Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to participate in this debate, following two of my colleagues who I thought gave excellent speeches, and to talk about the issue of gender-based analysis, to talk about issues of gender in our politics. In my remarks today, I am going to talk about them in a number of different areas.
What I want to say right off the top is one of the things that troubles me a bit is this presumption about women's issues and men's issues. In my constituency the issues that women write to me about are often the same issues that men write to me about. It is not the kinds of stereotypical issues. A lot of people in my riding and across Alberta are very concerned about the state of the economy and are very concerned about what is happening in the energy sector. I get a lot of correspondence, yes, from women who are concerned about the energy sector. They are concerned about the fact that they may be losing jobs in the energy sector, that members of their family, male or female, may be losing jobs in the energy sector, and the lack of response from the government to those issues.
We know there are certain kinds of occupations where women are overrepresented. There are certain kinds of occupations where men are overrepresented. We see that on both sides of the ledger. At the same time, we also see that the interest in the broad spectrum of issues, in this particular example, energy and the economy, is really part of what I hear, and I think what other members of Parliament hear, from women as well as from men. We need to think about that in the context of the full spectrum of issues.
A lot of women contact my office about issues around national security, support for the military, and our response to terrorism. These are issues that deal with Canadian security, the security of Canadian society. Sometimes people are motivated in terms of support for the military by the fact that members of their family, or sometimes themselves, are in the military. Sometimes it is a broader concern with policy issues.
We cannot really be too narrow about talking about women's issues versus men's issues. I think that is some of what this committee report actually speaks to in terms of saying we need to look at the impact of a range of different policy areas, the particular impact of them on women, and we need to be listening to the perspectives that women as well as men bring across the spectrum of issues.
We also need to recognize that sometimes there is a failure to recognize this in certain quarters. We need to recognize that women have the full range of possible opinions on different issues as well, even on contentious social questions, such as abortion or anything else. Women have different perspectives on these issues. They do not all have the same opinion on these kinds of questions. Sometimes the discourse does not reflect that reality, that there is intellectual diversity among women just as there is intellectual diversity among men.
We could say that about women, that women are interested in the full range of issues. The same, by the way, is true of men. Men are also very concerned about child care, about support for families, about safe communities. That should be obvious to all members, but sometimes it is not reflected in the way we talk about things. There has been a lot of discussion recently about how we make the House of Commons more family friendly. Sometimes those issues are discussed as if they were only of concern to women, but they are of course a concern for men as well. How people integrate work with family life is something that men and women both have to pay attention to.
I think that is some important context as we proceed with these discussions.
I do want to pick up on some of the themes in terms of specific issues that have been raised by colleagues throughout this debate. There are, in particular, three key policy areas that we can discuss with respect to the particular impact on women and reflect a discussion that has happened at the status of women committee and that is happening in Canadian society more broadly.
Obviously, when we talk about women's issues, one of the first things that people bring up is the question of child care, as it has come to be called, the way in which people who have children either look after those children themselves or engage somebody else in their life to look after those children at certain times of the day.
Oftentimes when we talk about child care, our friends on the left, in the government and in the NDP, want to paper over some of these distinctions between the way in which people look for child care options. The only solution they want to talk about is government-funded and often government-administered child care programs. The parliamentary secretary who spoke recently was very proud of the amount of money that the government proposed to put into state-run day care programs.
We in the Conservative Party took a very different approach. It was actually a very popular approach. Some of the polling results I saw showed that it was the most popular policy we had implemented, and we implemented a lot of popular policies, but this one was the most popular. We said we were not going to decide how parents should raise their children. We were not going to say that there was a one-size-fits-all approach with respect to child care. We said we would give more support directly to parents so they could decide how they wanted to use their own money. Families in my constituency told me they liked our emphasis on choice and flexibility, that they wanted to be able to use their own money to raise their children in the way they saw fit.
There is a whole spectrum of models with respect to how people raise their children. In some families, one parent stays at home. In some families, both parents may stay at home but at different times with some sharing of the responsibilities. Some families may have someone come into their home to look after a child. It might be a family member, a neighbour, or someone they hire to do that work. Some families use external child care services, and that too may take different forms. It may be a private home or it may be a centralized child care centre in the form that the government wants to support exclusively.
Another proposal that the Conservatives as a government explored was that we could help employers facilitate the creation of infrastructure for child care within their workplace. Parents could bring their children with them to work and have them looked after on sight or close by so they could easily access their children on breaks and at other times, particularly if there was a pressing urgent need. Parents would have that flexibility but it would be in the context of their place of work.
I could go on listing different kinds of child care arrangements.
We see more and more that people are combining arrangements. One parent might work full time or a bit less while another member of the family works part time. They adjust their hours so that there is always one parent with the children. Their children might be in a particular program a couple of days a week and the parents would adjust their time accordingly. This is the kind of normal flexibility we often see in families today.
The previous Conservative government took the approach that it was not up to the state to make a value judgment about what was the better way children should be raised. We applaud parents who make any choice that they believe to be in the best interests of their children. We applaud their good intentions in doing so. We believe they, and not the state, are best positioned to make decisions with respect to child care.
The approach that we emphasized was flexibility. The Liberal government lauds its approach, which is completely different. One might say it is less feminist. It seeks to take more money from people in the form of taxes and thus limit their choices. Putting money into one specific option may work for some families in some situations in some places but likely will not work for other families in other situations or other places.
There is more we could do to support families through different kinds of flexible arrangements. We could do more with respect to maternity and parental leave. We could increase the flexibility of that. There was a time when people had to work at a place outside of their home, for example, in an office or a plant or whatever. There was a time when there was no working from home. People either went to work outside their home or they stayed at home.
Nowadays that reality is very different. There are a lot more people working from home, perhaps with flexible hours. A lot more people, because of the Internet, can be involved in direct sales. Many new parents in my social network do not want to be stuck in that binary between going to work or staying at home. They may want to develop some combination thereof. Parents might think about starting a business that they can manage from home, such as working in direct sales or some other avenue that allows them to do that work while also being at home with their children. That is a flexibility that is facilitated by technology.
As legislators we need to recognize that reality on the ground in terms of what people want to do and we need to see what we can do to be supportive of that reality. That means trying to make the programs for maternity and parental leave more flexible and reasonably financially advantageous so someone can say, “I want to stay at home with my new child for a certain period of time, but I also want to take a couple of files home from work.” People may want to maintain a more flexible relationship with their employer while taking a longer period of time at home, perhaps to facilitate an easier transition back to work, but also to maintain some degree of engagement outside of the home environment.
That is a choice that many people might want to make, but not everyone would want that. Others might prefer to make the choice of staying at work or being at home full time. Recognizing that more and more it is possible for people to combine being at home and working, we need to also recognize that the way in which we provide maternity and parental leave has not actually kept up with that. I know there was a pilot project in place which provided some of that support, but we need to make those types of programs permanent. We need to increase the ability of people to keep doing some work on the side while on parental leave.
I will just share on anecdote on that. This is a pretty clear case of someone I know whose child was being watched by a friend during the day. That person was being paid, but then that person had another child and could not continue to provide that child care service to someone else. Theoretically they could, but it was not financially advantageous for them to do so because as soon as the person providing the child care had another child, they could claim certain benefits, but they could not claim those benefits if they were earning unemployment income. It did not make any sense that one family lost child care and the other family lost an opportunity to earn some income because of the perverse incentives in the benefits structure. These are things we need to look at and explore in terms of enhancing flexibility of child care.
That is a very different mentality that we bring to the discussion than the government and the NDP do, because they see child care as a one-size-fits-all approach, that we need to fund these kinds of centres that are often government administered. From my perspective, that is quite at odds with what families are looking for. Some families are looking for that option, but other families are looking for different options. We need to have flexibility.
The government also took away choice from families by doing away with income splitting for young families. It left income splitting in place for seniors, but not for young families. Income splitting recognizes the reality that different families make different kinds of choices, but it ensures that all families with the same family income pay the same amount of tax. Under the new system the Liberals have brought in, there can be different families who, because of their child care choices and the kinds of work and family balance they choose to have, might have to pay a higher rate of tax than a different family who makes a different set of choices but has the same income. As I said, state institutions should be neutral with respect to these kinds of choices and should give families the greatest possible flexibility.
Having spoken about these issues around child care, I would like to now proceed to talk a bit about changes with respect to criminal justice. I had the opportunity of sitting at a number of meetings of the status of women committee in its study of violence against women. Before being elected, I was on the board of an organization in my constituency that provided counselling services as well as public education in an effort to combat bullying, more generally, but in particular, violence against women and sexual violence.
There are a number of worthwhile initiatives members in this House have championed that I think we need to work to move forward on. One of them, from our leader, is on providing better education to judges in terms of sexual violence, but there is more we need to do as well. My colleague from Peace River—Westlock put forward a motion to have the health committee study the impact of violent sexual images and how they might contribute to people having attitudes that then lead them to be perpetrators of violence against women. My colleague was quite right to raise this issue, and I look forward to the results of that health committee study. This is something we heard at the status of women committee as well from some of the witnesses who were also concerned about the relationship between people viewing certain kinds of violent images and perhaps acting those out. These issues have been taken up by different members of the House and need further discussion and further action.
We also, though, need to look at ways of addressing the reality of how many crimes related to sexual assault go unreported and how rarely those that are reported actually lead to convictions. We need to look at why this is the case. We need to explore reforms to our criminal justice system that will encourage people who are victims to come forward and increase the likelihood that if they have something terrible happen to them, and they have the willingness to go forward and make that accusation, it will actually lead to a conviction. We need to explore reforms to our system that will increase the likelihood of that, and of course, always, in all cases of crime, but in particular here, we need to champion the rights of victims, the protection victims have, and the ability of victims to have a meaningful role in the criminal justice process.
I want to touch finally on the issue of international affairs, because a commitment to women's rights as objectively reflecting something about who we are as human beings should not be limited to just our borders. It should be a commitment that extends to the actions within our control as a country all over the world. This means speaking out clearly about human rights. This means encouraging all of our ambassadors and other public servants to speak out clearly about human rights issues. That can mean some challenging situations, because it can require us to actually confront our allies on issues of gender-based violence and women's rights that may be an issue in their countries. It means confronting countries with whom we do not have good relationships but also confronting our friends, because that is what friends do in international politics, as well as in any other situation. They challenge each another to do better when it comes to issues of human rights.
We need to have a government that is going to speak clearly internationally on these issues, that is going to be confronting these abuses, and that recognizes, in the case of terrible abuses, like those perpetrated by Daesh, the need to defeat Daesh and ensure that its approach to women's rights, as well as to human rights more broadly, is one we confront effectively and with the full measure of force.
In the previous government, these were issues we raised. Sometimes they were not issues our allies wanted us to raise, but we raised them anyway. On issues of criminal justice reform and international affairs as well as on child care, I am proud of the approach we took, and I think these are issues that require further discussion.
I will just say briefly that it is unfortunate that mostly what we hear from the government is an emphasis on the cabinet it appointed. Regardless of that decision, what I hear on the ground is not that we need more of this or less of this in cabinet. What I hear from people on the ground is a concern about policy outcomes that affect their lives. My colleagues have done a good job of pointing out the smoke-and-mirrors show associated with the supposedly gender-based cabinet, where some of the female ministers cannot even bring memorandums to cabinet. They were initially paid less and are at a lower rank in terms of the way the cabinet system works. There is a dissonance in terms of the words and the reality.
More fundamentally, what women and men I talk to are concerned about are actual policy outcomes. They are concerned about choice and flexibility when it comes to the arrangements parents use with their children, about criminal justice reform, and about a strong commitment to international human rights.