Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak to the Liberal party motion on the Conservative government cuts affecting Quebec women. These cuts are made with disregard for the role of women in our society and the importance of giving them equal opportunities.
Since coming to power, this Conservative government has refused to accept any responsibility for the social problems affecting our society. The Bloc Québécois is opposed to the cuts that the Conservatives are preparing to make at the expense of Quebec women. I would like to dedicate my comments today to all women who fight inequality, poverty, violence, isolation and prejudice against women. Women are directly affected by the $5 million, or 20%, reduction in the budget of the Status of Women Canada announced by the Minister of Finance on Monday.
How can such an attitude be justified? There is only one word that applies in this case: irresponsibility. This government, which no later than Monday was telling us about its billions in surpluses, has the nerve—at the same time—to cut what it has also the gall to call fat. The President of the Treasury Board took this affront so far as to say that his government has adopted a strategy for saving a billion dollars, this year and next year. Those savings will be made on the backs of the most vulnerable among us because of the women’s programs and services that are being eliminated.
In the riding of Laurentides—Labelle, the Réseau des femmes des Laurentides and the organization La Passe-R-Elle, two organizations dedicated to women’s welfare, will have their efforts stymied by the Conservative decisions. The way that organizations funded under the Women’s Program have been treated in recent months provides eloquent evidence of what the Conservatives think about the status of women. The fact is that the work done by these organizations helps dozens of women, every day, who have been victims of violence or intimidation. These organizations cannot believe the government's withdrawal undertaken by the Conservatives.
The reduction in funding for literacy programs means that Griffe d'alpha in Mont-Laurier will no longer be able to provide the French language integration courses that it offered free of charge to new immigrants in the region. This is going to make it more difficult for these newcomers to integrate.
Our society will have to rely even more on the generosity of volunteers to make up for the irresponsibility of this government.
But there is more. The government eliminated both the volunteer support program and the court challenges program that helps minority language groups exercise their rights in the courts.
After eight months in power, the Conservatives are finally showing their true face, and it is the face of a party that gets its ideas from the ideology of right-wing groups that could not care less about the problems and concerns of minorities and of the disadvantaged in our society. This kind of management has nothing to do with the values and priorities of Quebeckers.
Since January 23, Quebeckers have been having to deal with a government that does not keep its election promises. In fact, I would like to remind this minority government that in the recent federal election, the Prime Minister himself acknowledged, and I quote, “—that Canada has more to do to meet its international obligations to women's equality”.
He also committed himself to taking concrete and immediate measures to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitments to women on the international scene.
In October 2004, after an agreement was reached among the parties in the House of Commons, and at the initiative of the Bloc Québécois, the first Standing Committee on the Status of Women, composed of representatives of the political parties in the House, was created. The attitude of the Conservative government is an affront and negates all the efforts at consultation that this committee has made since it was created.
One by one, groups have appeared before the committee to testify that they are worried about how less and less importance is being placed on women’s concerns in the government’s decisions. Many of them were of the opinion that government action to fund women’s rights groups is a priority, and suggested that underfunding would make it more difficult to promote women’s rights.
Some witnesses were also heard on the need to re-examine the allocation of funds.
One of the chief concerns is the assurance of core funding for front line agencies, such as support centres for victims of sexual assault and spousal violence, as well as women’s networks.
Other witnesses have also talked about the importance of encouraging the federal government, when it is preparing policies and budgets, to take into account the effects these will have on women, suggesting that the role of Status of Women Canada be strengthened.
What do the Conservatives really think about the status of women? Not very much, if we look at their electoral platform, where the word “woman” can be found only twice. This shows that the Conservatives are not interested in the specificity of women’s lives.
The Conservative government has cut away the fat. It has slashed the assistance allocated to programs and services for women.
Poverty is a major issue for women, who are overrepresented in this respect, particularly mothers in single-parent families, older women, immigrants and aboriginal women.
The expression “low income” does not appear once in the Conservative Party’s electoral platform. This is upsetting, when we know that one in six women in Canada is poor.
The birth of children, the breakup of a conjugal relationship and illness are all reasons that may cause women to end up with low incomes over a long period.
Four single-parent families out of five are headed by a woman. Meanwhile the wage gap between female and male graduates goes on widening. Female graduates make only 71% of the earnings of male graduates.
Pay equity, maternity benefits and parental leave are not part of the Conservative platform.
As for public housing, the Conservatives basically emphasize tax incentives for builders in the private sector. There is nothing to help women regarding public housing or for dealing with violence against women.
While they acknowledge that there is violence in the streets and that no woman should have to live in fear, the Conservatives do not have anything to say about the thousands of women who seek refuge in safe houses and transition houses as a result of conjugal violence. They do not recognize the merits of these services and do not propose any investment to support them. Cutting away the fat—that is how they propose to deal with women’s problems.
In conclusion, the government preferred to take the approach of REAL Women of Canada, that conservative group that asks for nothing other than the abolition of Status of Women Canada.
An article that appeared in The Canadian Press is particularly eloquent:
The minister responsible for the status of women is not ruling out the possibility that this file [Status of Women] will be put on the chopping block of Conservative cuts, but she maintains that her government will continue to fight against inequality and the obstacles facing Canadian women.
This may not be enough to ease the fears of certain women's groups, but her comments contradict the position of organizations, such as REAL Women of Canada, which maintain that women no longer need help from the government to achieve equality.
The Bloc Québécois is very concerned about the cuts announced regarding Status of Women Canada and the position of women in the Conservative ideology, which supports an approach contrary to the values of Quebeckers. This government is reactionary and misogynous.
The Bloc Québécois team will continue to rise and defend the rights of women, the principles defended by the Beijing conference,and equity. Quebec will always strive to achieve the freedom of action and financial resources it deserves, in order to achieve the full powers that will allow it to develop alongside all other nations.