Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise and address the House on what I believe are some very important issues.
Maybe I can first provide a bit of a commentary as to why I think we are where we are this morning. Although I would never want to give the impression of downplaying the importance of the report we are dealing with this morning, I think it is important to recognize that, through our rules and our processes, there are a number of reports that could ultimately be raised, and there are other mechanisms that could be used to raise what members across the way—in fact, all members, but specifically opposition members—can do through things such as opposition days, and so forth. I would really encourage them to look at using an issue such as this to ensure that there are possibly even votes at the end, where there is more direction coming from the opposition party to look at ways it could use those opposition days. I suspect it could in fact be a fairly effective way of getting some things done.
I do not say that lightly but rather in the sense that it was not that long ago that we had the issue of pay equity raised by members of the New Democratic caucus across the way. I happen to have that particular opposition day motion where the NDP called upon the House.
I would like to recite the motion itself. It states:
That the House (a) recognize that the government must take action to close the unacceptable gap in pay between men and women which contributes to income inequality and discriminates against women; (b) recognize pay equity as a right; (c) call on the government to implement the recommendations of the 2004 Pay Equity Task Force Report and restore the right to pay equity in the public service which was eliminated by the previous Conservative government in 2009;
I want to emphasize (d):
...appoint a special committee with the mandate to conduct hearings on the matter of pay equity and to propose a plan to adopt a proactive federal pay equity regime, both legislative and otherwise, and (i) that this committee consist of 10 members which shall include six members from the Liberal Party...provided that the Chair is from the government party, (ii) that in addition to the Chair, there be one Vice-Chair from each of the recognized opposition parties, (iii) that the committee have all...
It is a small font, Mr. Speaker.
...accompanied by the necessary staff, subject to the usual authorization from the House, (iv) that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Whip of each party depositing with the Acting Clerk of the House a list of his or her party’s members of the committee no later than February 17, 2016, (v) that the quorum of the committee be as provided for in Standing Order 118, provided that at least one member of each recognized party be present, (vi) that membership substitutions be permitted from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2), (vii) that the committee report to the House no later than June 10, 2016.
This is an issue where the Liberal Party, the government of the day, has been very supportive: the issue of pay equity. It should come as no surprise to members across the way. In fact, for many years it has been talked about and debated. Some governments have been more effective at ensuring that there is some, let us say, forward movement. Has it gone fast enough? I would argue that, no, it has not. Over the last 10 or 15 years, it would have been nice to see more significant gains on this particular front. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
Let us recognize that we now have a Prime Minister who has done so much more in terms of recognizing the importance of not only the issue of pay equity but also the gender equality issue.
As a feminist, the Prime Minister is constantly up on his feet, whether it is inside or outside this House, in Ottawa or in other regions of the country. In fact, he has been a guest speaker on many occasions outside of Canada on this very important issue.
We have a Prime Minister who is committed to improving conditions on a wide spectrum of issues. I would like to comment on some of those issues.
Let me go back to the motion I just finished reading. This government, in listening to what was being proposed by the NDP at the time, agreed with the motion, and we actually voted in favour of the motion. It was interesting that one of the comments during that debate was a recognition that in 1981, Canada actually ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, which recognizes women's right to equal remuneration and equal treatment in respect of work of equal value.
It has been quite a while since then, but it is important that we recognize that these groundbreaking pay equity commitments were made by Pierre Elliot Trudeau. As has been pointed out, sometimes progress on the file has not be done as quickly as we would like. I can assure the House that from this Prime Minister's perspective, it could not go fast enough. However, we have seen, I would suggest, in a relatively short period of time, less than two years, significant gains.
What gains are we talking about? One of the very first actions this Prime Minister took was recognizing that we needed to have a cabinet with equal membership of men and women. We were the first government in the history of Canada to have a gender-balanced cabinet, something we are very proud of. It makes a significant statement, not only to Canadians but beyond our borders. I can recall, from a personal perspective, that my daughter Cindy and my wife felt so good about that simple statement the Prime Minister made that it was important to look at the year we were living in and that it was about time we addressed this issue more seriously.
When we sit around the cabinet table in a Liberal government, we are looking at a cabinet that is made up of an equal number of men and women. I was somewhat disappointed at the time that some members of the opposition said that some were junior and some were more senior, and all this kind of stuff. All cabinet ministers, every one who sits around that cabinet table, are, in fact, equal ministers.
In terms of legislation we brought forward to ensure that the principle of equality in cabinet was actually put into the law, members of the opposition saw fit to oppose that. I would suggest that the opposition parties, collectively at times, need to get a better understanding of the impact some of their actions have.
We did not stop there. The Prime Minister did not just say that we will have a gender-neutral cabinet. I want to go to this particular budget, the budget we are debating today, a budget that continues along the same lines as our first budget.
Before I comment on the first budget, I cannot help but make reference to the Minister of Finance and the cabinet's decision to have a gender-based analysis of the budget. Again, it is the first time in the history of this country that we have had such a thing done in a national budget. This is a significant achievement, and it was implemented by this government in its second budget. That was not an easy task to accomplish, but it was because of the commitment of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Status of Women that it was done.
Why is that important? The many different departments within the federal government literally spend billions of tax dollars every year. Those dollars have an impact, and in many ways, they impact genders differently. We need to look at how that money is being spent, the areas in which it is prioritized, and the impact it is having on our population.
This gender-based analysis is long overdue. I would like to think that the members opposite, as opposed to saying they want more transparency on the issue of the gender-based analysis, would recognize that this as a significant step forward. Instead of acknowledging the accomplishment, they are looking at ways to find some problems with that announcement.
Canadians are pleased that our government is determined to deal with formulating a budget that will ensure that there is a better sense of gender understanding. Our government will have a more positive impact on the issue of gender equality than Stephen Harper's government or any other government before us, because we have a Prime Minister who has made a commitment, and a Minister of Status of Women who has taken a proactive approach, to ensuring, as much as possible, that this lens is applied in every way.
We have done so much more, and I want to provide some comments on those things.