Madam Speaker, I am pleased to support Bill S-11. Although I may not agree with the ideology of having a Senate or with the Progressive Conservative Party, I am proud to stand to support this bill.
This bill is about our Canadian Human Rights Act. Human rights are our finest instincts, our best wishes, our dreams and our visions for now and the future. This is about how we will change this country to make it better; take what is good and make it solid; take the weak parts, look at them and change them to make them better and to bring some life to this act.
Canada has always been a place where we could succeed on our merit, work and determination. Everything is here. It does not matter if we are born poor. We have public schools. We have health care. We have homes. We can do whatever we want in this country. For us to have to step back and look at the fact of social conditions which generally refers to the poor as being an obstacle to anyone accomplishing their dreams is really shocking.
I will give an example. My mother had eleven children. Three died. My father died when I was young. We were poor. That meant there were days when there was no food. That meant there were nights when there was no heat. In the north when it is minus 30 or minus 40, living without heat is no joke. That means living in a room with all your brothers and sisters, every coat in the house piled on top of you and you are praying that somehow you can get some money for food or to get some oil or wood for your house. Poverty is not a lifestyle. It is not anything anyone chooses.
My mother was of a generation that went through the war and they wanted change. They wanted this country to be here for every child, whether born poor or rich. They had an opportunity. They fought for it and made changes.
If there was no public school, I would not have had an education. If there was no subsidized secondary school, I would not have been able to accomplish that. I certainly would not have been able to make it to this House.
As our country recedes in the support we are willing to give to the poor, it means more and more people will be born poor and they will stay poor.
In the last 10 years we have seen family income go down by 5%. Twenty-one percent of our families are low income. Sixty percent of single mothers are poor. There has been a 47% growth in the number of children living in poverty. For me these are not just words, they are not statistics. I know what it feels like and I know what children are going through when they live in poverty.
If my mother were alive I would never bring up the fact that we were poor because it was a matter of shame. For this woman it meant absolute shame that she would have to beg for food for her children, which is what she had to do. She had to go to a food bank. It was not called a food bank at that time but that is what it was.
Adding this social condition to our human rights act is important. It is important because it says of the country that we care enough to think about poverty. We care enough to want to say it, to entrench it and to make change that will make a difference for the people in this country.
We can do it. I think all Canadians want that. We want to make sure we have health care, education and housing. We want to help those who are in between jobs, those who lose jobs, to make sure employment insurance is there for them when they need it so they do not have to go on social assistance, they do not have to be degraded every day they are without a job because we place a lot of value and worth in being able to work and support our families.
Poverty increases depression, malnutrition, sickness and early death. I was poor but I was never without a roof over my head. I cannot imagine living without a home, yet more and more we are seeing people without a blanket or roof of any sort over their heads.
The changes that have gone on in our country in the last 10 years have meant that education is farther and farther out of the reach of ordinary people, certainly out of the reach of the poor.
We have public schools to send children to. If someone cannot afford a school book or running shoes for their children, they certainly cannot afford a musical instrument or sporting equipment for their children to participate in the social life of their community.
It is a human rights issue. It is an issue on dignity. Even though there may be reasons not to include this social condition in the human rights act because it would take a bit of time, it might affect other laws or institutions that we are not sure of, it does not mean we should not do it.
I know my Reform colleague said we could force banks to give a loan to someone who cannot pay it back. That is not the case at all. That would not happen. But we could expect a bank to cash the cheque of a poor working person. I know of quite a few instances where banks refused to cash their cheques.
A woodcutter in Yukon received his payment from the government because he delivered wood to people on social assistance. This man would receive his cheque from the government. His working clothes were torn and dirty because that was the nature of his work. He did not have a bank account and the bank refused to cash his cheque. Why? Because he was poor. Fortunately in this country we are lucky enough to have more rich people than poor people, but more and more people are becoming poor. We need to make changes in public policy to make sure the elements that cause poverty are not there and we also have to recognize the indignity of living in poverty.
We need not multiply the suffering of people in this country in word or in deed. If we exclude poor people from our human rights act then we are indeed heaping more indignity on those who are poor. We also have to realize the aboriginal people of our country are the poorest of the poor. By taking this step forward we would be recognizing their suffering which is far greater than most of ours.
I support this motion and I sincerely hope we will move for change.