Mr. Speaker, I take great pleasure in participating in this debate. I will be sharing my time with the member for Bras d'Or—Cape Breton, the status of women spokesperson on behalf of the New Democratic Party.
As I reflect on the exchanges that have taken place between the spokespersons for the government party and the official opposition, it is little wonder that women in the country have become discouraged. They are tired, fed up with being dismissed, demeaned and basically pushed into the shadows by the party in government and the official opposition.
Is it worse to have an official opposition that does not even understand the concept of equality and justice, that does not even understand the notion of sisterhood and solidarity, that clearly embraces the Margaret Thatcher view of the world that there is no such thing as community or society but only individuals living as isolated islands in a society that does not care about them? Or, is it worse to have a government party that actually does understand something about the magnitude of the problem, that cannot even make that excuse, but that does not use the power, the mandate and the resources it has at its disposal to do something to advance equality and justice on behalf of women? It is hard to know which is worse.
I want to leave that very depressing situation to focus on something very much more hopeful.
Yesterday a group of Canadian women held a huge rally here on Parliament Hill. I remember that six years ago Quebec women organized a solidarity march which focused on a very important and progressive symbol: bread and roses.
Today I want to congratulate Quebec women for having shown leadership in the great battle to fight violence against women, to fight poverty and to promote justice, solidarity and equality for women.
I am very proud of the leadership shown by the women of Quebec in this struggle. They have undertaken to turn what started out to be a modest and successful march in the province of Quebec which extended across Canada the next year into an international women's march against poverty and violence.
Yesterday, as I had the opportunity to mix and mingle and participate with those women, as did many of my New Democrat colleagues, I felt very hopeful. Despite all the discrimination women have suffered, despite all the reasons women have to feel discouraged, they celebrated yesterday. They celebrated with music, with humour, and with a reinforcement of the kind of solidarity and sisterhood they know will be necessary to move governments to act to eliminate poverty and violence against women in society.
It is not an accident that the women of the world who have come together have recognized that they have to work with one another and support one another to get governments to act. That is why we are privileged to have a democratic process that allows women an equal voice.
I was very encouraged to hear woman after woman, and not just those who had the opportunity to speak on behalf of others, speak very much from their own experiences, their own hearts. They will not take no for an answer. They have been waiting on the sidelines. They will use the democratic process available to them in the upcoming election to say enough is enough. They will not put up with a government that is sitting on a surplus, which is building to $121 billion and beyond, and refusing to implement its commitments to women, to the people of Canada, in the 1993 election and again in 1997.
What were those commitments? A commitment to a national child care program, which still has not seen the light of day, and a commitment to a national home care program. Make no mistake about it, it is women who carry the double burden of the cutback in our health care system. The government brags that it has reinvested some money into health care. Wrong. It has not even brought health care funding up to the level that it was, for the name of heavens, under the Mulroney government when it took power in 1993.
There was a commitment to a pharmacare program that would ensure that elderly women would not be forced to choose between buying their groceries or filling their prescription for drugs given to them by their doctor. There was also a commitment to more adequate, affordable housing.
When the Liberals were in opposition they said that social housing was a disgrace and that more money needed to be invested in social housing. Does anyone know what their contribution has been to the women and children struggling with inadequate housing, struggling with the reality that more and more women and children are homeless on the streets in some parts of this country? We have some 5,000 children who are homeless and who have nowhere to go to bed at night except at an emergency shelter in the city of Toronto. Does anyone know what the federal Liberal contribution has been toward solving that problem and eliminating any national commitment to social housing? We are the only industrial nation in the world that does not have a national housing program.
Far from despair, I celebrate and I take hope from the fact that 50,000 women came together representing millions of other women to say “We will solve this problem. We will take charge of our own futures. We will use the democratic instruments that are available to us to ensure that we demand accountability from our governments and we make progress that will advance genuine equality and justice for ourselves and for our children”.
I will conclude by once again saying how inspiring it has been to watch women come together to support one another in this struggle. This is not just a slogan. The women's movement, I am prepared to say, is the single most important movement happening in the world today. These women have come together and said “As long as one woman is a victim of violence, as long as one woman in this world is a victim of poverty, then we are all at risk of victimization”. That is the meaning of the notion of sisterhood in solidarity.
“So, so, so, solidarity”, that was the slogan. Many women, not only across Canada but literally all over the world, are working together to solve the issues of violence and poverty. I am very proud to participate, along with my NDP colleagues, in this great battle, one we intend to win.