Madam Speaker, I am going to be sharing my time with the member for Essex. I am honoured in this astonishing time to be speaking to the vitally important issue of sexual harassment and violence in our public dialogue and in our workplaces.
I am going to talk about the brave young women who are coming forward, the legacy of social justice women's rights activists on whose shoulders we stand. I am going to talk about the support of my party, the NDP, for Bill C-65. I am going to affirm that no party is immune to the revelations and bad behaviour that are being reported. I am going to talk about the cost of shutting women out of politics. I am going to talk a bit about some of the changes to the bill that would help us to make it even better protection for workers.
The imperative for us to take this action as parliamentarians is fuelled by the terrible stories that we are hearing. I have a quote from a former parliamentary staffer, Beisan Zubi. She said that being a parliamentary staffer on the Hill was “a crash course in sexism and sexual harassment”. She said, “But if I’m being honest, I would have also warned them to stay away, that Parliament Hill, in my experience, was a fundamentally unsafe place for young women.” How can that be said about the Commons, the place for the people? Lauren Dobson-Hughes said, “You take your cues from people around you who are in positions of power, and if they don't think that's weird, if that didn't even momentarily give them a second glance, then you think, 'Maybe the problem is me; maybe that's just normal.'” It is not normal.
More than anything, I want to state it is a privilege for us to be in this House and to be able to make permanent change at this historic time. I want to honour the brave women who, after decades of holding these stories back, are risking themselves and their reputations and are telling their stories and ringing the alarm on deeply embedded sexism and violence in our common discourse and in our workplaces, including this workplace here. I recognize the great cost to women for coming forward. I want to say to them that I am really sorry it happened to them and that we are going to honour their bravery by doing the right thing here in this House. We recognize that we have the highest responsibility to act on the respect and importance of the words that we have been given. This is the global #MeToo movement. This is Time's Up, and time is up.
We are determined to ensure workplaces in this country are safe from sexual harassment. We know all workers everywhere deserve and are entitled to a safe and secure environment. The work before us today is to make sure there is zero tolerance for harassment and violence in our workplaces, and that when it does happen, there must be a transparent process where the complainants are confident that they will be treated with respect and privacy, and those who are accused know there is a process that will be adjudicated, and the public will have an idea about what that process is.
The labour minister's proposal, Bill C-65, amends the Canada Labour Code to include sexual violence and harassment, and it attempts to do a similar thing within parliamentary workplaces where the concern about parliamentary privilege has even prevented the Canada Labour Code from having effect in our constituency offices across the country and here on the Hill. I am very grateful to the labour movement for identifying changes that we can put in place that would improve the bill and also to my colleagues, the member for Saskatoon West, our former labour critic, and the member for Jonquière, our current labour critic, because the work by them and their staff is building our case and we are going to make this legislation even better.
I want to give thanks to the men in the NDP caucus who I serve with, as well as the members of Islands Trust Council, where I served for 12 years. I personally have had a very good experience as an elected woman in politics, maybe because Islands Trust Council had an exactly gender balanced 26-person council. Maybe that had something to do with the change in tone. However, what we are talking about today is the experience of workers and not so much about parliamentarians.
I want to acknowledge that if we can get more women into Parliament, they will change the tone. “Add women, change politics” is something we hear a lot. They will change the tone and also enact policies. We have seen across the world that by removing barriers to women's participation in public life, systems and countries protect all vulnerable people better than we do right now. We have seen this in other parts of the world. Canada is, sadly, really behind the ball on this.
The status quo policies that we have had in this Parliament have meant that the number of women elected to office has stalled out. If we could bump that number up, it might be that we would have less sexual harassment. We heard that specifically, maybe nine months ago. Daughters of the Vote was a beautiful initiative on International Women's Day, but one sister, Arezoo Najibzadeh, powerfully and symbolically left her seat empty to represent the cost of violence against women that keeps women from participating in public life and prevents them from taking their seats. Hands were raised to that sister. Both the member for Hochelaga and I saluted her efforts on that day. She is a reminder to me that we need all the diversity of voices in this House to change the country and bring proper representation.
That is the cost of keeping political staffers in an unsafe place and causing women to say that Parliament Hill is not safe for them. This is the power of social media. It makes it possible for us to transmit these stories, and it is bringing down some pretty amazing political leaders right now. Again, we are in quite a time.
I want to also acknowledge my Aunt Kim Malcolmson, who I have talked about in the House before. She was a pay equity commissioner. She was very challenging for my old grandfather. She was a hard-core feminist, a CCF-Waffle Party-Tommy Douglas aficionado. She shaped me enormously. She is in palliative care. On Friday morning, my fabulous Uncle Paul Barber told her that Patrick Brown had been forced to resign his seat, and although it was very hard for her to speak, she demanded to know more details. On Saturday, I was able to visit her in the hospital and let her know that the New Democrats were going to return to Parliament by calling out the need to act to end violence against women and sexual harassment, and at the end of the week we were going to be celebrating the two-year anniversary of the successful motion from me and the member for Jonquière in the House to legislate pay equity. I was able to let Kim know that we were coming into Parliament fighting. That was on Saturday, and yesterday she passed away.
I like to think, because she was a woman who knew she was going to Heaven, that she is looking down on this amazing time that we are living in and seeing that the work that has been done is carrying on and that the young women leaders in this country, with their deep bravery and astonishing ability to tell stories, are changing the way we will go forward with this legislation.
The labour movement is urging changes and New Democrats will be urging changes in committee. We are glad that with the new House leader of the NDP, we were able to accelerate the passage of this bill. We will debate its details and get changes as fast as we can so that we can make politics a safe place for all members of our country.