Madam Speaker, I am glad to be here in the House standing in support of women in Canada, who honestly have received the raw end of the deal.
Over the last year, our status of women committee has heard from countless witnesses about how far women in Canada have fallen behind. We heard from women who are burdened with university debt and have a very difficult time making it forward in the workplace. We heard from women about the lack of access to child care. We heard from women about the lifetime of earnings comprised either by precarious work or by the lack of pay equity. We also heard from elderly women who are living in deep poverty, and professional women who have worked all of their lives but in my riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith are finding themselves having to access homeless shelters. It is terrible.
For all the good words of the Liberal government, with the majority that it has, with the mandate it had to implement real action on feminism, and the long shopping list that women's organizations and witnesses at our status of women committee have been giving, I honestly expected so much more in the budget. I am going to run through some hits and misses in the budget.
The first one, and we heard this from women's organizations across the country, is the failure of the government to fund a universal, affordable child care program. We have had funding announcements in the past, but they are pushed way into the future. Women cannot wait 10 years to access affordable child care spaces. Zero new child care spaces have been funded in this budget.
Child care is a major missing piece from the budget. It is the number one thing the government could have done to help with affordability, prosperity for women, and getting them into the workplace. The experience in Quebec has shown that investments in this area are good for the economy. The Quebec model has almost paid for itself by virtue of the fact that 70% of women who want to be in the workplace are working and earning more money. They are spending in their local economy and they are being taxed. It is a good investment.
The International Monetary Fund, in talking about Canada specifically, said the same thing, as did the Conference Board of Canada and the Governor of the Bank of Canada. This is in addition to the fantastic NGOs that have been carrying the torch on this issue for so long. Canada would be in very good company with the rest of the developed world. It would certainly have a lot of allies if it would put its money where its mouth is and funded affordable child care.
Pay equity is another big piece. I was so honoured to stand with my colleague the member of Parliament for Jonquière on the NDP's first opposition day motion which asked for the consent of the House to have the Liberal government agree to implement pay equity legislation. That was two years ago. It was a big win for us, but it was the same promise that had been made by Pierre Trudeau 40 years earlier. We are still waiting.
To have in the budget the announcement that there would be legislation was really like a sore consolation prize, because women have been waiting so long and the gap is real. We are glad to hear the re-announcement that there will be legislation. That is a checkmark, but it still is overdue and we have not seen the legislation yet. The big hole is there is no implementation funding at all.
Last year, the alternative federal budget put together by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recommended $10 million a year be spent to implement pay equity. That did not happen.
The Canadian Labour Congress recommended at a bare minimum that the government fund the establishment of a commissioner and some of the machinery that would be needed for the adjudication process. Again, there were zero dollars for that. The government, in saying it is still committed to pay equity but will not put any dollars in the budget, to me represents a great timidity on the part of the government and a failure to put its money where its mouth is.
A win that we did get in the budget is better support for sexual assault centres on campus. There is funding in place for the development of policies to prevent campus rape. This was a recommendation that arose from an earlier status of women study where we asked the Liberal government to lead the coordination of national policies to prevent campus rape.
My colleague the member of Parliament for Salaberry—Suroît, who is the NDP's youth critic and also the deputy women's equality critic and the critic for post-secondary institutions, has heard, as have many of us, from women on campus. If a female is born and raised in Vancouver, for example, and her big sister goes to UBC, she learns how sexual assault is dealt with on that campus. Then she may go across the country to Dalhousie University where she is away from her family for the first time, and there may be alcohol involved. Those first few weeks on campus are the most vulnerable time for a woman to be sexually assaulted. The policing, justice system, and the level of support may be different, which would make it worse.
There is no question Canada has a coordination problem around sexual violence, with the territories, provinces, and municipal governments. However, this is the first thing the government should have done. It took the Liberals several years to agree with us, but we are glad to see some money. Sadly, and this is a theme, the money will not appear for five years. Women should not have to wait to be safe on the campuses of our higher institutions.
Another very sad point is insufficient investment in public transit. This past week, I was at the United Nations, hearing about the level of commitment of countries to implement their United Nations' obligations on women's equality. The focus was rural woman. We heard again and again about the role of a safe, accessible, and affordable transit system for them to be able to get to work or medical appointments, to accept jobs they are offered, and absolutely to avoid another Highway of Tears in northern B.C. Women were hitchhiking because there was no other alternative and it ended lives, again and again.
My colleague, the member of Parliament for Saskatoon West, has been raising the alarm on this, the loss of the long-standing and successful public transit system in Saskatchewan. This is a role for the federal government, and we really would have liked to see a significant investment in rural public transit. That is a big missing piece.
A win though, another one, is paid domestic violence leave. Many provinces have started to implement paid domestic violence leave, especially the New Democrat government in Manitoba. If a woman has to leave her husband because of violence in the home, she has the assurance from her employer that she is going to be able to take a few days paid leave while resettling her family or renting a new house, and she knows her job will be waiting for her when she comes back, let alone having a little bit of coverage.
To our disappointment, the labour minister's offer last year was three days, unpaid. That is cheap for a government willing to spend on all kinds of things. That was mean-spirited. Because of the pressure of my colleague, the member of Parliament for Saskatoon West, when she was in her role as our labour critic, and of the labour movement in Canada, we are very glad that the government was persuaded in this budget to fund five days of paid leave. It is the least we can do. Few women will take it up, but it will make a big difference to those who do and their families.
Use it or lose it parental leave was another win. It has been shown in other countries that when men take parental leave it locks them in early to some of the domestic care issues. They are changing diapers and looking after the home. If they do not take that leave, then it is gone. It is not the kind of thing we have right now where the father and mother can split the leave.
The former NDP leader, the member for Outremont, and I wrote to the Prime Minister back in September urging him to take this on. We are very glad he took our advice and we think it is a win for families. However, it is tempered by the fact that the budget did not fix employment insurance parental leave benefits. When working families cannot earn enough hours to be eligible to take that paid parental leave, it means that once again the better off middle-class people the Prime Minister loves to support get that access, but the poorest people who need it the most just cannot get a foot in the door. It is unfair. We have registered this with the government many times, and it is a problem that it has still not closed that gap.
It is the same with unemployment insurance for precarious part-time work. We have heard from witnesses at committee again and again that women are more likely to work part time. One may be a full-time teller or cashier, but that is not going to get them enough hours each week to be able to qualify for employment insurance, let alone benefits and a pension. This is the nature of the working world, the Prime Minister tells us. He said to young people to get used to it. Honestly, if the Prime Minister has admitted this is a for sure thing, we must fix our employment insurance system. Given the government's commitments, it should want to do that.
The government has a mandate, has a great amount of goodwill, and talks a good talk on feminism. We would have really liked to see more action and the government putting its money where its mouth is on women's equality.