Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Winnipeg South Centre, one of the great MPs in the House.
It is a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak to this motion. I want to commend my colleague from Beaches—East York, who has championed many causes in this area for a long time in the House, along with other members of our women's caucus who have produced the pink book and other documents and reports specific to issues that are generally regarded as women's issues.
I will begin with a quote by Harriett Grant from the book entitled, Our Grandmothers, Ourselves: Reflections of Canadian Women. She said:
Women accomplish many things throughout their lives, but so much of it is taken for granted and not applauded as it should be.
I think those words are very true.
When the government took office, I believe it had an agenda to cut funding to organizations and programs that sought to assist women and minority groups in this country. If we listen to the words of the Prime Minister's good friend, Tom Flanagan, and I will not repeat the entire quote as many people have spoken to this today, he indicated that the government made a nice step early on when it de-funded the court challenges program. He said that on CBC Radio. That is pretty scandalous.
When the Conservatives came into power, they cut the child care accord right away. They cut the Kelowna accord. They went on to cut the Atlantic accord. They do not seem to like accords. The Prime Minister must never drive by a Honda dealership.
Many of us could not believe it when the government announced, just months into office, billions of dollars in cuts to social programs, many of which impacted women the most. Why would anyone cut funding to these organizations? Why would the government cut funds when it is awash in cash? The reason is clear and I believe ideological. It is a relatively new and divisive approach to Canadian politics brought in by the party opposite.
I must say that there are elements of that party that are offside with the traditional Canadian values, the Canada that I believe in. The notion of equality, respect for the charter and the idea that government does in fact have a responsibility to level the playing field and equalize opportunity is foreign to many of them. Many members of the old Reform Party are still in this place and are not keen on things like the charter. They hold views that are, again, out of whack with a modern and inclusive Canada.
The Prime Minister has done a great job of muzzling the fringe elements in his party but that fringe element is rattling the cages and I suspect it is only a matter of time before they break free and show their true colours.
There was a time in this House when political parties on all sides understood the need to address inequalities and the inequalities of women in Canada, when the notion of a charter was universally accepted, and when we used to recall and respect the struggle that women have made to be included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to stand up for their causes and even to get the vote in this country.
There was a time when all parties understood that government should and had a responsibility to play a role in the lives of Canadians, especially the most vulnerable. Those days are gone. I suspect they ended when the Reform Party swallowed the whole Progressive Conservative Party. We can thank the member for Central Nova for that.
As if we needed further proof, in Quorum today there is an article from the Toronto Star about a Conservative candidate in the riding of Toronto Centre who was dumped because he refused to be muzzled. He is quoted in the article as saying that he wanted to focus on the kinds of issues that matter in a downtown urban riding but that the powers that be in the Conservative Party did not like that. The member is gone.
When a government cuts funding to worthy groups engaged in social justice and social equality initiatives, it affects people and, far too often, women. When a government cuts funding in support of students, it affects people and, far too often, women. When a government fails to address the needs of seniors, it affects people and, far too often, women. When a government cancels child care programs and replaces them with a $100 a month rebate, it affects people and, far too often, women.
When a government guts the power of the federal government to initiate national programs that help people, it affects people and, too often, it is women. When a government spends all of its money on tax cuts and does not address the needs of the poor, students, seniors and our aboriginal communities, it affects real people and, too often, it affects women. That is in Canada.
I want to speak of an experience I had this year. As MPs, we all get to meet remarkable people. This year I met a number of remarkable people and a large number of them were women.
The most remarkable woman I met this year was a woman in Nairobi, Kenyan, named Ingrid Munro. She was a woman who, a few years ago, worked for the African housing fund and retired and thought she would live a quiet life. Fifty street beggars, all women, in the slums of Nairobi came to her and said that they needed her to help them. She asked what she could do. They did not know but they wanted to talk about it.
She instituted a micro credit organization dealing with the poorest of the poor in the slums of Nairobi, in the slums of Kibara which has somewhere between 800,000 and 1 million people, and in Mathare, with 400,000 to 500,000 people, where families of six or seven children and two parents sleep in a hut that is eight feet by ten feet. It was women who started and ran that organization.
She told the women who had nothing that they should start saving their money and once they had saved $10 or $15 she would lend them twice that amount to start a business. She told them that on a $20 loan they could start a business and when that loan was paid off they could start another business.
She dealt with some remarkable women. I, along with the member for Halifax, the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley and the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, met one of these remarkable women in January of this year, a street beggar who had nothing. Beatrice had 7 children and 12 grandchildren and, in the space of two years, all her children died from HIV and HIV-related diseases. She was left with 12 grandchildren and no hope. She decided that she would need to put arsenic in the porridge the next day because the kids had no hope. Instead, she borrowed $20 U.S. and now runs four businesses in the slums of Nairobi.
When we talk about the economic power, the economic will, the resilience of women, we see what can happen in a barren place with no hope and no future and see the kind of hope that exists in those communities.
We are in one of the richest lands in the world and one of the richest nations on earth, with more money than we have ever had before. Yes, tax cuts are fine. We had an economic update of our own two years ago and we brought in the tax cuts that reappeared magically yesterday. However, we also invested in people. Just on students alone we invested billions of dollars, $2.2 billion for students most in need; $550 million to increase the Canada access grants.
The Canada that I believe in and most Canadians believe in recognize that not everyone is born with an equal opportunity to achieve success. However, as Canadians we believe we are strongest when we help the weak. We are strongest when we do something to equalize opportunity and give everybody a chance. We do not come in at a time of plenty and cut the funding to the Status of Women, gut the Canada summer jobs program, get rid of the court challenges program and get rid of a national day care plan that the member for York Centre had gone around this country and negotiated with all the provinces.
We have all had experience with the people who would have benefited from that plan. In my community, women came to me and said “this is unbelievable, we have never been involved in politics. We now want to be involved. We want to be part of this and we want to save this plan for all Canadians”. The government, however, came in and threw it out the window and instead offered $100 a month. That $100 a month, according to the Caledon Institute, actually benefits a family with $150,000 income more than it does a two income earning family of $30,000.
That is not the Canada that I believe in. I do not believe it is the Canada most Canadians believe in. Canada is a special country. We are a nation that believes in certain values and principles. I do not believe that the government represents the values of all or most Canadians. The people who are most shut out are women.
I applaud the member for Beaches—East York for bringing this motion forward today. I hope all members take part in this debate and will support the motion and stand up for Canadian women.