Mr. Speaker, I apologize. I did not realize that the period for questions for the hon. member was over. You have caught me by surprise but I will come at it from another direction.
I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue.
As all Quebeckers must realize, this is my first speech here in the House. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank the people of Ahuntsic for placing their trust in me. I would also like to thank my family for their love and support, especially my parents, my brothers and sisters, my husband Ibrahim and my son Christopher.
I would also like to thank all of the Bloc Québécois supporters in the riding of Ahuntsic. I am here today thanks to their hard work. I also send my regards to my team, currently holding the fort in our constituency office. I would also like to acknowledge my former colleagues at CSST, who made it possible for me to be with you here today. Finally, I would like to extend my warmest regards to the Lebanese and Arab communities in Quebec and Canada, and to the people of Lebanon, which I am proud to say is my country of birth, and to those from my home town of Akkar.
I chose Quebec because it offers a good environment in which to achieve the hope of peace and solidarity. I can now say that it also feels good to be chosen by the people there. I will therefore try to prove myself worthy of my fellow citizens' kindness and of the political ideals that I share with my party.
As the ancient Romans said, “scripta manent”, which means, “what is written endures”. Wise people have long known that what is written endures; it follows us and we are judged by what we write.
During the last election campaign, the Prime Minister send a letter to the Feminist Alliance for International Action. The letter stated, and I will quote in English:
Yes, I'm ready to support women's human rights and I agree that Canada has more to do to meet its international obligations to women's equality.
If elected, I will take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the United Nations, to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitments to women in Canada.
He made a commitment to take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the UN, to support women's rights.
As we all know, the Prime Minister was elected. The women of Quebec and Canada are now waiting for him to take the concrete and immediate measures he referred to, as the UN recommended. The Speech from the Throne is silent on these measures, which the Prime Minister promised in writing. By signing the letter, what did the Prime Minister pledge to do?
In 1979, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which is also known as the treaty for women's rights.
In 1981, Canada ratified this convention. Twenty-five years later, women still suffer discrimination.
In 2003, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women released its report on Canada. It reads in part as follows:
While appreciating the federal Government's various anti-poverty measures, the Committee is concerned about the high percentage of women living in poverty, in particular elderly women living alone, female lone parents, aboriginal women...immigrant women and women with disabilities, for whom poverty persists or even deepens, aggravated by the budgetary adjustments made since 1995 and the resulting cuts in social services.
I will give a few examples of what the Prime Minister was committing to when he signed the letter. On the issue of violence against women, in paragraph 370, the UN committee asks Canada to “step up its efforts to combat violence against women and girls and increase its funding for women’s crisis centres and shelters.”
What, specifically, will the Prime Minister do about that? I wonder. As regards domestic help, the committee calls for, among other things, a quicker process to enable these household employees to obtain permanent residence. Another fine challenge for the Prime Minister.
In addition, as Ms. Asselin, the president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec, pointed out in an open letter that appeared in La Presse on December 23, the enshrinement of pay equity in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms some 30 years ago has not ensured that women working in businesses under federal jurisdiction enjoy pay equity.
For a number of years now, there has been consensus in Quebec on pay equity. Some 120,000 persons, primarily women, do not have pay equity, simply because they work for firms under federal jurisdiction. Therefore, in Quebec, 120,000 persons are paying the price because Quebec is not independent and master of its directions and its life choices. This lack of pay equity on the federal level leads me to make a comment for my fellow Quebeckers on the relevance of sovereignty. The reason for sovereignty is all the more understandable, despite all that is involved, as is the reason we want to be independent. So, what will the Prime Minister do to honour his signature?
In the debate on Canada's presence in Afghanistan, on April 10, a number of ministers of this government justified it by an altruistic desire to protect the rights of women and children. The Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages said, and I quote:
In addition thanks to Canada's help, more than 4 million children, one-third of them girls, are registered in primary school. Canada is helping to bring concrete, lasting change to the living conditions of women and children in Afghanistan.
The Minister of National Defence said:
For Afghan women to have access to such services was simply unimaginable under the harsh Taliban regime. ...more than 4 million children, one-third of them girls, are registered in primary school.
In my opinion this government seems very sensitive to the cause of Afghan women and children and that makes me very happy.
I presume the same will be true for the women of Quebec and Canada. I also presume that the Prime Minister is a man of his word and that he will keep the promise he made in writing to the women of Quebec and Canada on December 18, 2005.
I will therefore support the Speech from the Throne, since I am an optimist and I have confidence in the word of the Prime Minister, who will, I am sure, go beyond the Speech from the Throne.
Furthermore, I am quite pleased that this government has shown its openness to addressing the fiscal imbalance, which is something we did not see with the previous government. Indeed, the previous government did not even recognize that there was a fiscal imbalance.
This apparent willingness to find fiscal arrangements gives hope. I do not intend to kill that hope.
The current government's desire to address crime is another important aspect of this speech. Nonetheless, we must not forget that criminal behaviour does require repression alone, but also rehabilitation and prevention.
I will close by saying that I will give the Prime Minister a chance to keep his word. In time, the men and women of Quebec and Canada will take notice of what he does and does not do. For now, we will give him the benefit of the doubt, but we are keeping our eyes wide open.