I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker, because I have what I think are some important things to say.
As I was indicating, more young women are participating at the post-secondary level and are graduating, but still they are earning 20% less than their male counterparts. As they age, that gap grows.
Statistics Canada provided us with some interesting information. It showed that up to about age 25, after they graduated, women were doing reasonably well in terms of their male counterparts. However, as they grew older, the gap increased exponentially after 25.
Of course, there is an answer for this, which is that this is the point in time when many young women marry and assume the responsibilities of child care and, in some cases, elder care. For these women, the gap was horrific in terms of their ability to have economic security.
Another piece of what we heard in committee had to do with violence against women, which continues at an alarming rate, especially against first nations, Inuit and Métis women.
Quite frankly, Canada is underperforming when compared to other countries. The 2007 gender gap report by the World Economic Forum ranks Canada 18th, behind countries such as Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and of course most European countries. We tend to think of ourselves as advanced, modern and well ahead of a lot of developing countries, but that is not the case.
Policy makers in Canada simply are not asking the right questions when they look at policy, especially when formulating tax cuts, tax expenditures and social spending. That is the reason I believe it is essential for Canada to change its approach. That is the reason for this report.
Countries all over the world are engaging in gender responsive budgeting initiatives, enabling policy makers to identify who is and who is not benefiting from social spending, tax expenditures, tax cuts and the social policy in place.
Our committee heard many times that tax cuts are not beneficial to women. Tax cuts simply do not benefit women, primarily because women's incomes on average are lower than the incomes of men. A woman in Canada earns about $26,900 a year while the average man earns $43,700. Almost 40% of women in Canada do not even earn enough money to pay taxes.
The 60% of women working outside the home and in a financial position to pay taxes contribute $42 billion to our tax revenues. These women, and in fact all women, deserve to take their rightful place in the life of this nation. Sadly, most do not benefit from the tax cuts that we have seen in budgets that go back ad nauseam, and certainly not in the most recent budgets.
Women benefit from investments in child care, affordable housing, health care and post-secondary education. Unfortunately for these women, federal social spending as a share of gross domestic product is currently at the lowest level in 50 years. That is despite the fact that governments have enjoyed incredible surpluses over the last 10 years. Tragically, these are surpluses that have gone to the oil and gas sector, to big banks and to profitable corporations for the exploitation of our resources. These are tax cuts that have not benefited women at all.
The tax cut agenda of the current and previous governments is causing money that should be available to invest in our communities to dwindle. We have seen tax policies that have stripped the cupboard bare. This money should be invested in programs to help women. That is part of the policy that we need to talk about when we talk about gender based analysis.
That is the reason for our report. It is the reason why it makes immediate, positive action on our report all the more imperative. We need action today. Now that we have had a chance to debate this report in the House, it is time for immediate action to be taken to implement the report in all its parts.
Gender responsive budgeting will help to create a more effective, efficient, transparent and accountable budget process and it will advance women's equality. However, gender responsive budgets are not the entire solution.
We need leadership. As I said before, this Parliament must act. We need leadership from the highest level. The Prime Minister and the cabinet ministers need to ensure that women's equality is part of their agenda.
Any implementation of policy needs to be backed up with political will from the governing party and others in the House. It is essential that the Prime Minister include in his next Speech from the Throne his commitment to gender equality.
The report we are discussing today is in fact the culmination of eight months of hard work by my colleagues and the committee staff and lengthy consultations with national and international experts. I am hopeful that the government will take into consideration the recommendations of this groundbreaking report.
I am also pleased that the committee did indeed work cooperatively on these important issues, as has been noted, and that we were able to produce a unanimous report. I think that speaks to the dedication of our committee to the cause of women, their children and our communities, and to the need that we recognized when we heard from witnesses in terms of building this nation, community by community, family by family.
In light of the historic apology offered last week to first nations, Métis and Inuit people of Canada, I also feel that it is essential to talk about the absolute need to address the reality of the inequities faced by aboriginal women in Canada.
Our sisters have endured discrimination. They have been trafficked into sexual slavery, under-housed and cut off from educational opportunities. They have endured violence of an unspeakable nature and are five times more likely to be murdered than women in the general population. These are our sisters, our mothers, our daughters and ourselves.
We have learned that we must never forget our obligation to seek truth and reconciliation. We must never abandon that which is essential to any hope that we have to secure the future for the people of our nation.
In terms of gender budgeting, there has been a great deal of work done on it, not just by our committee but by others. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has worked very hard on gender budgeting initiatives and has expressed over and over again to government after government why they matter and what impact they will have in Canada.
As has already been stated, Canada has been a signatory to a number of UN commitments to gender equality and more inclusive economic development over the last few decades, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW, the Beijing “Platform for Action” that I alluded to, and, more recently, the millennium development goals. Despite all of these stated commitments, both here at home and abroad, there remain significant gender inequalities in life experiences and in distribution of opportunities among women and men in Canada.
Government budgets, which are policy statements and policy instruments that reflect the social and economic priorities of government, are one area of public action that has been identified as an important tool for redressing underlying inequalities and tackling these through the allocation of public resources.
In particular, gender budget analysis is increasingly recognized as an important way to hold governments accountable for their commitments to human rights and gender equality, as it connects these commitments to the distribution, use and generation of public resources.
Indeed, the current Minister of Finance has made a public commitment to undertaking gender budget analysis in Canada. Unfortunately, to date, very little has happened with regard to gender budget analysis and policy making that would make a difference for women. Despite the fact that Canadian funding agencies are expected to undertake gender impact assessments of all projects in developing countries, we have not seen this at home.
It is time to bring home a new way of thinking about government finances that examines the real situation of women's and men's lives and includes a majority of citizens, especially women, who are often at the periphery of the economic debate. In decisions that shape policies, set priorities and meet the social and economic needs of all Canadians, these debates must happen.
Pressure on public spending, as I have already said and as the House well knows, has depleted Canada's ability for the fiscal manoeuvrability with which we ultimately will make policies that comply with social needs. We have seen the cupboard. We have seen the available resources dwindle.
As for a key goal of gender equality and alternative budget initiatives over the last two decades, it has been shown that in this fiscal context, the impacts of public expenditures, revenues and deficit reduction strategies are seldom, if ever, gender or class neutral. Indeed and instead, fiscal, monetary, trade and financial sector policies all impact on women's economic situation in very direct ways.
In the status of women committee meetings, we heard from the finance department that budgets 2006, 2007 and 2008 all underwent gender budget analysis. Yet when we asked groups such as FAFIA and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, with analysts Armine Yalnizyan and Professor Kathleen Lahey, to look at these same budgets and undertake their own analysis of the GBA, they showed very clearly that a real GBA had not been done and that the explanation from the government was skewed and unreliable, all at the expense of women.
This is not new. Women have suffered quite significantly in terms of policies and the economic and social impacts of those policies for quite a number of years. As far back as 1995, the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, which conducted research on a wide range of issues that affect women, had its funds cut and was closed by the government.
The Canadian Labour Force Development Board, which had given organizations of women, people of colour and people with disabilities a small voice in training policy, was eliminated.
In 1997 we saw the announcement of the elimination of program funding for women's organizations, starting in the 1998-99 fiscal year. Money from Status of Women Canada was from that point onward delivered on a project by project basis, which is hardly a positive way to enforce that women had a voice and a future.
Other program cuts included $25 billion from transfers for health, education and social assistance, beginning in 1996.
The 1995 budget eliminated the Canada assistance plan and changed employment insurance to base eligibility on hours worked rather than weeks worked. The impact of this was disproportionately felt by women. It hurt women.
Of course, in 1996 we saw the end of social housing.
All of this impacted very much on women in terms of social policy and economic policy, yet no gender budget analysis was done, and certainly no one in government at that time acted to avert the disaster that has culminated in the reality we face now.
We have heard over and over again from our witnesses that tax cuts were of no benefit to women. I would like to turn briefly to a couple of the recommendations in the report that we are discussing today.
Recommendation 3 states:
The Committee recommends that Status of Women Canada establish, by January 2009, an advisory panel of experts from civil society organizations and academia; that this panel provide advice to Status of Women Canada on the implementation of gender-based analysis and gender responsive budgeting in the federal government; and, that the Government of Canada provide adequate resources for this initiative.
That was augmented by recommendation 4 from the committee:
--that Status of Women Canada, as the lead on the working group on gender indicators, immediately involve civil society organizations and academics in the development of the Gender Equality Indicators Project.
This is in sharp contrast to the reality of what has actually happened to Status of Women Canada.
The current Conservative government changed the mandate of SWC, cancelled the court challenges program, closed 12 regional offices and removed lobbying, advocacy and research from the initiatives that Status of Women Canada was able to fund and undertake.
Contrary to what the experts were telling us, women's organizations were cutoff from providing the advice that we need. We know that Status of Women Canada does not have sufficient resources to produce the research that is needed on women's issues.
The committee therefore recommended that these resources be made available, that we could bring in civil society and ensure that women would have a voice in terms of gender budget analysis.
I have a number of solutions that I was going to offer, but clearly I have run out of time. I want to simply conclude with the words of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It says:
—the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields...
That will not happen, that cannot happen in our country until we have the kind of equality that women need to take their place.
The recommendations of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women that we move toward gender responsive budgeting underscores that absolute need for the equality of women and their participation. I hope this Parliament will support and adopt these recommendations.