Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for Vancouver East.
When I saw this Liberal motion yesterday, I almost laughed. In fact, I thought it was a Halloween joke. But, really, it is no laughing matter. It is a cruel joke, one that the Liberals have been playing on women for far too long. Their actions speak louder than words.
The Liberal track record on pay equity and other supports for women is dismal, at best. While it may appear that they supported women in our fight for pay equity, they were busy over the past 13 years that they were in government, of which 12 years I might add were in a majority position, dismantling programs for women.
Some credit needs to go to former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau for creating Status of Women Canada. Many gains were made by women in the years following the implementation of that agency, but unfortunately, they did not go far enough.
For years, women called on the Liberal government to make Status of Women Canada its own department. Because of women's inequality in this country, we still need this, but it has not happened.
The former finance minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, made drastic cuts to the budget of Status of Women Canada in 1997. These cuts were announced by the member for Vancouver Centre, who was then the secretary of state for Status of Women Canada. This action slashed programs and supports for women across this country.
Now, the Conservatives have cut it even further, forcing the closure of 12 of the 16 status offices, as well as cutting the funding for much needed advocacy programs for vulnerable women in our communities. As a result of those Liberal and Conservative cuts, the Campbell River Women's Resource Centre in my riding has to constantly apply for grants for its programs on a project basis that is dictated by the minister responsible for Status of Women Canada, instead of receiving the ongoing funding and support that would provide appropriate programs, stability and support for the women in the north island community.
The New Democrats have always stood side by side with women's groups to support equality. Whether speaking out on issues like choice on abortion, breaking the silence on violence against women, pushing for proactive legislation on pay and employment equity, actively encouraging the increased participation of women in politics, or making sure that every piece of legislation is examined for its impact on women, the NDP is the party that has walked the talk when it comes to fighting for women's equality.
However, the Liberals did not stop with cuts to women's programs. In fact, they never even got started on other programs that they promised and never delivered on them, such as a national child care program.
In 1993, the Chrétien government promised 150,000 new child care spaces, but the Liberals never delivered. After much pressure from child care advocates, they finally introduced a patchwork of agreements with the provinces, but no legislative framework that would guarantee the creation of spaces for children and the accessibility, affordability and stability that parents, especially women, still the primary caregivers, are looking for.
The Conservative attitude toward a universal child care system is simply wrong-headed. Twelve hundred taxable dollars a year does not create one space. Because of inaction on the part of both Liberals and Conservatives, parents in Vancouver Island North are paying exorbitant fees and enduring wait lists of up to two years for spaces for their children.
The NDP believes that women's equality is fundamental to this country and is committed to achieving it in every walk of life, from pay equity to child care. In our document “Fairness for Women”, the NDP lays out a plan to put the priorities of women first by making Canada a world leader for women's equality.
However, I digress. We are talking today about pay equity and economic equality for women. The Liberal motion before us today cites the need for pay equity and calls on the government to “develop a strategy to improve the economic security of all women in Canada and present this strategy to the House by February 1, 2008”.
In 2004, the pay equity task force was set up and did a comprehensive review of federal pay equity legislation since it received royal assent in 1977.
Its news release of May 5, 2004 stated:
--the Task Force commissioned independent research on a wide range of relevant issues and conducted a cross-Canada consultation process seeking the views of a diverse population of individuals, stakeholder groups, and government departments and agencies.
During those consultations the task force had agreement from all sides that “--pay equity is a human right...[and that the] current federal pay equity regime lacks clarity and has resulted in uncertainty, tension and frustration”.
The report noted the wage gap for women at that time was about 68¢. Today women earn 72¢ for every dollar a man earns, so we see we really have not come very far on this score. It also noted that women of visible minority groups, women with disabilities, and aboriginal women face even more discrimination in the labour market. Sadly, very little has changed on this front as well.
The pay equity task force called on the Liberal government in 2004 to implement proactive legislation, so that women would not have to make a human rights complaint when they were discriminated against on the basis of pay. The Liberals accepted that report and agreed that pay equity is a fundamental right. Three and a half years ago a majority Liberal government failed the women of Canada. It had an opportunity to raise the economic security of women, but it did nothing.
The pay equity task force was confident in 2004 that its recommendations in its report “Pay Equity: A New Approach to a Fundamental Right” would be taken seriously. It provided a clear framework to ensure the goal of pay equity would be achieved and urged the federal government to implement those recommendations quickly.
I find this motion hypocritical. The hypocrisy is that the Liberals would choose an opposition day to put forward a motion to call on the Conservative government to do something they should have done when they were in government over three and a half years ago.
However, since it is here and we are given an opportunity to speak to it, I would like to say that I will be supporting it. I guess the phrase “better late than never” is appropriate here. Having said that and given the Conservatives' lack of understanding and commitment to supports for women, I would like to tell them why pay equity and economic security is important for women, their families and for all their communities. I am going to do even better.
First, and because there are maybe some members here in the House who have never heard of it, I will explain what pay equity is. It is the right to equal pay for work of equal value. A woman has the right to be paid just as much as a man for work that requires a similar level of skill, effort and responsibility, and is performed in similar working conditions.
Second, I would like to tell members why this is necessary. On average, women still earn less than men regardless of their occupation, age or education. Today a woman earns 72.5¢ for every dollar that a man earns. For aboriginal women, women of colour and racialized or new immigrant women, the wage gap between their earnings and the earnings of white men is even greater than the wage gap between white men and women.
Historically, work that women have traditionally done has not been considered as valuable as men's work. Caring for children and elders, performing clerical tasks, cleaning houses and offices and teaching, for example, are traditionally considered undervalued and underpaid.
This devaluing of women's work can be explained by many factors including systemic discrimination, racism, the lack of women in political positions and occupational segregation. Pay inequity hurts women and their families. It makes women and children more vulnerable to poverty.
In Canada, more women than men live in poverty and the majority of single parent households are headed by a woman living on a low income. Since pay inequity contributes to poverty, it can have devastating health and social consequences, poor nutrition, inadequate housing, poor concentration and performance at school, and social isolation.
Pay inequity is also related to economic dependence which affects a woman's ability to leave an abusive relationship. Women bringing home lower paycheques also receive lower retirement incomes. Too often, senior women are living hand to mouth until the end of their lives.
Pay equity legislation helps to compensate women for this historic and systemic discrimination. Effective pay equity laws are a critical tool in advancing equality rights for all women and other historically disadvantaged groups.
The NDPs “Fairness for Women” document developed by our NDP caucus is available on our website. This will be a very helpful tool for the government. It must use it as a framework in developing a strategy to improve the--