Madam Speaker, at the outset I really would like to congratulate you on your accession to the throne, as we put it. As my friend and my colleague and as someone who I know will bring dignity and respect to the chair and to the role you are playing, I wish you well, good health, and good judgment. I would like you to accept the sincere wishes of all your colleagues in that regard.
As we begin this new mandate and at a time when I am entrusted with new and challenging responsibilities, my first thoughts go to my fellow citizens in Mount Royal and I wish to express to them my deepest respect. Once again they have put their trust in me to represent them in this House and I want to thank them for their support, confidence and friendship.
It is an honour for me to represent the riding of Mount Royal in this distinguished place. Mount Royal will be the focus of my daily activities for the next four years as it was during my first two mandates.
Just looking around me in this House, I can tell how much change there has been and how much progress we have made. The people of Canada have chosen to represent them men and women from a variety of political parties. The make-up of this House reflects much more accurately than before the sociological reality and rich diversity of our country.
When I was first elected to this House in 1984, I was one of only 26 women. Today, 53 women are sitting in this 35th Parliament and, I am proud to say, 36 of these women are from my party. There are still too few of us, but it is an improvement, a big improvement. Also, never in its history has this place seen such a varied and fascinating cross-section of races and cultures. This new reality is the result of several factors.
First of all, I want to thank and to congratulate our Prime Minister who, in the last election, made it a point of honour to encourage and support the candidacy of women and members of ethnocultural communities. His resolve and tenacity have been rewarded.
We must also recognize the leadership of our Deputy Prime Minister, the member for Hamilton East, who has worked very hard to seek out and recruit women of great talent to represent Canadians in this House, and you will note that throughout the course of the next four years.
There is no doubt that the contribution of women and more members from different ethnocultural communities will bring a perspective to the proceedings of this Parliament that is more representative of the nation as a whole.
I must say that I am humbled and challenged by the responsibilities the Prime Minister has chosen to give me as Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and for the Status of Women. These new responsibilities fit well with my past experience as I have spent the better part of my life working for equality for all, for minority rights, for freedom of expression, for freedom of religion, for freedom of the press and more recently for the rights of linguistic minorities in Quebec and throughout the rest of Canada. I intend to continue these efforts as a Privy Councillor.
Madam Speaker, I became involved in politics somewhat like you did as a matter of fact, first in the voluntary sector and then moved on, because I believed that the political realm belonged to all citizens. It is here in this place that the policies are made that affect the lives of each and every one of the citizens of Canada.
Today, governments must deal with very complex issues, with change, but they must do that in partnership with Canadians. The accelerated pace of change in the ongoing process of global restructuring will have significant implications for all of us, and in particular for policymakers, as we sit in this House.
As we deal with the forces of change, one of the key elements that will need to be weighed and better managed at all levels will be that of the cultural mix and gender equation. We must ensure that the needs and concerns of women are integrated into the development of all our policies and programs and are reflected in our institutions. Women can and must be full partners in our society, both economically and socially.
We will reach that goal not only through legislative change and government initiatives but also through changes in the Canadian attitude, for each and every one of us have a contribution to make. Canada will continue to prosper only if we make full use of all our citizens.
The bottom line is building a fair partnership and working together. Our government is going to work with openness and with transparency. We will be accessible. As a matter of fact we are not going to need too many lobbyists. We will listen to Canadians and provide them with the means to be informed. We want them to be involved in the discussions and the decisions concerning every aspect of their lives.
Under past Liberal governments women have made great strides. This administration, under the strong leadership of the Prime Minister of Canada, is committed to building on that rich heritage. The willingness of the government to address the concerns of women is clearly reflected in the throne speech.
We know that Canadian women and men will not be satisfied with words alone. From now on we will simply put and follow a critical path, and that path is action, action and action.
The speech from the throne is indeed our blueprint for action and change, with many positive initiatives for women. It sets out the early priorities from the red book for this session with specific legislation and specific initiatives to follow.
Economic independence is critical to women's equality and a strong economy is the key to that independence. We have therefore put job creation and economic growth at the forefront of our plan.
This government intends to build on the creativity and intellectual talents of all Canadians, women and men of all backgrounds, in furthering Canada's economic growth.
In the short term the infrastructure renewal program will create immediate direct and indirect jobs and long-lasting benefits for all Canadians. Women will be participants in and beneficiaries of the infrastructure program and will have a role to play in encouraging municipal infrastructure projects which include the physical improvement that women need for safe homes and safe streets.
I urge women to speak to the mayors-and, by the way, many of our cities have women sitting as mayors at their helm and some of those women now sit in the House of Commons-across this country about the selection of the projects.
The government will focus its efforts in the long term on small and medium sized businesses which account on their own for 85 per cent of the new jobs created in recent years. No less than 30 per cent of these businesses are run by women and their success rate is twice as high as that of their male counterparts. I do not want to brag, Mr. Speaker, this is the plain truth.
It is also very important to realize the impact of our ethnocultural communities on small business. Thousands of entrepreneurs of all ethnic backgrounds start up small businesses. They work hard and, like women, they are innovative and their success rate is very high.
Not only have they created jobs for themselves, but they have also provided work for thousands and thousands of other Canadians. All the progressive initiatives the government is proposing in support of small business will inevitably go a long way to redress social injustices and promote equal opportunity for all Canadians.
For example, the throne speech provides for a training program for small business managers. We will also facilitate their access to the Canada investment fund and to the Canadian technology network. We are committed to reducing the regulatory and paper burden on small businesses.
Believe me, those are heavy and difficult obstacles to success.
The youth service corps and the national literacy program will help young women as well as young members of our ethnocultural communities acquire the required skills and experience to find a job and achieve financial independence.
I, and I think we in this House, believe in greater equality of social conditions for all Canadians. We will therefore be conducting a review of our social security system to ensure that it is responsive to the economic and social realities of the 1990s.
I will work with my cabinet colleagues to ensure that the voices of women, immigrants and visible minorities are heard in these consultations on the modernization and restructuring of our collective social security system and in the job market.
I am, as I believe all my colleagues in this House are, deeply committed, certainly on our side of the benches anyway, to the principles of the Canada health care system and so is our government. The national forum on health, chaired by the Prime Minister, will provide an opportunity for Canadians to be involved in a national dialogue on the future of our health care system. There is ample evidence that our system has not given sufficient attention to women's health issues. I know you will agree with this, Madam Speaker. That will change now. We will work with all our partners to create a system that includes a greater focus on the health and well-being of Canadian women in the context of women's different attachment to the work market, their social and economic reality.
The centre of excellence for women's health and the Canada prenatal nutritional program are two immediate initiatives that will have an impact on women's health.
All it takes is an orange, an egg and a quart of milk to make sure that low birth babies do not become more and more a part of the problems that women have to face in this society. It costs very little to see that the situation is improved.
A major preoccupation for Canadians is violence. In particular, violence against women and children concerns us all. Addressing all types of violence is a priority for our government.
On November 18 I announced the results of a federal study conducted by Statistics Canada which revealed that 51 per cent of women had in their adult lifetime been victimized by a man. Those of us who have worked with women and within women's groups have long suspected that high level of abuse.
Anecdotal before, clearly identified now through the very narrow lens of violence as defined in the Criminal Code, this reality is chilling. I know that our partners, the men in this society and in this room, will enable the kinds of legislation that can fight this kind of pervasive and unacceptable behaviour.
It reduces the quality of life. We must find ways to overcome these obstacles which limit access by women to full and fear free participation in the economic, social, cultural and political life of Canadian society.
I said then that I would address this issue. I intend to be true to my word and I know my colleagues will support that. We will take a number of initiatives in the fields of public relations, elimination of pornography and removal of abusers from the home.
Abused women should have the choice as to whether they wish protection so that they can stay in their home or whether they wish to seek support and refuge in another place.
All these issues will be considered as my department, Status of Women Canada, works toward creating a non-violent society for all Canadians. I count on the support of all members to enable that to happen. This will be done in collaboration with the Minister of Justice. The Minister of Justice is going to be a very busy man, as is the Solicitor General.
I am going to work with my provincial and territorial counterparts, with all other federal departments and with our partners in the public and private sector.
Another area that deserves our attention is the situation of aboriginal peoples. We know they face discrimination. The needs of the aboriginal women have long been neglected and the lives of the younger generation will not improve without proper access to education.
The aboriginal head start program and post-secondary education assistance for these students will be the foundation of the future independence and economic well-being of the aboriginal communities.
Finally, we will work to reinforce social justice and equality, two of the core values that underlie Canadian society. In a country founded on democratic principles, there cannot be degrees of citizenship or special status for some and not for others.
At a time when we have to compete with nations around the world, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that our collective prosperity depends on our capacity to discover and use the skills, creativity and expertise of all Canadians. Our diversity, both social and cultural, is not a stumbling block. It is a building block for our nation.
New measures will be taken to combat racial discrimination and prejudice. The Canadian Human Rights Act will be amended and the Canadian race relations foundation act will be proclaimed. The new race relations foundation will bring Canadians together to foster a sense of shared identity and purpose. It promises to be the focal point for the promotion of social equality and mutual respect.
I am particularly pleased that the court challenges program and the law reform commission are being reinstated. The restoration of these two programs are the legal mechanisms for making our justice system work and accessible to all Canadians.
Initiatives to deal with hate crimes will also be introduced. Hatred based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation has no place in Canada. We are all part of the same society. Each person of every background and culture brings to this nation unique experience and talent and we profit from them.
To quote the speech from the throne: "Job creation and sustained economic growth require an investment in people". That means all people. "This investment in all Canadians is what Canada is all about".
For years we have welcomed numerous immigrants to our shores in the hope that by building a new life in this great and rich country, those women and men would also contribute not only to the fabric but also to the richness of our society. We have not been disappointed. A unique Canadian identity has been forged, drawing upon this wellspring of talent and potential. Every sphere of Canadian life has benefited and been enriched.
In Canada we stand firm in our convictions that people need not abandon their culture in order to join us. We believe that all cultures enrich us as individuals and as a nation. This is the Canadian way.
I said at the beginning that the speech from the throne is a blueprint for change. It is also, if I may say, a very tall order. As one great Canadian has said: "We have work to do". However, work and challenge surely do not scare our Prime Minister who has been at the forefront of change for the last quarter century.
His passion for Canada, its unity and its future are only matched by his high standard of honesty and his powerful desire to serve Canadians and all creeds.
We must follow the lead of our Prime Minister and act with courage, determination and perseverance to ensure that the major changes we have put forward to improve the quality of life of all Canadians can be achieved in a spirit of harmony and goodwill.
Finally, I urge my colleagues of all parties to join with me and the government to ensure that together we can implement this substantial plan of action. Fighting against discrimination, promoting social justice and equality of opportunity is not a partisan goal for any of us in this House. It has to be and is a basic and essential principle for anyone who has been granted the confidence and the trust of the people who now sit in this House to make it a reality.