Mr. Speaker, I am going to be splitting my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre.
I find it really interesting to listen to the rhetoric that goes in these debates. As for the fact that we are even having this ongoing discussion about child care spaces, which certainly we on this side of the House understand the importance of, and in regard to the fact that we are listening to the hon. members of the NDP, if they had not voted against our government, we would probably have all of those spaces or a good portion of them in place. I have real difficulty in listening to the rhetoric that is going on, knowing that it is exactly why we do not have something that is very important when we get into the whole issue of child care.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to participate in this important debate today.
For the benefit of Canadians who are watching at home and my constituents in the riding of York West, I want to repeat the motion so that what we are talking about is clear:
That, in the opinion of the House:
(a) women's equality is a matter of human rights and, since the Court Challenges Program as a useful tool in achieving that end, it should be reinstated;
(b) to provide a legitimate and necessary voice to the needs of women, research and advocacy should be restored to the government's Women's Program;
(c) 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 as it promised;...
As we have heard, we continue to hear about this. The motion continues:
(d) since access to government services is essential in rural areas and the government's closure of 12 of the 16 regional offices of Status of Women Canada further isolates rural women, the government should take immediate steps to improve access for our most isolated Canadians;...
This is an important motion because, as we can see, it tries to outline a variety of problems that women in Canada have currently. The motion continues:
(e) 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; and
that, therefore, the House condemn the irresponsible and self-serving actions on November 28, 2005, by the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois which led to the installation of a government that is hostile to the rights and needs of vulnerable Canadians.
This motion says a lot. I would like to make a few brief comments on the important points here, as put forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Beaches—East York.
First of all, I think we need to be reminded, and to remind Canadians, that we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that protects equal rights in our country's highest laws. But in order for it to be truly effective, Canadians must have access to those laws. The court challenges program provided that critical access for many people in giving them an avenue for being able to defend themselves.
The elimination of the court challenges program was an attack on an important tool that many Canadians, not just women, could exercise and use to defend their charter rights. Mounting a charter challenge is tremendously expensive. The court challenges program helped individuals and organizations cover that expense. Many times they were victorious and were proven right at the end of the day. If they had not had the court challenges program to assist them, that would not have been possible.
We clearly know that the government and the Conservatives do not want anyone to challenge them. Every time somebody tries to do so, they shut them down in intimidation or with threats of lawsuits. That was a common practice of previous Conservative governments, even under the previous prime minister, Mr. Mulroney.
When the Conservatives are not threatening those who oppose them, they are busy doing nothing to improve the lives of Canadian women. To follow on what our speaker said, if they are doing anything, it is very little. It certainly does not reach the needs that are there. In fact, the Conservatives continue to clearly demonstrate a total disrespect and disregard for many women and the challenges they are facing as we move forward.
We can talk about the need for women to enter the workforce. The biggest obstacle, as I understand it from many of the women in York West, is the inability to access child care. There are hugely lengthy lists in Toronto for subsidized day care. These women want to go to work but are compelled to be home with their children because there is no safe place for their children to go and the $1,200 does not cut it. As for anybody saying no to that $1,200, sure, if I am sent a $100 cheque, I am going to take it, but it is not going to provide me with a day care space for my child.
When we talk about investing in early learning, we are not talking about babysitting. We are talking about investing in early learning and providing opportunities for our children to get the best start possible. A lot of evidence shows that early learning contributes immensely to the development of children.
I represent a very multicultural riding. A lot of the children there could clearly benefit from having the opportunity to be in early learning centres, so that when they enter the formal part of education that benefit would be there for them. They would be better prepared, rather than going into junior kindergarten still struggling with a lot of the issues that they struggle with for many reasons.
I truly believe that the early learning program was a great social opportunity that was missed. The financial situation being what it is, I question whether we will ever be able to produce it. We certainly are going to try, but it does take money. Those plans were there, and if we are starting to move into a deficit position, it will be some time before we are able to produce that kind of program again.
Our government had invested $5 billion over five years for the creation of a Canada-wide system for early learning and child care. It was all based on the principles of equality, universal inclusiveness, accessibility and development.
My neighbour, the hon. member for York Centre, stickhandled that issue for some time and had managed to get all 10 provinces to sign on. It took a considerable amount of time to do that. We were moving forward with that system, and it would probably be up and running in all of the provinces at this point if we were still in government, but we know what happened to the previous agreements.
We can thank the NDP for forcing the election of 2005-06, which led to the demise of child care in Canada and the destruction of what I believe was one of the best social programs ever that Canada would have introduced. When the NDP forced the winter election that nobody wanted, child care was one of the many programs that suffered due to its irresponsible actions.
We all know that the Conservative government was very quick to cancel all of those agreements and undo all of that good work, so I hope the NDP members are proud of themselves. I find it really quite funny when I listen to the rhetoric and hear them complaining because we do not have this and we do not have that. What I say is that they should enjoy what they got because they are responsible for it.
I also would like to draw the attention of the House to yesterday's announcement by the Liberal women's caucus. We gave the Conservatives a failing grade on women's issues, as their phony action plan was more of a non-action plan than anything else. It is nothing more than an empty gesture on a long list of failures by the government. Why has it taken two years to come up with an action plan?
The Canadian government also went to the meetings of the UN Commission on the Status of Women last week and claimed it had this grand plan when in reality there is no funding, there are no details, and there is no timeline, just a mention that it is going to create an action plan.
As we mark International Women's Day, it is clear that the Conservatives still do not take women's equality seriously. The Liberal women's caucus urges our Conservative government to stop turning back the clock on women and come up with a real and detailed plan now, not two or three years from now, but I am not going to be holding my breath to see that action plan.
Last week in New York at the meetings of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Canadian government delegation claimed it was taking a more focused approach to equality and announced that it was committed to this action plan to advance women's equality, but it provided no details for the implementation. More than 17 Canadian organizations representing women's rights also attended those UN meetings and reacted swiftly to the Canadian delegation's statement, calling it “All Words, Little Action, No Money for Women”.
International Women's Day is meant to be a time to celebrate, but this latest Conservative blunder is another grim reminder that there is much work to do in order to achieve women's equality. After all, who can forget that the Conservatives cut off funding to the women's groups that did advocacy work and that they closed 12 of the 16 Status of Women regional offices?
The Conservatives have squandered a generous surplus and still make cuts to programs that have been proven effective and have provided necessary tools for helping individuals and communities. Their funding cuts directly target women and other groups for which the Conservatives have traditionally shown complete disregard, but that is what we have come to expect, very sadly, from the government. If people are not members of its traditional base, they can be sure the government will turn its back on them and they are not going to get any assistance from it.