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 #61 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was equality.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Beaches—East York for moving the motion. Specifically, with regard to the issue of housing, our government has a very credible record, an incredible record, quite frankly, considering the 13 years of inaction by the Liberals. I would like to bring some attention to it.

Canada has one of the best housing systems in the world. It has many players working together to meet the housing needs of Canadians across this country. Our national housing strategy requires the coordinated action of many partners to support housing choices for people of different needs, including those who need affordable housing.

Taken together, this government's broad range of coordinating housing activities as well as the efforts of other levels of government has constituted a truly national housing strategy.

The vast majority of Canadians are able to meet their housing needs through their own means and through the private market, either through home ownership or through the rental market without direct assistance from this government.

To help Canadians access a home of their own and secure a mortgage at the best possible rate, our national housing agency, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, provides mortgage loan insurance. CMHC also facilitates financing for affordable housing projects to allow borrowers to have access to loans at the best possible interest rate, lowering the overall cost of borrowing.

Despite the success in Canada's real estate market, which stands in stark contrast to the housing market south of the border, we know there are a number of people who are experiencing core housing needs still. These Canadians are unable to satisfy their housing needs without assistance. Some are experiencing homelessness and some are at risk of homelessness.

Our government's philosophy is to try to help to prevent homelessness and to help those in need find safe, affordable housing. In our most recent throne speech, we renewed our commitment to help the most vulnerable people in our country, those seeking to break free from a cycle of poverty and homelessness. In addition, we committed to working to improve living conditions in the north for first nations and Inuit people through better housing.

I would like to assure my hon. colleague that the Government of Canada is taking meaningful action to address the need for affordable housing. In fact, this federal government is investing more in affordable and supportive housing than has any other government in history.

Indeed, our government currently spends more than $2.7 billion annually on affordable and supportive housing. We are investing significantly in the construction of new affordable rental units, a homelessness partnering strategy, housing renovation and the operation of existing social housing. Annual federal spending in support of this strategy has never been higher.

This government is doing its part, but we all have a role to play in helping to house Canadians. Indeed, helping our most vulnerable is a shared responsibility.

Provincial governments play a pivotal role in the provision of housing and important support services, like health care, training and education. Municipal governments, civil society groups, community associations, the private sector and others help with the on the ground delivery and the management of housing and associated services.

Partnerships at all levels of government are creating tangible results. We are helping to create stable homes, a place where Canadians can get settled and then get on with the business of building a better life and a better future.

Together, we are making the difference in the lives of people and in communities across this country. Our programs include a $1 billion affordable housing initiative, which we are providing in collaboration with provincial, territorial and local partners. To date, this initiative has created thousands of new affordable houses across this country.

Our government has also invested $1.4 billion in a new housing trust for affordable housing, for northern housing and housing for aboriginal people living off reserve. Provinces and territories have begun to roll out programs, and the first affordable housing projects are currently being announced. This is in addition to the $256 million commitment over two years for homelessness and housing renovation programs.

Through CMHC, the federal government continues to invest approximately $1.7 billion a year to support close to 630,000 low and moderate income households. This includes ongoing financial support for many non-profit and cooperative housing projects.

We recognize that there is a high incidence of poverty among first nations communities. That is why we continue to support the construction of new social housing and the maintenance of existing housing on reserves. We are also helping first nations to build capacity to manage housing programs.

Our 2007 budget announced the creation of a first nations market housing fund. This $300 million commitment is supporting the development of housing markets and will create up to 25,000 homes on reserve over the next 10 years.

Budget 2008 builds on the significant progress made to support aboriginal Canadians by allocating $70 million over the next two years for measures to foster aboriginal economic development. Our recent budget also provided $330 million over the next two years to improve access to safe drinking water for first nations communities.

This government also recognizes the challenges that our low income senior population faces when it comes to housing costs. That is why we are working with the provinces to provide rental assistance and other programs to help vulnerable seniors.

In the most recent budget we raised the earned income exemption for guaranteed annual income, GIS, recipients, so that low income seniors can keep a much larger portion of their hard-earned income without having their benefits clawed back.

That is also why our government introduced in our recent budget a new tax-free savings account. It will provide individuals with a tax-free savings vehicle to meet their ongoing savings needs, including saving for a down payment on a home or perhaps the ongoing cost of maintaining a home. For seniors in particular, this is very important because the money that they save in their TFSA will not reduce the benefits that they receive through the GIS or the OAS.

Our government also understands the special needs of individuals and communities. We have an obligation to protect the vulnerable. That is why we provide ongoing support for projects that provide a safe place for women and children fleeing domestic abuse.

This government believes that the most vulnerable Canadian citizens should be able to live a full and active life with dignity. Among the most vulnerable are those who face complex challenges related to mental health disorders, and as a result, often lack basic necessities such as adequate housing.

For this reason, budget 2008 commits to helping those who need the care and support of fellow Canadians. Our government will invest $110 million to support innovative projects to help Canadians facing mental health and homelessness challenges.

We are taking steps to meet the needs of low and moderate income people, not only through housing programs, but also through our emphasis on training and work, and our effective management of the economy and our government's finances.

Canada's economic fundamentals are solid. Our unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in nearly 33 years. Business investment is expanding for the 12th consecutive year. Canada is on the best fiscal footing of the major western industrialized countries.

This is in addition to the tax cuts previously announced, including a further 1% cut to the GST, which is also expected to improve the affordability of homes.

All of these factors contribute to reducing poverty and homelessness and to helping more Canadians afford a home. The best social safety net is a combination of relevant skills and a good job. These things allow individuals to support themselves and their families.

I assure my hon. colleagues that the Government of Canada is delivering on its commitment to help house Canadians and to keep our national housing strategy strong.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, it was interesting to hear from the hon. member that there is a national housing strategy. I would love to see a copy of it so that I can actually understand what is in it. The homelessness program that he talked about was actually a Liberal program called SCPI which the Conservatives shut down and caused a number of organizations to have to shut their doors. It was reannounced under a different name and now it is called HPI.

The member mentioned the $2.7 billion annually which actually was already there. The subsidies are ongoing, so there is nothing new there.

He talked about the rebuilding of certain areas and old housing. That is the Regent Park reconstruction that is being done which was funded under the Liberals.

We know that in the budget the Conservatives cut CMHC, and I think it was by $45 million. He said there is $1 billion of affordable housing, although we had $1.6 billion. The minister for housing in Ontario is saying that the dollars they are announcing are actually declining.

Would the hon. member be willing to table in the House the national housing strategy with all of the dollars attached in a proper breakdown of where the money is, and where it came from to start with?

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if the member has had an opportunity to look at either of the budgets, but obviously she was supportive of both of them. She had the opportunity to see what was in them. She has indicated her support and that is indeed why we are here today.

I am certain that part of the reason the member is so supportive of them is the important measures that were included.

I do not think that it would be very wise for her to go back to her constituents and say that she voted against the billions of dollars that are being invested in housing in new and innovative ways, specifically in aboriginal communities.

Throughout the country we see aboriginal communities continuing to ask for more money to invest in the creation of innovative ways to house their residents. We, as a government, in the 2007 budget brought forward a very innovative way to help aboriginal communities. We were hailed by aboriginal communities from across the country for bringing forward this initiative.

Obviously the member would not want to vote against this type of initiative or the other initiatives that I outlined in my speech. Although there may be a lot of rhetoric coming from the other side, I do not see any evidence that the Liberals were ever interested in providing housing for vulnerable Canadians.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I think it is important that members of the House do not take liberties. I did not and never would accept the measures across the way. I resent the hon. member suggesting such a thing.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. I am sorry, but it seems more like a point of debate. Resuming questions and comments, the hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the member has raised the issue of housing. I would like to point out to him in fact that Canada is the only nation in the developed world that does not have a national housing policy. That policy was cancelled by the Liberals in the 1995 budget.

What has continued since that time is one of incremental band-aid pilot projects which do not meet the needs in this country for housing. There has not been a new initiative in terms of public housing, social housing, cooperative housing in this country since then because of what the Liberals did.

Why does the Conservative government continue the approach of the Liberals which does not address the fundamental issues pertaining to the shortage of affordable housing for Canadians? Let me remind him that the money that is being thrown around by both the Liberals and the Conservatives, the $1.5 billion for housing, comes directly from the New Democrats who required this as part of our budget with the Liberals in terms of the $4.6 billion that we required to be set aside so it would not go toward corporate tax breaks.

Is that why there is this continuation of pilot projects to the point where we are simply on the housing front a nation of pilot projects?

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not recall an NDP government of Canada ever being in existence. Therefore, I am unsure as to where that budget of the NDP came from.

However, I remind the hon. member that all tax dollars come from taxpayers. They do not come from the New Democratic Party.

Having said that, I do agree with her that the Liberals did nothing on this file for the duration of their time in office, except to cut and cut and destroy any ability for people who are the most vulnerable to get ahead, specifically on one of the most fundamental of all things, which is to have a roof over their heads.

I saw it in my own community as the $25 billion was cut out of the provincial transfers. We saw more and more of the most vulnerable on our streets. It is going to take some time to rebuild that.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Before we hear from the member for Kitchener Centre, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Ottawa--Vanier, Telefilm Canada; the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, Official Languages; and the hon. member for Brant, Manufacturing Industry.

The hon. member for Kitchener Centre.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate today.

I am also pleased to say that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for London West.

International Women's Day, which is this coming Saturday, has historically been a time when we celebrate the progress made to advance women's rights and assess the challenges that remain. Established in 1977 by the United Nations, International Women's Day encourages us to consider the steps to bring equality to women and girls, in all their diversity, and also to celebrate the collective power of women, past, present and future.

Sadly, Canadian women have received little more than lip service from the Conservative government. It is embarrassing to note that the government went to the UN Commission on the Status of Women meetings last week claiming there was a plan. Where the Conservative government is concerned, there is no plan. There is no funding. There are no details. And certainly there is very little interest in women's issues.

On this side of the House, we take women seriously. We recognize that women's equality is not some ancient battle that was won years ago. Every day, women face discrimination in various aspects of their lives, from getting a simple car repair to running multi-million dollar companies. Canadian women face a far different reality than their male counterparts.

Violence against women is one of the most deplorable acts that occur in our society today. Canadians look to our government to present concrete measures to end this social problem. All women have the right to live in safe communities, free from violence and free from the threat of violence.

Every time I read a report about violence against women, I am reminded that violence against women is not something that happens to other people in other communities. These are our friends, our neighbours, our sisters and our daughters.

Feminist centres reveal that one in four women endures a sexual assault in her lifetime. One in 10 women is beaten. Statistics Canada confirms that 51% of women, and I find this so shocking, have been criminally assaulted in their lifetimes.

Spousal violence has psychological, physical, social and economic impacts for the victims, for their families and for society at large. Female victims of spousal violence report being injured, suffering lost productivity and, in most instances, experiencing multiple assaults and fear throughout their lives.

There are extreme negative emotional consequences. Forty per cent of women assaulted by their spouses report that their children witness this violence, which in some cases is severe violence.

The number of shelters for abused women and their children has increased from 18 in 1975 to 543 in the year 2004. In addition to these shelters, over 600 services for victims of crime, including 105 sexual assault centres, are operational across Canada.

The shock is not that these shelters and these facilities exist for women. The shock is that we need them in these numbers. We need to get to the root problem.

Spousal violence makes up the single largest category of convictions involving violent offences in non-specialized adult courts in Canada. Over 90% of the offenders were male. One in five homicides in Canada involves the killing of an intimate partner.

Last night we saw a private member's bill go over the first hurdle. I guess the only thing that gives me any heart in this whole process is the fact that it was just a very small first step. The member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park says that what he wanted to do with his private member's bill was deal with violence against women who are pregnant.

It is a terrible issue. It is one that I think every member in this House would like to see curbed, but if we really want to do something about violence against pregnant women, we make the fact that they are pregnant an aggravating fact in the sentencing.

The whole thrust of the private member's legislation that the House dealt with last night flies in the face of Dobson v. Dobson, wherein the Supreme Court ruled that the mother and the fetus were one. As much as I think we all agree that we want to deal with violence against women, and certainly against pregnant women, I would contend that this is not the thrust of or the real reason for that piece of legislation.

These statistics are horrifying. Violence against women affects Canadian society. Ultimately, the impact of that violence is felt by everyone, both directly and indirectly.

We are all responsible to help end this scourge, but instead of cutting funding for women's advocacy groups the way the minority Conservative government has done, we should be ramping up support to work toward ending violence against women.

I have always reflected that this day is about the celebration of the fight that was put forward by the generations before mine. It is our mothers and grandmothers who fought for equality and rights, but over the past two years, more than ever, I have been reminded that women's fight for equality is far from won.

Canada has always been a prosperous, fair and egalitarian nation. From my perspective, it is an absolute affront to society that in a time when this country is recording record surpluses we see the elimination of programs that support equality for women.

I welcome the day when we no longer need a program to promote gender equality. I welcome the day when women's progress is not encumbered by discrimination, glass ceilings or ignorance, but we are not there yet, and I fear, more than ever before, that we are simply moving in the wrong direction.

Two years ago, Canada marked 25 years since our nation ratified the most comprehensive treaty on women's human rights: the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. It is known as CEDAW. By ratifying, the government has agreed to play a lead role in upholding women's equality rights.

Unfortunately, however, without a commitment to fulfill those obligations under this UN convention and under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, full equality will elude many women in Canada, particularly those of us who confront multiple oppressions.

Equality for women is not about who is right. It is about what is right. And equality is right.

Doors were opened by courageous women who came before us and we must do our part to ensure that they remain open to expand the opportunities for those who follow us. That can only happen with the concerted commitment of the government and all members of the House.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the member to comment on a Status of Women quote. On October 26, the member for Newton—North Delta made comments in the Standing Committee on the Status of Women suggesting that the debate is just because there are too many women there. The director of communications for the Liberal candidate for London North Centre was quoted as saying that “all of this demonstrates one more reason why women shouldn't be allowed to run for office, much less vote”.

I would like the member opposite to tell us how these sentiments would fit into the strategy for economic prosperity for women and for having more women involved in politics, given the comments and quotes that were taken directly from the Status of Women.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have to say off the top that I am really not quite sure how that quote fits in with the comments.

I would say, having been in this House since 1997--and I have many colleagues who have been here longer than I have--that I think there has been a distinct race to the basement with the kind of personality politics and the kinds of personal slurs that we hear in heckling as well as in the demeanour in the House. That saddens me. I think we all bear a responsibility for this.

Quite simply, I think there should be more women in the House. I know that our leader has made a determination and is on the record as saying that he will have one-third of our candidates female in any upcoming election. I think that women do come with an ability to bring consensus and a different style.

I think it is very important that all members of this House be committed to equality for women and, yes, to economic independence. I can hearken back to the prime minister's task force on women entrepreneurs and the kind of statistical basis and support we received from the research that was going on in the Status of Women. That research had been going on for years and years.

Nothing disheartens me more than hearing many of the minority Conservative government ministers present pieces of legislation to committees and say, “I feel that this is a very good bill”. Somehow in the government there is the ideological “I feel that this is the right thing to do” approach and not the kind of objective research and testimony from experts that would factually support a good piece of legislation.

The Conservatives have gutted those kinds of resources, both in the community and in the government, and I think it leads to the continuing decline in the kind of support and objectivity that legislation has.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the statements of my next door neighbour and colleague, who accuses this government of doing nothing more than paying lip service to many of these issues. I take issue with that, because I serve on the aboriginal affairs committee and I can assure her and the others members of this House that we are doing far more than that.

We have taken action on a number of initiatives. Section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, a situation that should have been addressed long ago, finally has been addressed by the committee and is through and on to the Senate. We have the residential schools settlement, the launch of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the new recently introduced bill dealing with matrimonial real property.

These are all action items that clearly negate any accusation of lip service. I wonder if my colleague would correct the record on the fact that these are action items which will make a big difference in the lives of many women, specifically aboriginal women.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would tell my hon. colleague that what I base my statement on is the fact that I have had not one or two but 50 or 60 women demonstrating outside my office, in the heart of Kitchener at Speaker's Corner, against the kinds of cuts that amplify and exhibit the kind of ideology of the government in doing away with the court challenges program.

I would remind this House that it was a program whereby people who felt that their rights were not being respected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms could actually go to the Supreme Court. It was this money and this mechanism that allowed immigrant women to get language instruction paid for when they came to Canada, because there was a time when only men were given language training if English or French was not their first language. It was the court challenges program that actually led to immigrant women being able to get that kind of training as well.

I am basing my comments on the fact that the government is gutting the kind of advocacy and the kinds of issues that are the mainstay of bringing equality to women and girls, both in Canada and internationally.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to many of my colleagues in the House, all different parties, speak to this motion today. We have to come back to why we are here. We are here because we want to improve the lives of women in this country. That is really important to many people in this House.

I started many years ago, in 1993, and we did make some progress. I want to go over some of those achievements which I have witnessed in this House. For example, achievements which were put in by Liberal governments which included the establishment of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women back in September 2004, to have our own standing committee so witnesses could come. They could voice their concerns, we could respond to them, we could petition our ministers, and move action forward.

In October 2005 an expert panel was created to provide advice and options to strengthen accountability mechanisms to advance gender-based analysis and gender equality issues. When we were in government, we talked about this all around the world, and in fact other countries have taken up gender budgeting, for instance South Africa. But here at home, under this government, it is still talking about it and it is not really happening.

I think about an achievement that affected many of my constituents and that was in the year 2000, where we extended the parental benefits to one year. Now, either the male or the female can take those parental benefits and they can work it to what fits their needs in their household. That was a really important change that helped the families in Canada and especially the women of Canada.

Centres of excellence for women's health in the gender and health institute were created to work on health policy issues unique to women. For example, we did not test our drugs on women, we just tested them on men. But women are a different size and creation, so now we have more of a focus on women.

There was $32 million committed on an annual basis to the national crime prevention initiative, and $7 million to the family violence initiative during our time in government. Of this money, over $1 million over 4 years was specifically to address violence against aboriginal women.

I have often heard credit taken on the opposite side for some of the things we started in 2005, and one of them was the trafficking in persons which was added as an offence to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act at that time. I think it was Bill C-49.

I was actually a parliamentary secretary at Indian and northern affairs when we had to respond to the sisters in spirit proposal which the Liberal government provided $5 million over 5 years to the Native Women's Association of Canada. These funds supported NWAC's work with other aboriginal women's organizations and the federal government on activities aimed at ending violence against aboriginal women.

We went in other places. For example, in post-secondary education we tried to make it more affordable for lower and middle income Canadians. Over $2.1 billion over 5 years was committed to improve student financial assistance.

Over 5 years, $1.3 billion was provided to improve settlement and integration services for new immigrants to Canada. The basic resettlement is so important in our communities. I was with Mary Williamson who runs a centre in my city and this money is desperately needed. I know recently there was a top-up, but it is not enough. We have to do more.

When newcomers come to Canada, they are welcomed because we need them. We know our economy will need them in the future. But this is a good grassroots organization and I have a number of these grassroots organizations in London. Sitting around the table in the last month or so, we spent an afternoon going over some of the issues which affect women and women's equality.

Right now it is just a word. It is not reality in Canada. It is not reality in a pay system. Women in Canada still earn 70¢ to every $1 a man makes. So where is the pay equity legislation from this government that it once talked about? We know that it has not been forthcoming.

We know that senior women are important in our communities, in every community. Budget 2005, when we were government, as a Liberal government, we ensured that senior women would benefit from a $2.7 billion increase over 2 years to the guaranteed income supplement, and a $15 million increase to the new horizons seniors program.

However, that is the past for today. Today, we have to move forward, but are we moving forward? That is the most important question because we are here to celebrate women this week, yet I am worried that we have not progressed as far as we should.

Have we progressed with the vehicles that allowed women to progress? For instance, the court challenges program provided a way to say to a government that it was not meeting the needs, that there was a problem, and to solve that problem. We had that program. It was cancelled under this Conservative government.

The Law Commission used to do research to help form government policies. Many times this assisted women and minority communities in Canada. Again, it was abolished under this government.

We need an enduring commitment to women's equality in order to defend women's rights, and former governments of the Liberal Party took action. There is a poster in my office saying: “Women's rights are human rights”, but is it real here in Canada today? Are we going forward or backwards?

The Conservatives ignore, I believe, the true issues facing Canadian women today. Since taking office the Conservative government has closed 12 Status of Women regional offices. There was one in my area.

The Conservatives eliminated the court challenges program and the Law Commission. They have refused to fund women's advocacy groups. This is especially important in the women's program of the Status of Women because it did work well in providing an advocacy outlet for women to change the status quo, to improve their lives and their communities from the grassroots level.

It was not, as has been said earlier today, just lobbying. It was lobbying to create change, to break down barriers, to overcome hurdles where disadvantages existed.

I do not understand why right now women's groups cannot do advocacy. We can do advocacy if we are a military organization in this country. There are more women than military organizations in this country. I believe that women should have the ability to advocate for their own equality. Remember, equality, women's rights are human rights. That should be more than a phrase.

We need to reinstate equality as the main goal of the women's program at Status of Women. We have to change the guidelines so that advocacy can be put back and utilized by the groups and organizations in this country, so they can enhance their ability to make change and improve their lives.

I would like to spend a minute or two talking about child care because this is a government that did child care through the mail. It gives a cheque of $100 a month. It is taxable. Yes, it can help families. I do not think it is right for the current Conservative government to say the Liberals will take it away if we form a government. That decision has not been made. I certainly do not know whether that would be true or not. However, I do know that child care is needed in every community in this country, whether we are an urban centre or a rural centre.

In the Conservatives' election campaign we heard they would create new child care spaces along with the cheque in the mail. In reality, what has been created? To my knowledge no new child care spaces have been created by this government.

We also have housing issues and violence against women issues. I have not had a chance in my last minute to get to these issues, but I know they exist and I know we have to do more.

When the time came for the lending of a vote to one party, we got a Conservative government that took us backwards. That is the reality. That is the fact.

We need more support for women in this country. Then, we will have real equality of women in this country. I look forward to that time and I look forward to speaking, working, studying, and helping the women of Canada and all around the world on this issue.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that we have been debating back and forth for some time now, which really goes to the core of empowering women, of giving women the ability to empower themselves and to feel strong, to stand up and speak for themselves and change their condition, not as an individual but as a large group of women in different areas, is the word “advocacy”.

Some people seem to look at it and say, as in fact the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women said, we will not fund women's groups to challenge the government. So, it seems as though that is all.

I wonder if the hon. member could give us a bit of an explanation of the fundamental importance of what this really is, what it does for women, and has done in the past, and why it is important to continue that funding.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank the critic for status of women for coming to my riding for my round table afternoon. We had different organizations, those representing child care, those representing immigrants, those representing women's groups, people who were involved in the community, and all were working toward equality.

However, all of those groups would like advocates. They would like someone to carry their message. They would like to make sure there is change because there is not sufficient access to housing and not sufficient access to the law. The ability to do their appropriate research, to get their information at a grassroots level, to provide the appropriate statistics, and then to take that information and move it forward to the government of the day will bring about new laws.

New laws have been brought about in the past. Laws on violence against women, access to different shelters, all of these things have been brought about because women advocated for them. They are not waiting for the men of this country to give them a donation. They are not looking for handouts.

What they are looking to do is to change their position so they can go forward themselves, for their own economic independence, for their own place in society, and to have pride. They are not looking for a handout.

I have often heard things in the last couple of months from this government that seems to take pride in fixing something when it is not really breaking down the barriers. The barriers will only be broken down when we have from the grassroots a movement that can advocate toward government.

I just do not understand why this government will not provide those resources to the disenfranchised, the people who need it. It has worked in the past. It could work in the future, and I believe that we would bring that back.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, if time permits, I will be sharing my time with the member for Surrey North.

With International Women's Day just two days away, I am pleased to speak to this important issue of the status of women in Canada. although I am sad to note that status has actually been deteriorating.

From 1995 to 1998, Canada ranked number one on the UN human development index and the gender development index. Since then, women's progress has been stalled, economically, socially and politically.

In 1999, we fell to third on the GDI. We were seventh in 2004 and, by 2006, we ranked 14th in the world economic forum gender gap index, behind Sri Lanka, the Philippines and most European countries.

That precipitous drop happened under the Liberal government which presided over a government that did nothing to overcome some of the biggest obstacles to continuing progress for women. During its tenure, it failed to remove the single biggest barrier to women's access to good work which, of course, is access to affordable child care. It failed to redress the huge and growing imbalances in the taxation of women when compared to men, corporations, charities and overseas businesses.

Under the leadership of the then finance minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, the Liberals insisted on blowing the government spending capacity on gratuitous tax cuts to the richest sectors of Canadian society while telling everyone else to tighten their belts.

Women are still paying the price for the Liberals' unthinking adherence to the ideology of deficit reduction, but the Liberals, who have always thought of themselves as the naturally governing party, thought women would not remember, just like they assumed the sponsorship scandal would not matter. After all, they were entitled to run this country in perpetuity.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to the polls. Voters said that enough was enough. They rejected the party's right wing policies, as well as its excuses for the sponsorship scandal, and sent the Liberals into opposition.

However, he Liberals appear to be slow learners. Instead of recognizing that the voters had sent them a message and had punished them for their sense of entitlement, their attitude is still the same. In fact, nothing makes that more clear than the motion we are debating here today.

It ends by saying that it was the Bloc and the NDP's defeat of the Liberal government in 2005 that led to the installation of a government that is hostile to the rights and needs of vulnerable Canadians. How absurd. Do the Liberals really believe that if we had the power to install a new government that we would have chosen the Conservatives? No political party has the power to install a government. The only body that has the power to install a new government is the Canadian electorate.

It was the Canadian electorate that threw the Liberals out and, contrary to the contention of this motion, the Liberals' record in government did not entitle them to another term.

Let us look at what the motion says and of course what it does not say. It states that:

...there is a growing need in Canada for a national housing strategy designed to assist the most vulnerable in our society and to treat them with the respect they deserve;...

Absolutely. Except it was the Liberals who cancelled the national housing program in 1995. It also states that:

...an adequate supply of high quality childcare spaces is essential to ensuring women's participation in the workforce and the government should take the necessary steps immediately to create 125,000 spaces...

Again, absolutely. However, where was the Liberals' child care plan during their 13 long years in office? I agree that we need to restore the court challenges program, that we need to restore the research and advocacy mandate to the government's women's program and that we need to enhance the role of Status of Women Canada and provide access for women to government services in all regions of our country.

However, it is precisely because these things are so important that we need to make progress on each of these issues now. If we are serious about achieving equality for women in Canada, it is no good to table a motion in this House today whose “be it resolved” simply assigns blame for the Liberals' election loss. We need constructive action that will make an immediate difference in the lives of women.

We had that opportunity in this House just two days ago when we voted on the Conservative budget. The NDP was here in full force to oppose a budget that failed Canadian women. The Bloc was here too. The Liberals only sent in 11 of their 93 members and therefore allowed the budget to pass. Where were the other 82 members?

We could have defeated the government resoundingly and sent a strong message to women from coast to coast to coast, but when it was time to stand and be counted, even the mover of today's motion was a no show. What a disgrace.

She is playing Canadian women for fools. Despite being responsible for further stalling the social, political and economic progress of women, she is hoping once again that women will not notice, that women will be placated by a crassly partisan motion that is a day late and a dollar short. Nothing could be more disrespectful of women and their ongoing struggle for a fair and just society.

We must remember how long that struggle has been going on. It was in the early 20th century, between 1909 and 1911, that working women in the United States started organizing and striking in response to low wages, abhorrent working conditions and a lack of legislative protection for women. It was the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York, in which 143 women lost their lives, that galvanized women in their fight for better conditions and human rights.

Yes, we are a long way from 1911 today, both in time and progress. Canada now has a strong base on which to build when it comes to women's equality. It was nearly 90 years ago when women received the right to vote. It was nearly 80 years ago that we were legally recognized as persons, although I might add, that was 20 years later than corporations were recognized as persons in Canada. We have guaranteed equality rights in the charter, decriminalized abortion and birth control, and a strong network of women's services across our country, including emergency shelters and rape crisis centres.

As I said at the outset, we are starting to slide back. At best, women's progress is stalled economically, socially and politically.

Today, women in Canada are still not safe in their own homes or on the streets. An estimated one in four women will be a victim of sexual violence in her lifetime. In the workplace, women still only earn 70% of every $1 that a man makes. Poverty affects almost half of single, widowed or divorced women over 65 and more than 40% of unattached women under 65.

There are many battles yet to be fought and won. The most recent Conservative budget should have been one such battle. New Democrats fought it but in the absence of Liberals during the vote, we ultimately did not win.

That is devastating for the women's movement in Canada. That budget did virtually nothing for women. In fact, women were essentially left out of this budget altogether. The word “women” appeared in the 2008 budget exactly seven times. The word “corporation”, by contrast, was mentioned 109 times. Nothing symbolizes the Conservative agenda more clearly.

Heck, there was more money in this budget for hogs than there was for women. The budget gave $20 million to develop a plan to advance the equality of women, a plan, by the way, that we have had since 1995 as a result of the commitments Canada made at the UNs' Fourth World Conference on Women. However, the government found $50 million for the hog industry. That works out to $3.57 for every hog in Canada but only $1.21 per woman.

There was no new money for the national child benefit, child care, affordable housing, a revival of the court challenges program, proactive pay equity legislation or any improvement in the minimum wage or maternity leave benefits.

Senior women, who experience poverty at twice the rate of senior men, were told that if they could not make ends meet that they should go out and get a job. Instead of raising their GIS, the government simply said that it would exempt the first $3,500 earned from affecting their GIS eligibility.

What is even worse, when I asked the Minister of Finance about that he erroneously alleged that he did increase the GIS. Absolutely not true. The only increase to the GIS is the legislated increase based on the consumer price index.

The finance minister then went on to talk about the $5,000 tax-savings plan, completely oblivious to the fact that I was asking about Canada's poorest seniors who, by definition, do not have the capacity to save. To add insult to injury, he then told them to check out his government's website to get more details.

I would strongly encourage the Minister of Finance to come to my riding of Hamilton Mountain. I would happily take him on a tour of seniors buildings in my community for a reality check. Seniors who are having to choose between eating and heating cannot afford to buy a computer or pay for monthly Internet access. It is almost as if the Conservatives inhabit a parallel universe.

Yes, the struggle continues and the battles will continue to be fought but we would win many more of these battles if the opposition parties in the House were united in fighting for the equality for women.

The Liberals abdicated that responsibility when they allowed the Conservative budget to pass this week. In light of that self-serving action, which was orchestrated simply to avoid an election that the Liberals knew they would lose, the motion that is now before us simply is not worth the paper that it is written on.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has a very selective memory. She forgets that her party actually voted against a motion that we put forward on November 28 to reinstate the $1 billion cuts that affected women. She has forgotten that the child benefit program, which was introduced by the Liberals, was one of the most effective programs that helped women. She has forgotten the parental leave program, which was introduced by women, the Centres of Excellence for Women's Health across the country, and a whole host of other things, such as the child care program in 2000 for $2 billion, $400 million and then $5 billion.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

You had 13 years.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

You had a choice of working and you chose not to. These were programs that were on--

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

“You, you”, parliamentary procedure.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I said “you”. I should have said the hon. member and not “you”. However, the fact is that the NDP voted against reinstating $1 billion of cuts.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party appears to be full of good ideas. First, it offered women a red book full of grand ideas and then took 13 years to ignore it. Then, in opposition, we got the watered down version of the red book. The red has now turned to pink. We have a motion before this House that does absolutely nothing for women.

What the Liberals should have done is stood up and be counted when it mattered, and that was on the vote on the budget this week. The Liberal women were not there. We now have a Conservative budget that passed in the House and we have taken yet another step backward in making progress for women's equality.

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It being 5:15 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the business of supply.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Opposition Motion--Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.