Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure and privilege to speak to private member's Motion No. 392 put forward by the member for Sherbrooke, which states:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should add “social condition” to the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
This would be in addition to the already prohibited grounds of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.
I have to say that this is a very exciting idea. It is an idea whose time has come and in fact is long overdue.
In 1998 the chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission said:
Poverty is a serious breach of equality rights which I believe has no place in a country as prosperous as ours. Human rights are indivisible. Economic and social rights cannot be separated from political, legal or equality rights. It is now time to recognize poverty as a human rights issue here at home as well.
She said this in an annual report to Parliament in 1998. That is quite a while ago.
We all know that poverty is one of the greatest barriers to equality in Canada. There is no question when we look at what is happening around us that poor people are losing their rights. Discrimination is growing. We are witnessing a growing homelessness that is now of crisis proportions in Canada. There is an increasing environment of poor-bashing. We are even seeing municipal bylaws that discriminate against poor people, such as anti-panhandling bylaws.
There is a growing environment in the country of discrimination against poor people. What exactly do I mean by this? How does this really look on the ground for the people who are experiencing it? I can think of many examples. I will put out only a few of them right now in terms of my own community.
This means that a landlord denies a single mom an apartment because she is on social assistance or because her family has been on social assistance. This means that a landlord denies a person an apartment because he or she does not have a stellar credit rating or even a credit rating at all.
Many people in my riding are discriminated against every day of their lives because they are poor. Because they are poor, they cannot access housing, credit, banking services, businesses and other services, even some public services such as schools and recreation facilities.
Recently school resumed. Students went back to school across the country. A couple of students in Dartmouth were turned away from a high school because they did not have the registration fee to get into high school. The registration fee pays for lockers and agenda books and a number of other things. I am not sure what the situation was. They may have just forgotten their cheque that day; they may just not have brought the money.
Or they may not have had the money. They may not have had the money to pay this fee that would open the doors of a public institution to them so they could get an education.
It is appalling. It was appalling to people in Dartmouth to realize that young people were in fact apparently being denied access to the school because they could not pay that $25 or $50 fee or whatever the going rate was for their registration. It is things such as this that young people are coming up against.
There are so many user fees now for everything. This is another topic, really, but many children in my community cannot afford to play sports. They cannot afford fees for soccer, basketball, volleyball or hockey. Because these families cannot afford fees, they are in fact being discriminated against because of social condition. They are being excluded from services and privileges that they would benefit and grow from.
These are only a few of the hundreds of examples of discrimination that occur daily for poor people in a community, people who do not have the economic resources to participate in many things.
My colleague from Winnipeg has just found out that the last bank is leaving her community. Why? Because it is a poor community. The money is not there and the bank has decided to leave because it just simply is not making the profits that it wants from that community.
Banks discriminate against poor people all the time; they charge special fees to people who are trying to cash their social assistance cheques. There are many ways that money talks. If we do not have money, we are invisible and we are silent.
There is another very important way in which people are discriminated against because of social condition and unfortunately that is happening at the public policy level in our government.
I will go back to 1989, to a very good day in the House of Commons, when the House unanimously passed a resolution to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000, something for which all members stood and voted. It was a very noble gesture. People here felt very good about it.
The question is, what happened? In 1993 the federal government abandoned social housing, one of the key issues that determines health and poverty in this country. In 1995 we saw the loss of the Canada assistance plan, which laid out basic rights and conditions in terms of social entitlement. In 1996 we saw the era of the Canada health and social transfer that abandoned and eliminated those universal rights in Canada. For the first time we saw a massive downloading and slashing of social programs, which now has ballooned out of sight.
A debate was just held here, just before this one, on cuts to the employment insurance program. The fact is that years ago I think it was 82% of Canadians who were unemployed who were covered by unemployment insurance and that is now down to something like 42%, so of course poverty is deepening in this country. It is being egged on and has been exacerbated by our federal government. We see it with the cuts to the disability tax credit. We see it with the cuts to the Canada pension disability plan. We see it everywhere we turn and we hear about it in every call we get in our ridings.
These cuts to crucial programs, the changes to eligibility and the changes to base rates for eligibility are deepening the poverty, the inequality and the growing stresses in Canadian families and creating a climate of division, where poor people are unfairly divided into categories such as deserving or undeserving of assistance or compassion. This climate of division creates an environment where poor-bashing is tolerated and even perpetuated by the federal government with such things as means testing.
By including social condition as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act we can end this climate of poor-bashing, but I think we can do even more. As I already mentioned, there was a landmark day and a landmark motion in this House in 1989. At that point the House unanimously said no to child poverty. Members voted in favour of a resolution introduced by Ed Broadbent, then the leader of the New Democrats, which sought, unanimously, the elimination of child poverty as an achievable goal in a wealthy society.
We should all think about that for a moment. Eliminating child poverty is an achievable goal in a wealthy society. If ending child poverty is possible, why not all poverty? What a revolutionary thought.
In closing, let me say that any revolution starts with one small action. Adding social condition to the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act is a small action this House can take to start acting upon the unanimous resolution from 1989.