Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me today to speak to this motion. In two days we will be celebrating International Women's Day, but there is nothing to celebrate when it comes to the actions of the government with respect to women.
There is a very disturbing pattern with the Conservative government when it comes to intimidating and shutting down those who believe anything that is contrary to its own right-wing ideology, whether it be cutting funding, changing regulations, libel chill, bullying, and others that come to mind.
The government has failed Canadian women in several ways. Just to name a few, they are: child care, access to government services, failure to sign the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people, cutting off funding for research and advocacy, tax policies, affordable housing and pay equity. This is a pattern pushing women down, setting them back a considerable amount of time.
The theme for International Women's Day is “Strong women, Strong world”. The government is not helping women become stronger in this country. It is not removing the barriers that exist for women entering the workforce or to save money.
The government is doing nothing to help women become strong in this country. Let us look at some of the things that have happened in the last little while. Early education and child care is a major example. The first thing the government did was cut $5 billion from a national child care program which had been agreed upon by all provinces in this country.
The government cancelled those agreements outright. The moneys that were flowing were also eliminated which meant it started to dismantle some of the existing infrastructure that was being paid for by the initial $1 billion investment made by the Liberals.
The government promised, after having done all of that destruction, to deliver 125,000 child care spaces, but it never did. Nothing ever materialized. This disproportionately affects women as we all know, especially single mothers with restricted incomes.
Child care in my riding of Beaches—East York is backed up. I hear constituents every day. A new child care and youth centre opened last fall called Enderby. Within days there were waiting lists. One of my constituents, a mother, had lost her job because she was not able to secure full time child care for her child.
Then we say: “but we want people to work, we want people to be self-sufficient economically, and we want to help women's economic security”. How? How are we helping this woman and her child?
There is a child care crisis in our country and the government talks and promises, and talks and promises, but nothing ever materializes.
That is quite destructive and I do not think I have to go too far because I have seen the people in my riding who are desperately looking for child care and cannot find it. It costs them a tremendous amount of money, $1,300 or more per month, for a child care space if they do not have subsidy.
Let us look at another area, such as access to government services. Here again, the government says it wants to serve women, but it shut down 12 out of 16 regional Status of Women Canada offices across this country.
I met with rural women not too long ago who told me how they are very desperately isolated in their communities. They have no access to government services. If there is domestic violence in the home against a woman, there are next to no shelters to go to.
They pointed out that poverty is not just in the big cities, it exists in rural Canada. Many farm women, as well as their husbands, have to work off the farm in order to make ends meet. There is no training and services, and yet, what does the government do? It shuts down regional offices.
If people live in Newfoundland, they have to go to Moncton to access an office. Do members know how far that is? Of course, the assumption is that everyone has Internet, which is not true.
Again, the government has isolated and trapped these women, especially the poorest, and especially those who may be facing violence and difficulties in their lives. They need access to these services and they have been cut off.
The government keeps talking about caring about women's equality and women's conditions and yet it has cut off services, to, I presume, save some money because I do not see any other reason for this. The government has left only four offices for the entire country. This is a large country and it is far to travel and women in rural Canada have no way of accessing these offices.
Women talked to me when they heard about the offices closing. They were stunned at the government's sheer vendetta against the Status of Women Canada. This is how they saw it. It now seems to be the voice of REAL Women that is setting the policy. I have seen that from the standing committee a number of times. It probably told us that it had met with the minister. In fact, the Minister of Finance only consulted with two organizations, one of which was REAL Women prior to the budget process.
Let us look at what happened just recently. Canada failed to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
My colleague from Winnipeg South Centre has been very vocal on this. The Conservative government's vote against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples last year was a stain on our international reputation. It marked the first time Canada voted against a human rights document. It has sent a message to aboriginal women in Canada that the Conservative government will pick and chose when it will apply and respect human rights in this country.
For women, the declaration contained gender equality and non-discrimination clauses. The government's refusal to support the declaration shows a blatant disregard for the struggles of aboriginal women in Canada to achieve equality. Canada's aboriginal women deserve better.
It is not too late for the Conservative government to reverse its ideological opposition to the United Nations declaration and to send a message to aboriginal women that their rights are human rights.
I will give a very quick example with respect to aboriginal women in terms of other areas where the government has acted.
The court challenges program, which I will come to again later, was cancelled by the government. One specific example is the McIvor case. This is an aboriginal woman who, with the support and the assistance of the charter challenge fund, was able to fight for her rights that were being discriminated against under the Indian Act. She was able to go to the Supreme Court of British Columbia and win. Now that the government is appealing that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada and there is no charter challenge program, this woman cannot fight for herself anymore because she no longer has the ability to fight. Again, this is a wonderful picture: the great big government with all of its resources and this single aboriginal woman who it is afraid to give a penny to just in case she might be able to fight for her own rights in this country.
The charter challenge program was set up so that those people who were not wealthy could defend themselves and fight for their rights just as much as those who have money so that there would be equal opportunity of rights in this country for everybody, but it seems that it is selective.
The next thing the government did was cut off funding for research and advocacy. This was one of the very first acts of the government. For decades, groups, NGOs, volunteer groups and women's organizations have been funded to conduct valuable research and advocacy work, work that gave women rights. The rape shield law was changed because of work by these organizations. Our right to vote happened because women were courageous and fought. Our rights in the Constitution would not have happened had there not been women who organized and fought to ensure that women's equality were entrenched in the Constitution.
When it comes to violence against women, yes, there are programs that assist women who may need assistance but there is not enough money, nowhere enough shelters and, as I mentioned earlier, the problems for rural women.
The women who are lucky enough to get a program to help their specific situation may help but there is no money available to change the conditions, the policies, the environment, the culture and the violence these women live with. That is no longer possible because we cannot get money for research and cannot advocate research money.
The Standing Committee on the Status of Women has had many hearings recently. We have been studying the human trafficking of women and children, economic security of women and violence against women. Do members know who comes before us? It is women's organizations that have done research and are advocating and informing the standing committee on these issues so we can make sensible recommendations to the House. In future, these organizations will no longer be there because they have already started to shut their doors.
The irony in all this is that the government will fund $500,000 worth of lobby money to the Conference of Defence Associations lobby group, a group that will lobby the government for contracts for arms and military equipment but it will not fund women's advocacy organizations that fight for women's rights. How sad is that?
The government has clearly not been doing any gender based analysis on its budgets because most, if not all, of its social provisions in the last several budgets have been done through the tax policy, which are very detrimental when it comes to women because women hardly benefit from them.
If the government were to do a gender budgeting analysis, it would ignore the results. I suspect that it did not do a real one at all.
When Kathleen Lahey, a professor at Queen's University, came to our standing committee of the House of Commons, she noted that the $1,200 that was supposed to be for the universal child care program, which is money given to everyone, misses the women and families who need it the most.
First, the $1,200 is taxed back in the hands of the person who receives it. A single income family is likely to keep most of it but if both husband and wife are working they get much less. A single mother gets much less so they are lucky to get half of it and still there are no spaces for child care and no infrastructure. The income itself does not really help anyone financially to do anything. As an income support, it is too low and, as a child care measure, it is laughable, quite frankly. It seems to me that this program was designed specifically to damage or hurt.
To be more specific, let us look at a low income single mother for instance. If her children are under six, then she gets maybe $50 of the $100 a month that is supposed to go to her for child care. First, there are no spaces, and second, child care spaces cost upwards of 20 times that amount. It is not a child care program no matter how many times the Conservative government refers to it as universal child care. There is nothing universal about it because there is no access. It is income support and it is taxed back. The people who suffer the most from this are women.
Our side of the House, the Liberal Party, did have and still has a program called a child benefit program. It was described as the most significant social policy in decades when it was introduced but the current government had to play around with that too. It eliminated the young child supplement. Not only do low income women not have child care, because the $1,200 does not work, but they also lost the young child supplement. Since the Conservatives have been in power they have done nothing to increase the child benefit program. So much for their interest in eradicating child poverty, assisting families with children and assisting women who generally suffer the most in these areas.
Continuing with the tax policy way of doing things, let us look at pension splitting. Pension splitting has been touted as the biggest thing but it only benefits about 12% of seniors and only those seniors who have very large pensions, who tend to be men and not women. If both husband and wife have worked throughout life and saved probably the same amount of money, they do not benefit very much because as one gets lower on the income scale one saves very little. If someone is single, there is nobody to split with anyway. The largest group of poor people in our country as seniors are women who are not able to split with anyone. Of the seniors in this country, 1.7 million are not helped by this at all. This, again, is a scheme that helps wealthy Canadian seniors who, I guess, are happy and have no problems. However, low to middle income seniors in general are not helped and women in particular are completely left out in the cold.
Again, this is another tax measure that does not work and certainly not for women.
We have said that the government cannot deliver. Five thousand dollars is the next one in the most previous budget. Now we have a $5,000 tax-free savings account, which supposedly will help seniors to save money. First, they need to have $5,000 to save and a lot of seniors do not have $5,000. A lot of poor mothers, single moms and women do not have that much money. This account will be a good top-up to the RRSP for the people who have it but it certainly does not help the average woman in this country who, by the way, earns about $38,000 a year according to the data that I have seen. While there are women who earn a lot more, that is the average income and many other women are below that.
The government does not understand that it cannot deliver social programs through the tax system because it does not work. Maybe it is doing that purposely, and that has been my conclusion. It has spent all this time emptying the cupboard and now the cupboard is bare, and it has left women behind in the process. It has spent billions of dollars.
The GST cut will help people who have lots of money but for the average income family chances are they will not save a lot of money, but they will have lost a lot in investment that could have happened, some of which I have already mentioned.
Lisa Philipps of Osgoode Hall Law School, who appeared before a Senate committee that is studying the gender budgets, said:
...one must always consider I think is the impact on men and women as individuals. In other words, we need to get beyond the household-level analysis, which is the standard analysis that's done by tax policy-makers. There's an assumption that if you deliver a tax cut to a household, all members of the household will benefit equally. I would disagree with that. I think giving a tax cut to the breadwinner does not guarantee that women will get a share of it.
That is why we have asked that it not do just do a gender budgeting analysis, but then listen to the results because if the policy then does the exact opposite of what the results show, and the results obviously show that women are being left behind, then that is a real problem.
In 2004, 38% of women did not have a high enough income to even pay income tax. These women will not benefit from any Conservative tax credits at all. The importance of gender budgeting should not be understated because it is very important.
On the issue of affordable housing, the government has not put any money into housing at all. I just want to quote the Ontario minister for municipal affairs for Ontario who said:
Under [Minister of Human Resources and Social Development] watch, funding for affordable housing will steadily go down, starting this fiscal year, because he has refused to even consider a new program.
On affordable housing, who are affected the most? Women, low income families, middle income families and women are affected the most. Our 30-50 plan is one that works.
As I have to wrap up, I note that I would have liked to talk about pay equity. One of my colleagues may do that for me today or perhaps I can do it through questions.