Mr. Speaker, usually this would be a time when I would welcome everyone back and wish them a happy new year in my first speech of this session. Instead, I stand in the House devastated by the violent events that occurred yesterday.
Members of our Muslim community were killed and many were wounded in their sacred space of worship in Quebec. These violent deaths have rocked me to my core, and they hit hard the foundation of my Canadian identity.
When I worked at an immigrant-serving agency, I assisted many families from across the world to join our Canadian family. In my new role, I continue to do this work in a new way. These people continuously reinvigorate my Canadian pride. Working with them as they prepare for Canadian citizenship, and watching them as they receive it, makes me so proud of this country. This is what I know.
In Canada, we have generations of Muslim Canadians who have helped build this country. I am deeply saddened today. I want to thank my constituents for the many emails I have already received. I thank them for their support and immediate call to action. We will stand together to say no to this violence. We will stand together because, as Dr. Christina Hubert said:
We must not sit idly by as injustices abound around us. We have a voice, and we must use it.... We must advocate for those who no longer have a voice. We must love greatly.
Many constituents have shared with me that we are living in scary times since the inauguration of President Trump. Now when we look at our televisions and social media, we see tens of thousands of people standing up against hate.
On January 21, I was proud to stand alongside many inspiring women and men. I want to thank the Comox Valley women's solidarity gathering for making the women's march on Washington such a resounding success.
This truly historic march drew an estimated worldwide participation of 4.8 million. After the march, officials behind the organization reported that 673 marches took place worldwide. In the United States, the protests were the largest political demonstrations since the anti-Vietnam War protests in the 1960s and 1970s.
Here I am today speaking on Bill C-309, an act to establish a gender equality week; a bill in which the title says it all. The bill aims to establish the first week of October every year as gender equality week.
It is important to raise awareness of the significant and substantive contributions that Canadian women have made and continue to make to grow, develop, and add to the strong identity of Canada. The NDP has been at the forefront and will continue to champion real gender equality. I fully support the bill at second reading and want it to be studied at committee.
As a legislator who takes her responsibility very seriously, I have to offer a cautious assessment of the bill and of this government's attitude in dealing with gender equality. Once again, we have in front of us a bill filled with billowing symbolism. By no means am I condoning investments in matters symbolic; by no means am I reducing the possibilities this gender equality week could have on our movement; and I know that 673 marches took place across the world, which demonstrates a powerful fact: actions speak louder than words.
When words are not followed up by action, emblems become tokenism, and then sincerity is put into question. I do not doubt the genuineness of the member for Mississauga—Lakeshore in bringing the bill forward. For a responsible lawmaker, context matters.
After more than a year in power, the government has failed to translate feminist rhetoric into real change. The best way to honour women is by matching words with actions, none of which are included in the bill. How many statistics and figures must we repeat in the House for just a little movement on this very important issue?
Rather than sharing figures, I will share advice for future bills that would bring the significant, substantive changes required to improve the daily lives of Canadian women. Hopefully, my colleague from Mississauga—Lakeshore can share them with the government.
How can women from coast to coast celebrate gender equality for a week when we know all too well that in a week they will earn only 74¢ for every dollar earned by men? This is both a chronic and a growing issue. The House sent the issue of pay equity to a special committee, which returned with facts that have been repeated many times in the House and in many other committees. Women are still being paid less money than men for the same work.
Then the government had the nerve to say this was something it would address in 2018. That is not good enough. How long do women have to wait? They have waited for 40 years and should not have to wait any longer.
Does the member for Mississauga—Lakeshore believe in a more gender-balanced Parliament? I am afraid he does not. He voted down the bill that would have done just that. The sad part is that he was not alone. Many Liberal MPs did the same thing, including the then minister for the status of women.
Increasing representation of women in Parliament would be in the type of bill we are looking for. These are the actions worth celebrating. These are the bills that would take words and transform them into real action.
How can we pay tribute when more than 500 women and children are turned away from shelters on a typical day? How can we pretend we have achieved gender equality when on any given day more than 4,000 women and more than 2,000 children will reside in a domestic violence shelter? The absence of a national action plan to end violence against women is making responses largely fragmented, often inaccessible, and inconsistent across Canada. New Democrats are pushing for more federal funding to support domestic violence shelter operations. I ask again. Where is the action?
High-quality and affordable early childhood education helps women seek employment or improve their job skills and pursue careers, and it eases families' financial stress. Delays in the creation of a national child care strategy will perpetuate socio-economic inequalities for people in Canada. The NDP believes that the federal government should start tackling its fundamental responsibility to reduce inequality between men and women. In the 2016 budget, the government missed multiple opportunities to respond equitably to the needs of women and girls and to fully support the realization of their economic and social potential.
This bill has a very lofty preamble. To be fair, it addresses a broad range of issues, including the fact that indigenous women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence and sexual exploitation. If the bill were passed, the preamble would evaporate into thin air and what would remain is reality, a reality in which all aboriginal women employed full time earn 26% less than non-aboriginal men. Even more devastating is the reality that aboriginal women with a university degree earn 33% less. Yes, that is correct: the gap actually increases the more educated they are. There is so much more, such as shelters, safe drinking water, and education.
This bill aims to raise awareness, and I encourage it. That is why I will support it at second reading. It is time to get to work and address some long-standing issues that would make a major difference in women's rights.
I am so proud of the work and leadership of our critic for the status of women, the member of Parliament for Nanaimo—Ladysmith.
We will be proposing amendments at committee stage, arranging that the bill not enter into force before the government implements proactive pay equity legislation and gender-based analysis legislation.
We should take real action to achieve gender equality. The NDP believes that, when women are no longer disproportionately affected by violence, inequality, and poverty, then we could legitimately have a celebratory week.
As the West Coast Leaf Association mentioned about the bill:
...legislation and other actions like Bill C-309...not only do very little to address inequality in the everyday lives of women in Canada, but they also create a risk of misleading the public into thinking that the federal government is taking substantive action when they have little potential to create meaningful change.
The women of Canada are looking for action. I hope we see it soon.