cuts.

There was wide agreement in 1974 that these kinds of services were important in ensuring that those who sought help could get it in the form most appropriate to their needs. In July 1975 Prince Edward Island became the first province to create a unified family court. Then, in May 1976 a funding program administered by the Department of Justice, under which the federal government agreed to cost share the operation of unified family court initially for three years, was instituted. Four other provinces then participated, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and New Brunswick.

The first unified family court was in Hamilton-Wentworth, established in July 1977, 20 years ago. In August 1995 the family court became a separate branch of the Ontario Court general division and expanded to London, Barrie, Kingston and Napanee.

Saskatchewan established a unified family court in December 1978. In December 1994 those services which started in Saskatoon were expanded to Regina and Prince Albert.

A unified family court in St. John's, Newfoundland was established in June 1979, providing services to St. John's and the surrounding area.

New Brunswick established a unified family court in 1979. In September of that year a court was created to provide family services at Fredericton. In 1983 a family division of the Court of Queen's Bench in New Brunswick was established to provide those services province wide.

Manitoba did not participate in the pilot projects but in 1983 it established a family division of its Court of Queen's Bench to serve greater Winnipeg.

All these courts, including one in Nova Scotia which is now being established, have been set up with the co-operation and financial support of the federal government. A unified family court will be one of the options considered in discussions on court structure for the new territory of Nunavut.

Progress on the creation of a nationwide system of family courts has proceeded at a steady pace. It has been aided since 1981 by the maintenance of a pool of judicial salaries, pre-authorized by Parliament, that can be used as the need arises to fill positions created by provinces and territories.

With respect to the unified family courts and the structure and the need they fill, I would like to talk a bit about the philosophy behind the unified family court as it exists. It is to able families to resolve their differences to the greatest possible extent in a single forum. This can only be done if the courts are given both federal and provincial powers to deal with all aspects of family law. This is something the Reform Party seems to forget.

Since a large part of family law, including divorce and custody, falls within federal jurisdiction, unified family courts have to be established at that level. This ensures that the single court concept, one stop shopping, is maintained. Unified courts de-emphasizes the adversarial approach normally associated with courts of law in favour of a more informal dispute resolution approach.

Alternatives to legal resolutions are sought where practicable. A wide variety of professional and community services are made available to court users.

This model is seen as a way of making the court system more accessible, less threatening and more responsive to the needs of family members. It has wide acceptance among the public, family support professionals and organizations as well as the legal profession.

There has been high degree of co-operation between provincial and federal governments in the process of identifying women and men who are best suited to exercise the role of judge in these courts. There has been co-operation on funding. For example, when Ontario expanded its court in 1995 the federal government required that the salary savings realized from the federal government paying judges' salaries instead of the province be funnelled back into support services for the court.

Nova Scotia is willing to accept or has at least suggested a similar arrangement to assist in the funding of its courts. The obvious benefits for both governments are that we take over the payment of judges' salaries and the province uses that money that it has saved and it does not have to find new money to pay for important services.

All the things that my hon. friend is suggesting are going on, while the federal government then has the assurance that it requires that adequate funding will be made available to support the court once it is established.

All governments are wrestling with the problem of maintaining court services in attempting to reduce overall costs. To suggest, though, that the federal government is not doing its share is quite unfair. The hon. member talks about case load management like it is something new.

Case load management in Hamilton-Wentworth grew out of a system in Windsor, Ontario in the federally appointed court which was applied to family matters and other matters. All courts are working with this.

Mandatory mediations, all the things that the hon. member is suggesting, exist. They may not be mandatory but they do exist. After all, I would suggest to the hon. member that it is up to the litigants, the people who are involved, to decide whether they want to slug it out in court or whether they want to go to mediation. It is not up to the hon. member who, I would suggest, is following an

agenda which is more suitable to the support of men's rights than to the support of the rights of families.