Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House as the new member for the riding of Terrebonne—Blainville.
I owe this first term of office to my constituents and I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to thank them most sincerely for their vote of confidence. Ever consistent, they elected a sovereignist member, for whom Quebec is not a francophone minority in the rest of the country. Quebec is my country, my homeland.
My constituents are well aware that I am here to defend their interests and I assure them that I and my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois will be following the federal government closely, knowing as we do how it delights in bringing in legislation that almost always ignores the jurisdiction of Quebec and leads to waste through constant duplication.
The Bloc Quebecois, for whom I am the status of women critic, will be on the lookout and will firmly condemn any failure to respect the interests and values of the Quebec people.
Tuesday, in the Speech from the Throne, Her Excellency the Governor General, the Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, mentioned that the government's goal, and I quote, is to “secure a higher quality of life for all Canadians”.
As a woman and as the Bloc Quebecois's status of women critic, I wish to draw the attention of the House to the concerns expressed by the thousands of women who took part in the World March of Women, absolutely none of which are addressed in the throne speech. These women came to speak to us about poverty. They even suggested solutions, none of which have been acted on.
In my opinion, and it is one shared by national, provincial and community organizations, the government has not taken any real initiative to combat poverty. In my opinion, much more needs to be done.
Ten years or so ago, when one in seven children was living in poverty, a resolution was passed unanimously in the House to “seek to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000.” Yet in the year 2001, one child in five is still living in poverty in Canada, or approximately 400,000 more than in 1989.
The researchers and specialists who have studied this agree that poverty is the outcome of a number of unresolved problems relating to living conditions, and that poverty remains an essentially female phenomenon. Did the Minister of Finance, himself not tells us last September 27 that:
Today we have come to realize that poverty is not merely a matter of lack of income or even of knowledge. It is much more fundamentally the outcome of exclusion, insecurity and social and human inequality.
Yet, unfortunately, in his minibudget of last November he neglected to deal with this.
This prompts me to draw to the attention of the hon. members certain programs which, in my opinion, ought to take the following facts into account. More than 70% of part time jobs are held by women, and this blocks them from full access to employment insurance. What is more, the legitimate desire of women to combine child-rearing with the equally legitimate desire to create their own jobs through self-employment also denies them access to employment insurance, at least as it now stands. Let us keep in mind that those who do not contribute to employment insurance are not entitled to it. This means they are also not entitled to other compensations available to full time workers.
Therefore, women must have access to full time jobs, quality jobs, that are better paid and based on equity. In Canada, women are entitled to economic equality.
In addition, elements of other programs must also be significantly improved, including parental leave. Notwithstanding the extension of this leave, the program provides only 55% of the employee's salary over a maximum of 50 weeks. And so it has the opposite of the effect intended, that is, the parent receives only about half of his or her usual annual salary and this is a form of impoverishment.
In the context of its family policy, the Government of Quebec is calling for the transfer of the amounts Quebecers pay so it can set up its own parental leave program, which would be both a lot more generous and universal. Workers without any exception would be entitled to it, even those who are self employed, and without any waiting period.
Third, proper social housing has been completely ignored. Do we need to point out that the Liberal government has not invested a single cent since 1994 in new social housing starts. In a pinch, some of the money in the employment insurance fund surplus could have been transferred to the provinces so they could attend to regional needs for renovations to existing housing.
Poverty is also about single women and senior women, around 42% of whom live in poverty. The Bloc Quebecois has long been calling for an increase in old age security payments for these women. It is about immigrant women, native women and disabled women who are isolated and excluded. In short, all these women, through their contribution to their community, have contributed or are still contributing to the economic, political and social life of Canada.
Poverty is also about all the men and women who care for others, either at home or in community organizations and who have been hard hit by the cuts to social programs. It is about all these people who feel forgotten and abandoned by the Liberal government.
I could give many other arguments for improving the living conditions of Quebecers and Canadians, all of which require that we first improve the living conditions of women. I would merely be echoing the demands of the thousands of women who took part in the World March of Women.
In conclusion, I wish to emphasize that, although women have made common cause around legitimate and shared concerns, they realize that those concerns do not impact on all of them equally. In their respective provinces and regions, they warned that justice, mutual assistance and social solidarity must take precedence over any partisanship.
The women of Quebec, like the women in Canada's other provinces and territories, are entitled to expect a genuine plan of action to address the ever-increasing poverty afflicting families, women and their children.
I want these families, these women and their children, to know that I will proudly carry the flame representing their hopes and that I will defend, with every fibre of my being, the fundamental right of the full citizens of Quebec and of Canada.