This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on what the priorities of the government should be and what they could be. I would like to thank the citizens of the cities of Burnaby and New Westminster. Many members of the community were emailing me, sending letters or making phone calls about what they believe the priorities should be for this country. I will come back to that in a moment.

Clearly, Canadians are seeing a disconnect between what the current Conservative government is doing, what the former Liberal government did, and what they actually see as major priorities that should be tackled by the federal government of this country.

I should start by talking a bit about the financial situation that Canadians find themselves in. This will be a wake-up call for Conservatives and Liberals who are continually clapping and patting each other on the back and talking about how economic good times have come.

It is an important wake-up call. Since 1989 when the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was put in place, and since this corporate tax cut agenda started with this inevitable drive to the bottom, most Canadians are poorer. It is unbelievable, but Statistics Canada tells us that two-thirds of Canadian families are earning less now than they were back in 1989.

What has happened? When the Conservatives and the Liberals talk about these good times, who are they actually referring to? StatsCan also tells us what has actually happened. The wealthiest 20%, the wealthy elites that the Liberals and the Conservatives represent, and they are the parties of the elites, those two parties, same old, same old, the wealthy elites have actually seen their share of national income go up to 50%. The wealthy elites in this country now take half of the entire national income pie.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

And you wonder why you'll never form a government.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, if the Conservatives do not like hearing this, then it is about time that a little dose of Main Street came into the Bay Street party, the Conservative Party. The wealthy elites, that 20% of the corporate CEOs and corporate lawyers now have 75% of all the wealth in the country.

What is wrong with this picture? We have a Canadian income pie and half of it goes to the wealthy and we have the wealth pie of Canada and three-quarters of it goes to the wealthy. What has happened to the rest of Canadians?

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh!

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives really do not like a dose of reality. They are waking up. They are becoming upset. My goodness, somebody is talking about reality here, the NDP member for Victoria and now the NDP member for Burnaby—New Westminster are talking about what is really happening out there and the Conservatives cannot handle it. They will have to go back to another corporate lobbyist party to get those pats on the back that they love so much for their massive corporate tax cuts.

What has happened to the middle class? The average middle class family over that same period has lost a week's income each and every year since 1989. They are working 52-week years, but they are being paid now for 51 weeks. They are trying to make do with less.

People in the lower middle class, the next income sector, have actually lost two weeks of income. Working class families, hard-working Canadian families have lost two weeks of income for each and every year since 1989.

What about the poorest? The member for Victoria referenced that earlier. They have lost a month and a half of income over this same period. They are working 12-month years, but they are only being paid for 10 and a half months now. There is no secret why we are now seeing hundreds of thousands of Canadians sleeping out on the streets and in the parks of our cities. What we have seen for the poorest of Canadians is that their income has basically fallen through the floor.

That is the economic reality the Liberals and the Conservatives have completely ignored over the last 20 years while they have been putting in place their massive corporate tax cut agenda. The only priority of the former Liberal government and the only priority of the current Conservative government is to cut corporate taxes. They have done that massively. I will come back to that in a moment.

We are now in this prebudget debate. We have now had two years of Conservatives acting like Liberals, as the Liberals acted like Conservatives. Most Canadians cannot tell the difference because they have the same priorities, except at election time when both parties try to sound like New Democrats. What we are seeing in this prebudget debate are calls for more corporate tax cuts.

We hear the Prime Minister say that the corporate tax rate has to be driven even lower. Then the Leader of the Opposition says that the Liberals will go even lower, that their corporate tax cuts will be even faster than the Conservatives' corporate tax cuts. Then the Conservatives say, “No, we will be faster. We will slash those corporate tax cuts. We will give the banks, big oil and big gas more money than they can imagine”. And the Liberals say, “No, we will do more”. This competition back and forth of who has the biggest corporate tax cut is clearly not in the interest of Canada.

What about our health care system that is deteriorating? Many seniors and other people who have health difficulties can tell us about the longer and longer wait times because there has not been sufficient investment in our health care system.

What about the homeless? The only money that has gone into housing in the past 15 years was from the NDP budget amendment that we forced on the Liberals. The Conservatives have tried to take credit for it. The Liberals have tried to take credit for it. The only injection in housing, and it was only a start, has come from the NDP budget.

What about the environment? What about the transportation deficit? The transportation and infrastructure deficit is estimated by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to be over $100 billion. What about that?

What about the poor state of housing for our military personnel? There is substandard housing on military bases across the country. Our military personnel are being treated with contempt by the Conservative government.

What about returning veterans? They have come back from often traumatic situations in Afghanistan, and they have not been provided with mental health counselling or addiction support. It is absolutely appalling how the Conservatives will talk a good line about the military, but when push comes to shove, they prefer giving huge tax cuts to their corporate buddies rather than supporting adequate housing on military bases and adequate programs for returning veterans.

What about our police officers? What about our justice system? They were chronically underfunded under the Liberals. It has reached the point where they simply cannot prosecute and they simply cannot investigate to the same extent as if they were fully funded.

What about citizenship and immigration concerns, a system that has completely broken down? What about women's shelters? What about the record levels of student debt?

These are the priorities that the government should be tackling. The Conservatives said they would be different from the Liberal government and they are exactly the same. They are concerned about one thing and one thing only: an appalling obsession with corporate tax cuts.

What has the result been after two years of the Conservatives doing the same thing as the Liberals? The cumulative fiscal impact is about $190 billion, with the most recent corporate tax cuts going to banks, big oil and big gas companies. The cumulative effect of the fall economic statement is about $12 billion a year. Over six years we are talking about over $70 billion. We are talking about huge amounts of money being shovelled off the back of a truck to the corporate sector, when all of these crying and important needs are simply being ignored.

Coming back to Burnaby--New Westminster, what about some of the issues that people have raised, such as the issues of housing, and the issues of underfunding and health care that we see at the Royal Columbian Hospital and at Burnaby Hospital? What about funding for the World Police and Fire Games that was given to Quebec City and has been systematically refused by the Conservative government, even though it honours our police and fire personnel? What about funding for the renewal of Burnaby Lake? Again it was refused by the Liberals and refused by the Conservatives, even though they found money for Wascana Lake in Saskatchewan.

What about our citizenship and immigration centre that Burnaby city council has offered up essentially to the federal government for funding? What about addiction programs and supporting our police officers, the city of New Westminster Police and the Burnaby RCMP? What about those priorities? What about women's shelters? What about supporting the students that are going deeper and deeper in debt as the Conservatives shovel more and more money at their corporate CEO buddies?

The most appalling thing is that the government does not prioritize these when it knows that the average corporate CEO earns more in the first seven hours of the year than the average Canadian worker earns in the entire year, even though hours of work have increased.

Those are the priorities that the government should consider.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to hear the NDP show what the NDP policy really is toward hard-working Canadians.

I come from Oshawa. As we know, Oshawa is a centre for manufacturing. Manufacturing across the world is being challenged right now. The NDP member does not realize that we are not only competing against each other; we are competing against other countries in the world. We are competing for that investment, to keep it in Canada, to maintain an auto industry that is unparalleled.

The hon. member states the NDP policy on finances and the economy. In other words, let us tax corporations to death. When we have taxed them to death, we will regulate them to death. When they fail, we will give them corporate subsidies as they roll out toward bankruptcy.

We came up last year with an unanimous report in the industry committee. It talked about corporate tax cuts. It talked about our research tax credits, the SR and ED tax credits. It talked about the capital cost allowance and how it should be decreased. The hon. member's own NDP colleague in the committee voted for it. It was a unanimous report that would help manufacturers in the country to stay competitive.

Why did he stand in the House and vote against our budget, vote against all those good things for manufacturers and vote against hard-working people to help them keep their jobs? He needs to answer that for Canadians.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

I am very pleased to answer that question, Mr. Speaker. This comes from a government that with the softwood lumber sellout, cost 10,000 jobs in the softwood sector and gave away $1 billion, absolutely the most appalling lack of financial acumen possible. The Americans took the government to the cleaners and it did nothing to support the softwood sector.

In the manufacturing industries, we now know, thanks to the Conservatives, we are losing 200 jobs each and every day because of the government's complete inability to handle good, effective management of the economy. There is no balanced approach on the economy. All the Conservatives have is one note, and that is more corporate tax cuts to the banking sector and the oil and gas industry. Therefore, 200 Canadian families lose a breadwinner every day because the government is so appallingly incompetent.

I would like to answer his other question, which he did not ask but which he should have. It is the whole question of competitive rates in corporate taxation.

We already have lower corporate tax rates than the United States as the member well knows. The Liberals say that we should go even lower as do the Conservatives. The member might want to inform himself and read some of the studies, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, accounting firms that have studied the rate of corporate taxation. They say that the best level of competitiveness comes from the fact that Canada has a public health care system. That is a major competitive advantage vis-a-vis the U.S.

In the United States a company has to pay those health charges through HMOs. In Canada they get a subsidy because our health care is covered through our taxation.

By having a lower corporate tax rate and by not funding our public health care, the Conservatives are making our companies less competitive. This is what they do not understand because they are economic Flintstones. They simply have no concept of important and smart financial management. That is why, when the finance ministry analysed political parties, which one better manages finances of governments, both provincial and federal, the Conservatives were next to last. The only ones worse were the Liberals. The best financial managers were the New Democratic parties. Most of the time our governments balance the budget and we provide a balanced economy.

The Conservatives are economic Flintstones. They have no concept of how to manage federal government funding, and it shows, oh does it shows.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Saint Boniface.

I am pleased to rise to speak today with regard to prebudget consultations, and I will regress—

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Order, please. I have recognized the hon. member for Don Valley East. She is the one I would like to hear.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am so glad you are telling those boys to be quiet.

I am pleased to rise and speak today with regard to the prebudget consultation. I will begin by taking a look at the past two budgets delivered by the Conservatives since they assumed office.

The first budget delivered in 2006, entitled “Turning a New Leaf”, would have represented a grand opportunity for any government. The Conservatives inherited a $17 billion surplus from the previous Liberal government as well as optimal economic conditions that included the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years.

However, to outside observers, many of whom admired Canada for being a progressive democracy, budget 2006 turned out to be a complete dud, mostly because it concentrated on ideology and a curious attempt by the Conservative Party to somehow reshape government in its own image.

First, the Conservatives reversed the Liberal tax cuts, which cuts were for the lowest income Canadians. They increased the tax cut from 15% to 15.5% and then they tried to deceive Canadians by claiming somehow that it was a tax reduction. Talk about being duplicitous.

The second thing the government did in its 2006 budget was eliminate the national child care program. What did it replace it by? It replaced it with a baby bonus of $100 per month. What an insult. Not a single child care space was created and $10 billion went down the drain.

Therefore, we quickly learned that turning a new leaf was a precursor to more drastic cuts in social programs.

Within six months of assuming office, the Conservative Party announced that it was somehow necessary to slash a further $1 billion worth of spending. Some of these cuts included $18 million from illiteracy skills programs, $55 million from youth employment initiatives and $11 million from the first nations and Inuit tobacco control strategy.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

When the House returns to the study of Government Business Motion No. 2, there will be 17 minutes left for the hon. member for Don Valley East.

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

moved:

That the House call on the government to reinstate women's equality as the goal of the Women's Program at Status of Women Canada.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to bring this motion forward, but I am also saddened by the reality that in this day and age I still have to stand up and fight for equality for women in our country.

A few months ago, on October 18, the country celebrated Person's Day, a day recognizing the historic victory women won in Canada when they were declared persons under Canadian law. That was 1929. Almost 80 years later, women are still striving to achieve true equality with their male counterparts in society, in the workplace, in the household and even in Parliament.

Equality is not a word to use lightly. Fundamentally for most Canadians, the word “equality” describes a set of values, more important, a vision that Canadians have fought hard for. A vision alone will not create equality. Hard work through research and advocacy is necessary and this is not yet changed. We may have de jure equality rights, but we need substantive equality in Canada. After all, using the word “equality” without adding any substance to the terms and conditions of the women's program is frankly a very deceptive and dangerous road to take.

The history of the politics behind the women's program is a very interesting one.

In 2006 the Conservative government chose to ignore its own officials and removed the word “equality” from the terms and conditions of the women's program at Status of Women Canada.

After two years of concerns expressed by many across the country, including members of the Standing Committee on Status of Women and my caucus, I tabled this motion in November 2007 to bring the goal of equality back into the women's program.

Recently, without any fanfare, or notification or any press release or no notification to the committee, which originally highlighted this issue, the minister revised the wording of the home page of Status of Women Canada's website to include the word “equality”. The minister did not mention any change to the mandate in her opening remarks to the committee this past Tuesday. In fact, it was soon discovered that this change was meaningless as the funding guidelines for the women's program did not reflect this so-called changed position.

Today, after two media releases which highlighted this error, our office has just observed the magical changing of the mandate on the website of the women's program. We must be one effective opposition and that must be one desperate government. Nevertheless, women's groups and organizations are still being ignored because nothing has really changed.

The Conservative government ignored the valuable work that was being done by countless women's groups and organizations, which relied upon funding from Status of Women Canada to do research and advocacy. The government ignored the fact that the tireless work of these groups and organizations had an impact on women's rights in many ways.

For example, it was women's advocacy groups that helped bring about change, including the introduction of maternity benefits in the Unemployment Insurance Act in the seventies, family law legislation which would ensure economic justice for wives and improvements in child support guidelines and amendments to federal and provincial human rights and justice legislation to prohibit and prosecute acts of sexual harassment.

When the government removed the word and the concept of equality from the funding guidelines of the women's program, it turned back the clock. Without any changes to the funding eligibility requirements, the word “equality” has little meaning for the groups and organizations.

Instead of maintaining the original mandate for the women's program and continuing the work that needs to be done to advance women's equality, the government closed 12 of 16 regional Status of Women offices across Canada. It totally eliminated the policy research fund, which supports policy research on gender equality issues, and it changed the rules of eligibility for funding. This is what matters most.

Today, while not for profit organizations across Canada have either closed or downsized because of the punitive measures taken by the Conservative government, these changes have paved the way for Canadian tax dollars to go right into the coffers of for profit organizations.

Recently, several of my colleagues on this side of the House revealed the incredible disparities that existed with pay equity and economic security for Canadian women. The disparities do not stop here.

A federally commissioned report entitled “Equality for Women: Beyond the Illusion”, released in July 2006, reveals the following facts: girls are the victims of more than four out of five cases of sexual assault on minors; four out of five one parent families are headed by women; the employment income gap between male and female university graduates has widened; and women still only earn 71¢ for every $1 a man makes. The list goes on. We know the House has only one in five female members of Parliament.

A lot of work does need to be done, and despite what the Conservative government would want us to think, we cannot do it alone. We need the knowledge, the dedication, the passion and the results that advocacy and research organizations provide. We need the grassroots.

Now that these organizations are no longer eligible for the funding that they used to get for research and advocacy activities because of this unilateral change two years ago, how can these organizations contribute in the ways that they have in the past? How can we achieve the full participation of women in the economic, social, they said cultural, and political life of Canada without the work of these groups that research and advocate for equality? Equality is important.

I will now spend a few minutes focusing on what I believe are three critical areas where we need to achieve gender equality: economic, social and political. All three aspects are heavily intertwined. Economically, independent women are able to secure social rights for themselves and their children. Furthermore, those who fall behind economically and socially will not be able to find the time to be involved politically. Of course, as we see here, with a lack of political leadership, it will be that much harder to fight for economic and social rights for women.

On all three fronts, the Conservative government failed to address the incredible challenges that Canadian women face. For example, at every level of education women in Canada earn less than men. In 2003, women who were high school graduates earned 71% of what male high school graduates earned at full time work. Similarly, women with post-secondary degrees earned 68.9% of what their male counterparts earned.

In female dominated professions such as teaching, nursing and clerical work, men still earned more on average and the majority of minimum wage workers in Canada are women. These statistics are even worse for women of a visible minority or of aboriginal descent.

Today, women are finding it harder to keep up as the primary caregivers because of the rising costs of raising their children and finding the care for them that they need. Removing the word equality from the mandate of the women's program is one thing, but the government has also turned its back on Canadian women in other ways.

In 2006, the government ignored the recommendations of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women which endorsed the changes to pay equity legislation as stated by the federal task force on pay equity. To top it off, the government chose to deliver child care through the mailbox and Canadian women are still waiting for the government to fulfill its promise of creating thousands more desperately needed child care spaces.

There is no choice when there is no space and no spaces in Canada are being added by the government.

There are real issues of violence against women. In 2006, Canada had 553 shelters for women. These shelters admitted more than 100,000 women and dependent children than in previous years. Statistics Canada shows that three-quarters of these women were victims of abuse, 66% were feeling psychological abuse, 55% physical abuse, 41% threats, 37% financial abuse, 28% harassment, and 23% of these women were victims of sexual abuse.

There were close to 5,000 solved homicides between 1994 and 2003, of which 38% were family related. Spousal homicides accounted for about 18% of all solved homicides and almost half of all family homicides. The point here is that women are much more likely than men to be killed by their spouse. The spousal homicide rate against females is five times higher than the rate for males. Too often women stay in physically and/or sexually abusive relationships. Those who do get out of these relationships have difficulty finding affordable housing.

In 2003, 42% of renter families headed by single mothers had difficulty finding affordable housing. The government may say that it funds service programs, but in reality it is not really funding real change through the research of the advocacy that formally was fostered by the women's program.

In reality, removing the word equality is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this government's lack of action and disregard for Canadian women who need support the most. But it is indicative of its thought pattern.

In 2006, the government cut the budget for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation by $45 million. In the same year it also announced a $200 million reduction in federal contributions over the previous year toward creating new affordable housing through signed agreements with the provinces and territories.

Aboriginal women in Canada are also confronted by a number of challenges. The life expectancy of an aboriginal woman is 76.8 years versus 82 years for a non-aboriginal woman. Aboriginal women are more than three times more likely to report being victims of spousal violence than non-aboriginal women.

In 2004, 24% of aboriginal women reported that they had been victims of spousal violence in the previous five years. Outside of the home in 2001, 17% of aboriginal women in the labour force were unemployed. For non-aboriginal women this was 7%. According to Statistics Canada in 2000, the median income of an aboriginal woman was $12,300, about $5,000 less than a non-aboriginal woman. And these women are also more likely than aboriginal men to be working low-paying jobs.

In light of these statistics representing real people, the government refused to implement the Kelowna accord, an agreement with the first nations, Métis and Inuit communities across the country to improve their quality of life. These women are looking for leadership, yet when they look at the current Conservative government, they see very few women being put in leadership roles to enable them to play key roles in shaping our country.

In 2006, the Conservative Party fielded the fewest women candidates, a meagre 10%. Out of the 26 current cabinet positions, only five of them are filled by women. Today, while women make up more than 50% of the nation's population, women only comprise 20% of the seats in this House. The United Nations has ranked us 30th in the world in terms of representation of women in Parliament, behind countries like Norway, Trinidad and Tobago and others.

The Liberal Party, under the leadership of Stéphane Dion, is committed to ensuring that more women hold positions in the House of Commons.

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I interrupt the hon. member.

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

I should not have named our Liberal leader, my correction. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

That is why we are working to have one-third of Liberal candidates in the next federal election be women. I would like to ask all Canadian women to look closely at the front benches of the government and ask themselves if this is the kind of leadership they want to fight for their rights.

The minister earlier this week repeatedly read her approved lines when asked at least five or six times by three opposition parties about the mandate of equality and the funding for the women's program. Despite words about equality, women are realizing, as I and my colleagues have, that the government is not serious about achieving real equality but rather using the word equality as a smokescreen for its inaction. What does the future hold for Canadian women as they continue to fight for equality with little help from this current government that does not believe in advocacy for equality?

Today, I am rising in this House to call upon the government to bring the goal of equality back into the terms and conditions of the women's program at Status of Women Canada. Of course, this would only be a starting point.

Canadians are asking the government to stop turning back the clock and start taking action. Canadians, especially Canadian women, want the government to listen, to understand and to act. That includes funding for advocacy and research.

Recently, my colleague, the hon. member for Beaches—East York, and I hosted a round table discussion in my riding of London West on issues that affect Canadian women. We listened to their ideas, their concerns, their struggles and their stories. They need affordable child care, it is that simple. The national child care and early learning program brought in by the previous Liberal government was the first step toward creating a comprehensive strategy that would leave no child behind. A 1984 Royal Commission on Equality and Employment stated that “child care is the ramp that provides equal access to the workforce for mothers.”

Canadian women deserve proactive pay equity legislation. Employers need to take action and ensure that all employees receive equal pay for work of equal value. But more recently, members of the Liberal Party women's caucus proposed several changes to current programs and legislation to deal with violence against women and housing affordability, among other issues.

Our women's caucus supports providing increased federal funds dedicated to civil aid under Canada's social transfer to ensure that women have much needed access to legal representation in family law matters. Our women's caucus also recommends that the federal government develop a national public awareness campaign to highlight the problem of violence against women and what can be done to eliminate it.

We have a national housing strategy that is inclusive of women developed by our women's caucus. Access to safe and affordable housing is a foundation upon which other economic and social outcomes depend. Low income women need affordable housing. It is for their well-being and the well-being of their dependant children.

I call upon the government to follow our example, take the ideas, fight for the equality of women, put real equality back into the mandate of the women's program, its funding guidelines, and provide these women with the opportunity to stand on equal footing with male counterparts, economically, socially, politically.

I understand the Conservatives will continue to say that they have addressed women's equality issues. I guess changing a website on the day of my motion does it for them, but women know the difference in the mandate and funding guidelines of the women's program, how it used to be and how it can be.

I ask members to support this motion for real, meaningful equality, not just words.

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received which is as follows:

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

February 7, 2008

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bill listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 7th day of February, 2008, at 4:41 p.m.

Yours sincerely,

Sheila-Marie Cook

The Secretary to the Governor General and Herald Chancellor

The schedule indicates the bill assented to was Bill C-41, An Act respecting payments to a trust established to provide provinces and territories with funding for community development--Chapter 1.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for London West for her comments today and her presentation. Clearly, she is an advocate and standing up well for the rights of women in Canada.

These are important questions, questions I must say that the government takes very seriously.

In the minister's presentation just last week to the standing committee, she was very clear about the fact that equality continued to be the objective of Status of Women Canada, in particular the women's program.

I would like to ask the hon. member, why does she still believe that this is something that needs to change? Her motion supports doing something that in fact has already happened.

When she is giving her response, I wonder if she could explain why it is that the advocacy component that she talked about is somehow equitable with equality.

Equality is there as the objective. Advocacy, as I see it, might be one of the tools, but the member will know that these programs go out to groups and none of the groups that she mentioned, groups that might have done advocacy in the past, are not restricted from applying for program funding under the women's program.

I wonder if the member could respond.

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I obviously know at this point in time that the member has not read the guidelines clearly because they do not allow for advocacy any more. They used to. We can produce services to individuals and we can help them with the problems that exist, some problem that currently exists.

However, we cannot get over the hurdle. We cannot change the equality by just coping with the problem. We have to have some understanding of what is really happening, the ability of those organizations to do the research.

There is still some allowance for small amounts of research, but they cannot use it to advocate for change. It is sort of like the court challenges program. We cannot challenge and we cannot make it better. We are not talking about keeping status quo or helping someone out. Those are all programs that can be done through HRDC or Immigration Canada.

The real focus of this program was under past governments, but not the member's government. All the members on that side have watched and were silent since 2006 when this changed.

I came into my office this morning. I checked the website. It was the same with just a couple of words on the front pages, similar to what the minister had said the other day. She never referred to anything in her opening statement to the committee when she came to make her presentation on Tuesday. Members had to draw it out of her.

Do we do everything in secret? There have been real changes over the last two years. We cannot deny that the offices have closed, but it is the work of organizations that had to be more creative in trying to get funding. However, they are not allowed to advocate for equality.

I am sorry but status quo is not acceptable. If we do not have champions, if we do not move for change, it does not happen. I am sorry, the government is failing in that regard.

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the member for her excellent presentation and applaud her for her perseverance in fighting for equality. As we noted, equality was achieved through advocacy and it is the famous five who were able to get us women the voting right.

I have a very brief question of the member. In her opinion, why does she think the current Conservative government is so afraid to give equality to women and why are the r the women on the other side so complicit in not fighting for equality rights?

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a lack of understanding of the core issues. I know one has to fight to equality. It is not just about helping individuals. It is about changing the whole system and the dynamic.

Quite frankly, the government just does not get it. It has not gotten it for two years, even when organizations from all across Canada went before the Status of Women committee and complained about how the changes affected them. Organizations had to close their doors in this country.

When the minister responded to the Status of Women's request on this particular point, she did not address it. It was put out clearly as a recommendation and it did not address it. If--

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Beauport—Limoilou Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I must be honest and say that it is a shame we are taking time this evening to debate this motion, when our time would be better spent studying other important issues. Why? Because the motion of the hon. member for London West serves no purpose.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages has already indicated that the mandate of the women's program now reads, “to advance the equality of women across Canada through the improvement of their economic and social conditions and their participation in democratic life”.

The women's program fulfills its mandate by providing financial and professional assistance to organizations to carry out projects at the local, regional and national levels, in key areas such as women's economic status and violence against women and girls, within a framework of transparency and accountability.

On Tuesday this week, the hon. member for Beaches—East York issued a press release stating that the minister was misleading Canadians. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the hon. member who has her facts wrong.

In committee, the hon. member asked the following question of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages, “Are you saying that you've now changed the policy and you've put the word “equality” back in the mandate? That's what I understood you to say”. And the minister responded, “Exactly”.

I believe it is the hon. member who is misleading Parliament, women's groups and all Canadians, since the hon. member believes that “equality” means “lobby groups”. The hon. member should ask clear questions if she wants clear answers.

I believe that these hon. members are simply confused. It is important to remember that for many people—especially for women—the word “equality” has a lot of meaning.

The terms and conditions of the women's program have changed to reflect the new mandate. We have updated the priorities and we have informed the public about it. Nonetheless, it is insulting for the hon. members opposite to harm organizations that are working very hard across the country.

“Equality” is defined as “the condition of being equal in quantity, magnitude, value, intensity”; it is “the condition of having equal rank with others”.

Clearly, the term “lobby group” does not appear anywhere in the definition.

Our government supports practical projects that make a clear difference in the lives of women and that promote equality for everyone.

As for lobby groups calling for funding to lobby on behalf of a certain category of women and certain ideas, we continue to believe that it is not up to the government to fund or support one opinion more than another. Our government has always cared about equality for all its citizens.

It is important to recall that the women's program was created in 1973 as a result of a recommendation regarding equality presented by the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. In its report released in 1970, the royal commission recommended implementing a federal mechanism that would support the efforts being made to improve the status of women in Canada.

In his message to Canadians on December 6, 2007, on the occasion of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, the Prime Minister said: “We believe fundamentally in the equality of men and women”. The words of our Prime Minister are a source of inspiration. They convey this government's sincere commitment to two profoundly Canadian values: equality and justice for all—values that are firmly entrenched in our history.

Including the word “equality” in the mandate of the women's program of Status of Women Canada is a reflection of our remarkable achievements in this area. Our government increased the women's program budget to $20 million, an increase of 76%, which is the most significant increase it has ever received. Current funding for the women's program is the highest it has ever been.

Moreover, our government is committed to improving the status of women, their families and their communities across the country. The work we have done to improve the women's program reflects that commitment.

We are also partnering with federal departments and agencies, civil society and other levels of government to eliminate the systemic barriers to women's participation in the economic, social and democratic life of Canada.

In October, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages announced $8 million in funding for 60 projects that will be carried out across Canada under the women's program of Status of Women Canada. These projects were submitted in response to the first call for proposals issued in June.

More than 260,000 women and girls will benefit from these projects, which are aimed at eliminating the barriers they face, providing them with information about preventing violence, helping them improve their financial knowledge and encouraging them to create peer support networks.

A second call for proposals was issued by the Women's Community Fund in November 2007. By the December 21 closing date, the fund had received 342 applications, a 30% increase over the first call.

All these proposals are for projects intended to promote women's economic security and prosperity and their health and personal safety and to put an end to all forms of discrimination and violence against women. All the projects are expected to help improve the status of women in Canada.

In recent months, the government has made a number of changes to the women's program to make it run more efficiently. For example, this year, for the first time, applications can be submitted online, and numerous sessions have been held across Canada to train potential applicants. In addition, teleconferences have been used to reach rural and isolated communities. Questions and answers have been posted online, as well as application and proposal forms.

By including the word “equality” in the mandate of the women's program of Status of Women Canada, the Government of Canada is demonstrating its commitment to full equality for all Canadians, which is not yet a reality, despite the tremendous progress we have made. Including the word “equality” in the mandate of the women's program can only be good news for Canada as a whole and for Canadians in all their diversity.

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must say that I found the parliamentary secretary's speech rather amusing, even though I am very fond of her. I am surprised that they can claim to not agree with providing support for defending rights and claim to want to achieve equality for women. How can we achieve equality for women, men, children or human beings if we are not open to discussions and debates on our ideas and opinions? How can we achieve equality under those circumstances? It is not possible because equality comes only after long discussions on ideas and opinions. I found it quite amusing that she said the government does not provide support for defending rights.

It should not come as a surprise, from a party that firmly believes in equality among nations, from a party that firmly believes in the emancipation of peoples, from a party that firmly believes in democracy, that the Bloc Québécois will support the motion we are debating this evening.

No matter what the Conservatives say, there is not equality among men and women. We just need to look at this House, which is under-represented by women, and at what little consideration the members of the minority government have for more than 50% of the population, to understand how much further we have to go.

At present, this government does a disservice to women. It hurts the cause of equality and it is imperative that we limit its actions as much as possible so that it does no further damage, hence the pertinence of this motion.

I said that it does a disservice to women and I said that the Conservatives are hurting the cause of equality and these are not insults or rants made lightly. You can rest assured that much stronger words come to mind when I think of what they have done to the status of women.

In September 2006 this government eliminated the court challenges program. At the time, the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action was concerned that eliminating the program would slow down women's progress towards true equality. It said, “This program has provided Canadian women with their only access to the use of their constitutional equality rights.”

At the time, this government's fallacious argument was that it made good laws and it would not pay lawyers to challenge them. The decision to abolish the court challenges program did a disservice to women.

Subsequently, the Conservatives slashed the women's program to prevent human rights groups from gaining access to it. They muzzled women not just once but twice.

The World March of Women is an international feminist movement that brings together groups and organizations working to eliminate the causes of poverty and violence against women. They fight all forms of inequality and discrimination affecting women. Their actions are based on 21 demands falling under four broad themes.

The first is establishing programs to eliminate poverty and violence against women.

We are talking about violence against women. This law and order government boasts backwards and forwards that it has improved the security of women. If we tell them that they have done nothing for women, they reply, “security”.

Is that how women want violence against women to be eliminated. More tasers for the police, perhaps? We shall see.

They are demanding a comprehensive 10-year education and awareness campaign, managed by feminist groups and funded by the government, to eliminate violence against women; immediate and free access, for all women victims of violence, to resources providing assistance as well as to prevention, awareness and advocacy services; better financial support for women's shelters for victims of violence in aboriginal communities; access to operational funds for women's groups from cultural communities and visible minorities, enabling them to meet their needs and participate in Quebec society; better access to education for all women, particularly single mothers and women with no personal income; universal access to French courses, along with adequate allowances and access to childcare, without any exclusion based on immigrant status or years of residency in Quebec; a major social housing initiative, with 8,000 units of low-income, cooperative and non-profit housing per year.

This is not at all like the Conservatives' reactionary thinking. This is about awareness and education. This is about minimizing isolation and poverty and improving quality of life for women.

When it comes to the second theme, redistribution of wealth in order to improve the living conditions of women, things are not good. The Conservatives do not care about redistribution of wealth, and they do not care about the demands of the World March of Women. Women want progressive taxation of businesses and individuals based on the principles of justice, equity and redistribution of wealth. We do not have that. They also want a universal family allowance program with a supplementary allowance for poor families based on children's real needs. We do not have that either. One thousand dollars a year is not much help to many people.The Conservative government is not interested in these demands, particularly not if rich oil companies think they are a bad idea.

Unfortunately, I do not have time to elaborate on the other two themes—elimination of discrimination against all women and legislation to ensure the respect of women's rights. However, it is clear that the government is not particularly concerned about these demands.

To help achieve the goals of the International March of Women—and I assure the House that I trimmed the list in order to bring to light those that pertain exclusively to the provinces and Quebec—it is vital to have the support of women's rights and lobby groups, such as the Fédération des femmes du Québec, the National Association of Women and the Law, the Canadian Feminist Alliance and other feminist lobby groups that have watched this government's support disappear.

This government is in fact harmful to women and is making it very difficult to achieve equality between men and women.

Last December several major unions, disgusted with this government, took a preemptive strike by providing financial support to women's organizations “that have been punished under the Conservative government’s anti-equality agenda”. The announcement made by the unions coincided with the 26th anniversary of Canada's ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Furthermore, John Gordon, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, stated:

This government’s decision to stop funding research and advocacy by women’s organizations was short sighted, and our unions will continue to push for its reversal.

We know where this government stands, and it is not in defence of women's rights, that is for sure.

This motion calls on the government to restore equality for women, by setting that as an objective of the women's program of Status of Women Canada. The motion also should have called on it to restore the eligibility criteria for women's rights groups and lobby groups, but we all know that, for those who care about equality, the only way to advance the cause of women is to send this government back to the opposition benches, where its yearning to fight wars, restrict the right to abortion and bring back the death penalty will no longer be a danger to us all.

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am completely shocked that the member representing the government would even suggest that this time could be used for other important issues and that this is wasting time. It indicates very clearly the attitude and the mentality--