Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion. It is appropriate that during international women's week we are debating a motion about many issues facing women across the country.
We have heard from women from across the country over and again who feel that they are losing ground. They are indeed losing the gains made by the women who have come before them over the last 35 years, gains that have come about as a result of the royal commission on women and many other initiatives.
We have a government that is targeting its policies, its programs, its tax credits and its grants and subsidies are going only as a favour to those groups who support that party. Indeed, I would say that in recent days we have heard representatives of those groups trumpet their success in affecting government policy, which is reason to give most of us here cause for concern.
The motion before us condemns two parties in the House for helping bring about a government that is hostile to the rights and needs of women and to other vulnerable Canadians. Having said that though, I have been a member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women since its inception. I want to acknowledge that as an individual member of Parliament, it has been a pleasure to work cooperatively with three colleagues in particular on women's issues. The member for Laval, the member for Laurentides—Labelle, both in Quebec, and the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan and I have worked cooperatively in the best interests of women and we have tried to do what we think is right.
I know that the tactical decisions that are made by their parties are often not theirs but I would urge them in turn to speak to their leadership on the importance of ensuring a government that will act, that will speak and that will move forward on behalf of women and those most vulnerable in our country.
We know that Canadian women face many of the same obstacles as those in developing countries. One in five Canadian women lives in poverty. Canadian women still earn substantially less than men. In 2003, women's average earnings were 64% of that of men. More than half of all women in Canada have had some form of post-secondary education; however, Canadian women are still less likely than men to have a university degree.
Women accounted for nearly half of Canada's employed workforce. That is very important to note, particularly in light of the often overemphasis on family responsibilities. We have seen what the government has done.
On another issue I want to cite a very serious and less publicized incident where the Prime Minister broke his word. During the 2006 election campaign, the Prime Minister, as a candidate and leader of his party, signed the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, commonly known as the CEDAW pledge, which committed the government to act on promoting the equality of women. He has not kept his word, and I question, is it because the vice-president of REAL Women, in a discussion of the court challenges program at the status of women committee on December 4, 2007, said when commenting on CEDAW, that CEDAW is not to be taken seriously and she would not pay attention to what CEDAW says.
We heard today about the many setbacks women have faced, such as the court challenges program, child care or the lack thereof, the lack of funding for research and advocacy, in spite of the fact that many of the very knowledgeable presenters at the status of women committee base their information on the research undertaken through the funding previously available through the status of women. Where that will come from now remains to be seen.
We have heard about housing challenges. We have heard about the shutdown of services to women across the country. We have heard about unattached senior women being discriminated against. We have heard about the removal of the word “equality” from the mandate of Status of Women Canada. We have heard about the government's unwillingness to honour pay equity.
And as I was sitting here waiting to speak, I received word that the women's future fund is being cut and will no longer be available.
What we have seen from the government is a general disrespect for the realities of the lives of women, and I would add, a disrespect for the intelligence of women through a game of smoke and mirrors. I want to highlight two particularly egregious examples of this.
The Minister for the Status of Women came to the status of women committee not too long ago and told committee members that she put the word “equality” back into the mandate of the women's program. I think the minister misrepresented the facts at that committee meeting. No change has been made to the funding requirements for the women's programs and that is what matters. Those are the guidelines they have to meet before they can apply and qualify for funding. Department officials subsequently confirmed that adding the word “equality” was only symbolic and that nothing indeed had changed.
Just yesterday there was more trickery for women, this time focused on aboriginal women. On Tuesday of this week, the Minister of Indian Affairs introduced a 52-page bill to address matrimonial real property on reserve, an issue that our party believes needs to be addressed. It is an important issue for women living on reserve. But yesterday the government knowingly asked the House to fast track this legislation through all stages, for the sole purpose of saying that during this week the Conservatives have finally addressed an issue of importance to women and aboriginal women in particular.
First, there is no respect for the committee members who had not yet been briefed on the legislation by government officials. In fact, I do not think the binders were yet in our offices. But more important, there is no respect for the women who were to be affected by the legislation.
Let me read from the Native Women's Association of Canada's press release:
The Minister of Indian Affairs...was well aware that NWAC did not support the legislative draft proposed after a lengthy meeting with him in December in which NWAC outlined the critical importance of systemic solutions, promotion of Indigenous legal systems and the need for nonlegislative solutions. These nonlegislative solutions are necessary to make the rights in the legislation real for communities.
Then the president of NWAC is quoted as saying:
As a result, we have not experienced our relationship with the federal Department of Indian Affairs of being one of partnership or even consultation but rather it feels like another experience of colonialism, or at best piecemeal, individually based solutions that will not result in real equality for the women we represent.
She then went on to say:
I promised Aboriginal women who participated in providing solutions to this issue that their voices would be heard. I worked hard to get their messages to government but those messages fell on deaf ears. I now fear that there is going to be more harm done to women than good. There is nothing in the legislation that addresses the systemic issues of violence that many women face that lead to the dissolution of marriages nor is there any money available for implementation. In the end, we end up with a more worthless piece of paper.
I want to speak to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, but I do not have the time. Let me just say that that document is another item of disrespect for aboriginal women who saw it as a great hope.
I wanted to speak of child care because in my riding of Winnipeg South Centre the waiting lists are 300 children long. They are not accepting any more.
We have heard much about choice, but I say that the only choice that parents have is to not go to work or not go to school. They have no choice.
I commend to all members a letter written by a woman named Tami Friesen, that was published in the Edmonton Journal Opinion section on November 26, 2007. It was on the issue of child care. I had hoped to have time to quote from it, but she underlines the essence of the issue exquisitely, if I might say so.
I hope that the women of Canada take note of what is happening to their rights, to their opportunities, both for themselves and their children.
In Winnipeg next week we are celebrating the accomplishments of five women who were trailblazers. Let me close with the words of the indomitable June Menzies when she said, “If you aren't constantly vigilant you go backwards”. We in this House must be constantly vigilant.