Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.
I thank the House for providing me with this opportunity to speak about the serious issues facing women in Canada. I will also be providing solutions in the action plan for women created by New Democrats with the help of civil society, the women of labour, our first nations sisters, and women's organizations across the country.
New Democrats believe our action plan can and will make a difference in the lives of women, their families and our communities because no nation can hope to fully realize its potential, create a strong economy or support successful communities when half of its citizens can be silenced by poverty, violence or powerlessness.
My Liberal colleagues opposite have raised a number of issues in regard to the shameful treatment meted out to women across the country. I am happy to address the points of their motion, but first I believe it might be helpful to take a brief look at the last 30 years of women's advocacy, to have a better sense of what Canadian women and their organizations currently face.
In 1979 the United Nations signalled to the world the necessity of an international bill of rights for women and the absolute need for a plan of action. Hence, there was the creation of the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, CEDAW.
Among CEDAW's 23 recommendations to improve women's rights around the world are requirements for signatory countries to ensure women's equal access to, and opportunities in, political and public life, education, reproductive health, employment, family law, child care and social security.
Canada signed CEDAW in 1980 and adopted its optional protocol in 2002. How have we done in the past 28 years? Unfortunately, the response by government to women's organizations working for women's equality has been less than stellar.
In 1995 the Liberal government dismantled the Canadian advisory council on the status of women and in subsequent years further eroded core funding for other women's organizations. It cut funds for women's shelters and transition houses, ended federal programs for affordable housing, cut funds for legal aid and disadvantaged women with punitive changes to employment insurance, and failed to bring forward proactive pay equity legislation and needed changes to maternity and parental leave benefits.
It does not end there. The current Conservative government changed the mandate of Status of Women Canada, cancelled the court challenges program, closed 12 regional offices, and removed lobbying, advocacy and research from the initiatives Status of Women Canada is willing to fund.
Both Liberal and Conservative governments have undermined women's equality. Both have attempted to still the voices of dissent.
One has to wonder what is so threatening about the work of these women's organizations that Liberal and Conservative governments felt compelled to close them down. Today's motion points out that the women of Canada deserve better. The reality is that Canadian women still face gender-based violence and poverty, and have trouble finding safe affordable housing and affordable child care.
The lack of proactive pay equity must also be added to that list. Interestingly enough, what the motion fails to address is the Liberal failure to remedy any and all of these concerns. The Liberal government had 13 years of majority government to promote stable economic security for women, 13 years of majority government in which to implement progressive pay equity legislation, and what did it do? It cut spending to Status of Women and failed to implement any of the 113 recommendations from the 2004 pay equity task force report.
The Liberals also failed to bring forward a workable national child care act. In fact, after years of promises and eight consecutive surpluses, all Canadian families were offered was a mishmash of insecure options.
One former Trudeau aide called the Liberal child care policy a death bed repentance. It was a death bed repentance dished up on the eve of an election that was sparked by the damning findings of the Gomery commission, and just in case anyone has forgotten, Judge Gomery found the Liberals culpable in the disappearance of $40 million taxpayer dollars.
Just for the sake of absolute accuracy, in the wake of the sponsorship scandal, the federal Liberal Prime Minister announced to Canadians that there would be an election in February 2006. Interestingly enough, that scandal ridden government did not survive a confidence vote and so the election took place one month earlier in January 2006.
Liberal government failures did not end with the lack of workable child care programs. Consider that the Liberals cancelled our national housing program, a program brought forward in 1971 by David Lewis and the NDP caucus. The national housing program provided the housing women so desperately needed if they hoped to escape poverty and violence.
Half of all Canadian women will experience criminal violence in either their homes, communities, workplaces or schools. Aboriginal women are five times more likely to die from violence than other Canadians and hundreds of aboriginal women have gone missing from their communities.
Clearly, we must redouble our efforts to achieve equality rights for women. To that end the federal NDP caucus launched the fairness for women action plan. It is a plan that not only reflects our long standing policies in support of women but also the workable achievements of NDP governments across Canada.
The solutions are obvious: stop funding the banks and big polluters with multibillion tax cuts and restore services to women. Our comprehensive action plan addresses six major areas of concern for Canadian women: fairness for women at work; better work-family balance; an end to violence against women; ensuring women's voices are heard; fairness for marginalized women; and equality for women around the globe.
Fairness for women at work means making equal pay for work of equal value the law. No excuses, no delays.
Increasing access to employment insurance because today only one in three unemployed women collects employment insurance benefits, down from 70% in 1990.
In the 39th Parliament the NDP introduced eight private members' bills to improve access to this vital income support and tabled a bill to reinstate the federal minimum wage, scrapped by the Liberals, and set it at $10 an hour.
New Democrats have introduced a private member's bill that would ensure universal child care through our national child care act that would establish a network of high quality, not for profit, licensed child care spaces. This child care program would be protected in law.
Better work-family balance also includes improved parental and maternity benefits.
New Democrats believe that violence is best addressed by ensuring access to justice for women such as reinstatement of the court challenges program, restoration of funding to legal aid, community-led prevention strategies to end violence that are initiated and directed by women, and opening more healing centres.
Status of Women Canada, SWC, must become an independent department with full funding and its own minister. An effective status of women department must be able to research, monitor and advocate for women's rights, support the women's groups who are promoting gender equality, and offer program-based and core funding. It must also include the 16 regional offices that once existed.
There must be a recognition that too many senior and disabled women live below the poverty line. Seniors must have decent pensions and women living with disabilities must be able to participate in our society.
The New Democratic Party is committed to women's equality. We are very proud of the action plan we have developed and we will continue to work for its implementation because equality is fundamental to our future as a nation. It is far more important than tax cuts for big banks and big polluters.
All that remains is the part of the Liberal motion that makes reference to those who are self-serving. I would say to Liberal Party members who are afraid to face the electorate, who are guilty of convenient amnesia, who are forgetting it was the people of Canada who voted them out, and who are incapable of summoning up the courage to live up to election promises by sitting on their hands and pandering to this vile Conservative budget, that this is most certainly self-serving.
I have an amendment to the Liberal motion. I move that the motion be amended by deleting all the words “that, therefore” and all the words after, and replace them with: “that this House acknowledge International Women's Week and call on the government to reinstate the court challenges program, restore funding to research and advocacy groups under women's program, reopen the 12 regional offices of Status of Women Canada, create a national housing program, provide resources for an early learning and child care program, implement proactive pay equity legislation, address violence against women, reform the employment insurance program to allow women better access to it, and recognize that women in Canada deserve fairness, affordability, equal opportunity, equal pay for work of equal value, a decent standard of living, and the freedom to live without fear”.