Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Nunavut.
The 2010 Speech from the Throne highlights, in part, what our government is doing to advance women's full participation in society. It also showcases our government's progress in implementing Canada's economic action plan, a plan to stimulate, protect and renew the economy while making investments in long-term growth.
We are building the jobs and the industries of the future. Our government responded to the global economic downturn by introducing Canada's economic action plan, a plan that stimulates the economy, creates jobs for Canadians and protects those hit hardest. Canada is now emerging from the recession, powered by one of the strongest economies in the industrialized world. Women are more vital than ever to Canada's success.
Our efforts to promote investment in Canada and open markets are supported by low taxes, which help attract investment and ensure Canadian firms can compete globally. Small-sized and medium-sized businesses are the engines of the Canadian economy. They are responsible for most new job creation. Women start small businesses at twice the rate of men in Canada. Over the past two decades Canada has witnessed an increase of more than 200% in women's entrepreneurship.
By keeping taxes low, closing unfair tax loopholes, and opening Canada's doors to further venture capital and foreign investment, our government is creating opportunities for women entrepreneurs, both domestically and in key international markets.
By identifying and, if necessary, removing regulations and barriers that hinder growth, our government is providing ongoing support to small-sized and medium-sized businesses, a sector in which women-owned entrepreneurs are especially strong contributors.
The recent World Bank Group 2010 report entitled “Women, Business and the Law” analyses key differences in formal laws and institutions affecting women's prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Out of 128 economies covered, Canada ranks as one of the top 20.
With respect to crime and justice, the Speech from the Throne highlighted the Government of Canada's renewed focus on greater protection for women and children victims of crime, a move that will benefit two of societies vulnerable groups. Statistics show that women are considerably more likely than men to be victims of violent crimes, such as sexual assaults and criminal harassment.
The high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women underscore the reality that aboriginal women and girls are among the most vulnerable members of Canadian society. They experience much higher rates and more serious forms of violence than their non-aboriginal counterparts, facts that the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Sisters in Spirit initiative has highlighted and examined.
The Speech from the Throne highlighted our government's commitment to take further action on the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women, which will result in concrete solutions to this pressing criminal justice priority.
I would like to read a few quotes. First, from the Vancouver Sun:
It’s a start, because five and 10 years ago, the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada never passed the lips of a single cabinet minister, that I’m aware of, over all those years.
That was from Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in 2000.
Also Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said he was “elated” to finally see recognition of this important issue from Ottawa.
As Native Women's Association President Jeannette Corbiere Lavell said about the Speech from the Throne, “I’m pleased with this announcement. This is a positive step forward”.
Women want safe communities in which to raise their families. This includes being safe from recent threats, such as cybercrimes, to which children are especially vulnerable.
Women will welcome our government's commitment to take tough action to further protect children from Internet luring and to increase penalties for sexual offences against children, as well as the move to strengthen the sex offender registry, as indicated in the speech.
The Speech from the Throne also touched on our government's increased support to victims of crime and their families, including giving the families of murder victims access to special benefits under employment insurance. This will help the many women who are victims themselves or whose family includes a victim.
In making Canada the best place for families to live and grow, the Speech from the Throne provided an update on the universal child care benefit, a benefit that particularly encourages sole-support, single-parent families, many of which are headed by women.
The decline in poverty rates among these families is stunning. In 1998, 42.9% of families headed by lone-parent mothers lived below the after-tax low income cutoff. By 2007, the number had fallen to 23.6%.
The Government of Canada's commitment to further strengthen the universal child care benefit provides direct financial support to working families, many of which are headed by lone-parent, sole-support women, and retains their freedom to choose for themselves the best child care option.
We are standing up for those who helped build Canada. The Speech from the Throne indicated our government's initiative in taking action to improve the lives of veterans and Canadian military. As the majority of military spouses, women will benefit overwhelmingly from the change in unfair rules restricting access to benefits under employment insurance for military families who have paid into the system for years.
We are a country with an aboriginal heritage. Our government is acting to better protect the rights of aboriginal people, particularly women living on reserve, by taking steps to ensure the equitable distribution of matrimonial real property assets in the event of death, divorce or separation.
Passing matrimonial real property legislation on reserve will provide women and children with protections and provide them with the option to return or remain in their communities. As the Speech from the Throne indicated, the government will amend the Indian Act to comply with the court decision in order to address gender inequality under the Indian Act. This is an issue that has been ongoing for many years but will now be addressed in this session of Parliament.
Education is the key to success of individuals, their families and communities. Aboriginal women are attending school at higher rates than both non-aboriginal women and aboriginal men. Nevertheless, they continue to face barriers. The Speech from the Throne underscored our government's commitment to strengthening first nations education which benefits aboriginal women, their families and their communities.
Canada's history is enriched by its aboriginal heritage and yet, as we have explained so many times and are very well aware of, aboriginal women still face barriers to this full participation. As the Speech from the Throne indicated, our government will take steps to endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in a manner that is fully consistent with Canada's Constitution and our laws.
As well, foreign credential recognition is important to immigrant women, who tend to be more highly educated yet less likely to be employed than their Canadian-born counterparts. Our government is committed to continuing to work with the provinces to strengthen recognition of foreign credentials. Such recognition advances the full participation of immigrant women, helping them to put their training and knowledge to work for their families and for Canada.
Food, drug and consumer product safety is of course very important to women. They are the primary decision makers and consumers in ensuring their children's food, medicine and toys are safe. The Speech from the Throne indicated the Government of Canada will continue to be committed to strengthening Canada's food safety system and to reintroducing legislation that protects families from unsafe food, drug and consumer products. These are important measures for women who control the majority of family purchasing decisions.
In closing, the Speech from the Throne demonstrated that our government remains focused on the economy. Along with our budget which focuses on jobs and growth, the Speech from the Throne forms a key element of our government's overall plan for women, their families and their communities.