Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House today to discuss the economic security of women.
Today, more than ever, women in Canada are seizing opportunities and pursuing their dreams. If we look at women in the armed forces, women in post-secondary education, women in the professions, women in the business world, women who stay at home to raise children, women in almost all sectors of activity, we see that they are excelling, making contributions and achieving their personal objectives and their potential. And the number of women doing so is growing.
The participation rate of women in the labour force has increased, going from 57% in 1996 to 62% in 2006.
Furthermore, studies show that female entrepreneurs are making significant contributions to Canada's economy. In the last 15 years, the number of self-employed female workers increased by 50%. The number of businesses run by women has a growth rate that is 60% higher than that of businesses run by men.
But we can do better. Women’s labour force participation rates are still considerably lower than men’s. The number of women sitting in Parliament is still around 20%, far below the critical mass of about 30%.
Women are over-represented in some groups, particularly those with low incomes, a trend that has not changed in the last decade.
Each of these situations is made worse in the case of women facing multiple disadvantages because of a combination of gender and other factors such as age, race, religion or disability.
That is why we have chosen to make women’s economic security and the elimination of violence against women key priorities, specifically by targeting vulnerable groups of women such as visible minority women, immigrants, seniors and aboriginal women. Each of those groups is at higher risk of economic insecurity and violence.
As was recently announced in the government’s response to the report by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of helping women and men balance work and family responsibilities, and of assisting vulnerable groups in achieving greater economic independence and security.
We are therefore taking action, in the form of a wide range of initiatives that will help women to take advantage of opportunities and meet the challenges they face in Canada today.
For example, our government is taking measures to enhance the economic security of women, by modernizing federal labour standards, expanding business opportunities for women, supporting a balance between work and family, improving job opportunities for vulnerable groups, raising the standard of living among older Canadians, and offering affordable housing and reducing the incidence of low incomes among Canadians.
As well, the recent throne speech included a number of strategies that will benefit women and enhance their economic security. I will name a few.
A commitment to a proud and sovereign Canada means that women will be assured of a place where they can raise their families, participate fully in public life, make a contribution and achieve their dreams.
By refocusing our attention on Canada’s North, we will be stimulating economic and social development, and this will provide direct benefits for the women who live there.
By supporting international trade, we will be creating new opportunities for women entrepreneurs and helping to create jobs for women and men.
By facilitating free trade among the provinces and territories, we will be creating new opportunities for women entrepreneurs and helping to create jobs for women and men.
Advantage Canada, the goal of which is to have better paid jobs and solid growth for Canadians, will benefit working women and their families.
May I remind my hon. colleagues that the women's program in Status of Women Canada's budget sits at $15.3 million this year. This is a budget increase of 42%, the highest it has ever been. I would also remind my hon. colleagues opposite that they voted against the budget that made this happen.
On October 11, 2007, I announced that 60 projects had been selected to receive funding totalling almost $8 million through the women's program of Status of Women Canada. This historic funding will strengthen the independence of women and girls across the country. Many of the projects will contribute to improving the economic security of women. Overall, some 260,000 women all across Canada will benefit from these 60 projects.
Here are some examples. In the Atlantic region, the result of one project will be a strategic model for mentoring and intergenerational consultation dealing with the obstacles faced by younger and older women who live in official language minority communities.
A project in the Ontario region will enable the development of tools, training, mentoring and networking programs for aboriginal women, immigrants, older women and members of racial minorities, who are trying to establish their own businesses based on “microskills”.
In the western and northern regions, there is a project to develop a program that community groups and governments can use to support female sex-trade workers during their transition to a new life.
These initiatives focusing on the economic security of women will provide meaningful results for women and girls today and in the future. They will bring about real and lasting change. They represent a rapid increase in opportunities for women and girls to participate in the life of their communities and their country, and to enjoy a life that offers financial security and freedom from want.
I want to highlight for members some of what this government has done in the past 21 months.
We increased the funding to the women's program, which includes the women's community fund, and we added the women's partnership fund to include the private sector.
We created projects for the official languages minority women's organization. We provided: almost $24,000 to Vision Femmes Beauce-Sartigan to promote women's entrepreneurship; almost $50,000 to support Prince George New Hope Society to help women starting new lives; $110,000 to the Second Story Women's Centre for training workshops in Nova Scotia; $165,000 for art projects aimed at improving the lives of at risk women and girls; $85,000 to the Single Women in Motherhood Training Program Inc.; $200,000 to the Saint John chapter of the Urban Core Support Network; almost $60,000 to the Arising Women Place for the project independent women; over $185,000 to the West Central Women's Resource Centre for its multi-year women's economic security and housing project; and $300,000 to the Canadian Women's Community Economic Development Council.
Violence against women and girls is a major concern to Canadians. The reintroduction of legislation to tackle violent crime is good news for women and girls. The tackling violent crime bill fulfills the expectations of Canadian women for strong measures to ensure they are protected from violent crime and from predators.
These are just a few examples of the concrete projects that this government is funding in its strategy to improve the economic security of all women in Canada.
At a time when we are turning our vision toward the future and working to ensure that Canada continues to be one of the most prosperous countries in the world, we must increase the participation of women in the work force and support their career choices.
An enormous wave of aging is about to be felt by Canadian society, and we will see the population pyramid flip over. During the next two decades, it is predicted that the ratio of older persons to active workers in Canada will increase by 20%. Many more Canadians will be over 65 years old and an even greater number will be over 75. Most of those people will be women.
Just as the huge cohort of the baby boom generation defined our national life for several decades, this new trend in population aging will affect the future of Canada. As Canada’s population grows older, women will play an even more important role in contributing to our economy and society, and they must—