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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was regard.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as NDP MP for London—Fanshawe (Ontario)

Won her last election, in 2015, with 38% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply June 15th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I know have met many of the seniors in Sandycove. I also know they are facing rising rents and an affordability problem in their living accommodation.

In response to his question, in a perfect world we would all have friends, neighbours and grandparents readily at hand to look after our children. That is not the reality of the 21st century. Families are mobile and many young families do not have relatives or friends in their neighbourhoods, so they cannot rely on others. They need and absolutely deserve to have access to safe, affordable, regulated child care so their children can be looked after properly and also experience the value of early childhood education.

This so-called $1,200 gift is not a $1,200 gift at all. If we look at the average moderate income earner, those families will be taxed on the $1,200 and receive something like $400 a year after taxes, after they have lost their child benefit supplement. It adds up to about $1.19 a day. That does nothing for affordable child care, and it is not a choice.

Business of Supply June 15th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time today with my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas.

Senior women face harsh realities upon retirement. The poverty rate for senior women is almost double the poverty rate for senior men. In particular, unattached senior women remain very vulnerable. They make up 60% of seniors living below the poverty line.

In 2003, according to a Government of Canada report, 154,000 unattached senior women lived in poverty. The guaranteed income supplement, or GIS, which is supposed to help, forces many seniors, especially those unattached, into poverty. In its own report, the Government of Canada states that in 2003 an unattached person only received old age security and GIS at a rate of $12,031 a year. That is not enough money to live on, especially in our cities, which have an increasingly higher cost of living.

Alarming this same study maintains that many Canadians are not prepared for retirement. One-third of Canadians between the ages of 45 and 59 feel that they are not prepared financially for retirement. Furthermore, these concerns are more prevalent among women, those widowed, separated or divorced, recent immigrants, tenants, those without private pension coverage and not surprisingly, women with low wages.

How do our mothers and grandmothers end up living in poverty? There are many reasons. Women's unpaid work makes their risk of poverty higher and results in less access to private pensions. Older women tend to have lower incomes because they live longer, which leaves them at greater of using up their savings as time goes by.

Immigrant women are particularly vulnerable. Many over the age of 65, who have lived in Canada for less than 10 years, are without any income at all. Senior women receiving smaller pension incomes because of the wage difference between men and women are also at risk. Most divorced women do not claim a portion of their former spouse's pension even though they are entitled to it. Many retirement plans do not compensate for absences to raise children or look after sick relatives, absences are generally taken by women.

The ratio of male to female earnings tells a story of persistent systemic inequality between male and female incomes, whether from employment or pensions. Women are concentrated in low wage and part time jobs where there is rarely pensions available.

However, women who are able to work are still at a disadvantage. Women in our country work for about 75% of their potential working years, whereas men work 94%. Women consequently have less opportunity to save for their pension. More men than women save through RRSPs because men tend to make more money and are thus able to put more money aside for retirement.

It is very important to emphasize that these senior women living in poverty did not end up there the day they retired. It is the poverty in their youth or the near poverty that prevented them from setting aside money for retirement that is the real source, the genesis, of this problem.

With the last several years or Liberals cutting away at our social safety net, our working poor are at risk of being left in poverty when they retire. The Conservative government has not proposed anything that will truly help alleviate poverty in our country.

One of the key issues raised this week by the Canadian Labour Congress was that child care and specifically child care spaces were needed to help women stay in or get back into the workforce. This is critical for the senior women of the future. Safe, affordable, not for profit child care would provide them the opportunity to work and even pay into a pension, and thus enable them to retire with a pension that actually provides the resources they need and deserve.

We have all heard the Conservative government touting its true choice in child care, but it does not create a single child care space. It is obvious that the plan is to give a tax credit to those families rich enough to have one parent stay at home. These women, and, yes, they are mostly women, are not paid for their labour in raising a family.

I know many women would say that they do it out of love and do not want the money. However, the material point is that these women do not receive remuneration for their hard work and are not contributing to CPP. Therefore, they cannot collect any funds even though they have worked hard and faithfully to raise children. They too could be at risk in their retirement.

Senior women, whose spouses pass away, face a reduction in their partner's private pension and CPP, a deduction of 40%. This is problematic. Some women may be unable to afford to maintain their standard of living. Expenses for a single person are about 70% of the living expenses for a couple. This has the potential to drive women into poverty, as many senior women depend on their spouses' pension. It is an important part of an adequate income.

Many seniors do not realize what benefits are available to them. Women in particular are three times more likely than men to be late applying for CPP benefits. If they are late in their application, they are entitled to only 11 months of retroactive benefits. One should not be financially penalized for not having knowledge or access to information. In Quebec the retroactive grace period for benefits is five years. This makes far more sense if we are serious about care for seniors.

Equally important, the first step to ending poverty for senior men and women is access to safe, affordable housing. If seniors are spending the majority of their income on their place of residence, this leaves little money for food, medication and other necessities, thus forcing them into a cycle of poverty.

In 2001 more than half of seniors living on their own in rental accommodations were paying more than 30% of their income for housing. In particular, single women were more likely to be living in these substandard conditions. If housing costs are tied to their income level and not to market value, then they have a chance to break out of poverty and live in dignity.

The cost of housing across Canada is on the rise. This year alone housing costs are up by 13%. With no new affordable housing money in the foreseeable future, many Canadians, especially senior Canadians, run the risk of becoming house poor. When housing costs are greater than 30% of their income, they are indeed condemned to live a life below the poverty line.

Previous Liberal governments allocated a substantial amount of money to the provinces and territories, about $474 million for housing. Much of that money was not spent because it had to be matched by the provinces and territories. The agreements were also so convoluted that progress was nearly impossible. Clearly, the Liberals were not serious about creating affordable housing.

The decisions by the former federal government to stop funding of new social housing in 1993 and then to transfer the administration of most existing federal social housing programs to the provinces and territories in 1996 were also key factors in the steady growth of housing insecurity during the 1990s. Housing experts have drawn a direct connection between the withdrawal of the federal government from housing programs in the 1990s compounded by significant cuts in provincial housing budgets to the growing homelessness disaster and affordable housing crisis.

To further compound this, the present Conservative government made no commitment to affordable housing in its recent budget. In fact, Conservatives took the NDP Bill C-48 money and made a one-time payment. The intent of the NDP balanced budget was that the $1.6 billion be available each year for affordable housing. At a time when our senior population is increasing, there will be no money to address the housing crisis many face.

Safe, affordable and accessible housing is the first step in ensuring that our seniors will live in dignity. Our senior women need access to pension dollars whether they work or stay at home to raise a family. Our mothers, our grandmothers, our fathers, our grandfathers, they all deserve this, the right to live in dignity, the right to escape poverty.

I encourage all parties to support the NDP motion that will ensure seniors across Canada have the respect that they so richly deserve.

Business of Supply June 15th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member mentioned the CMHC. Does she have any concern that the recent budget allows private insurers to move into mortgage insurance? This definitely will not improve the affordability of mortgage insurance but rather cause CMHC's income and resources to decline, hence making affordable housing less possible to deliver.

Could the member also comment on the cuts to the EnerGuide program, which would negatively affect seniors?

Business of Supply June 15th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I was quite interested in what the hon. member had to say but I would point out that this is an issue that cannot wait for a next budget or a budget after that. This issue should have been addressed in the current government's budget but, quite clearly, it was not.

There is a real concern around the ability of seniors to afford their housing. In the budget that the governing party put together this spring there was one time money for affordable housing, money that, I must point out, was appropriated in 2005 because of the NDP Bill C-48 but nothing for the future. It clearly is a critical situation.

I have an e-mail from a woman in north Vancouver, Ann Roberts, who says that she needs affordable housing. The 1% reduction in the GST does nothing in terms of her purchasing power. She cannot afford to go to the dentist or buy some of the drugs she needs.

I was wondering if the member could address this problem in regard to budgeting and propose a solution in terms of affordable housing.

Criminal Code June 14th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, after all this time, and all the debates about a woman's right to choose, and the securing of those rights under the law, here we are again talking about this issue.

Bill C-291 proposes changes to the Criminal Code that are unnecessary and will potentially jeopardize a woman's right to choose. The proposed amendment would have two charges laid against a person who kills a pregnant woman. This would, in effect, give legal rights to a fetus and change the definition of when a fetus becomes a person under the law. Currently, a fetus is not considered a person or a human being until actual live birth.

While I will not argue that harming or murdering a pregnant woman is a particularly abhorrent crime, this bill will in the end do more harm than good for women's rights in Canada.

Some may contend that this bill has nothing to do with abortion and is just about ensuring that someone who murders a pregnant woman will pay doubly for his or her crime. However, this bill is the thin edge of the wedge, as it will change the definition of when a fetus becomes a person. This change will have an effect on the legal status of abortions in Canada.

This is not something that needs to be opened up for debate once again. Canadian women fought long and hard for the right to safe, legal abortions in Canada. Women have been forced to put their private lives under scrutiny in the courts in the fight for the right to choose.

If we take away that right, women in desperate situations will have to take desperate measures, such as a young woman in 1989. While the federal government debated making non-emergency abortions illegal, this young woman bled to death after attempting to perform an abortion on herself.

This bill is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to make abortions illegal in Canada. I am extremely disappointed that the Conservative government would use the tragic murders of young women to push its abortion agenda.

This bill calls into question a judge's ability to take mitigating circumstances into account. Courts already take aggravating circumstances into account when deciding on sentences for crimes and would most likely consider injury to or death of an unborn child to be a serious aggravating circumstance.

Furthermore, two separate offences would not necessarily equal more jail time. In Canada, unlike the United States, multiple sentences are often served concurrently.

I bring up our neighbour to the south for a reason. As many of my colleagues well know, this type of bill has been passed in several states. This type of bill does have some impact there, as jail sentences are often served consecutively, increasing the time served.

I would also like to note that the United States is the same country where there is an active attempt to ban access to abortion for American women at both the state and the federal level. The supporters of this type of bill are the very same people actively working to ban abortions.

The evidence is clear. To date, the courts across Canada have blocked provincial attempts to substantially regulate the issue of abortion, finding that the pith and substance of such attempts is actually an attempt to recriminalize abortion through the back door.

And recriminalizing through the back door appears to be the intention of this bill. Bill C-291 puts the legal status of an unborn child into question. First, Bill C-291 does not refer to an unborn child in the same manner as other sections of the Criminal Code. Section 223 states that a child becomes a human being when it is born alive, and section 238 refers to “a child that has not become a human being”.

By contrast, Bill C-291 refers to “a child before or during its birth”. Not only is this terminology generally inconsistent with the approach taken to the fetus in the Criminal Code as a whole, but it is also inconsistent with terminology used in section 238 itself, the provision it is amending.

Bill C-291 essentially represents an indirect recognition of an unborn child as a human being. Such an initiative could have significant ramifications in a number of different areas of law.

Recognition of an unborn child as a human being indirectly leads to its recognition as a person with legal status. If an unborn child becomes defined as a person with rights, it opens a Pandora's box in the abortion debate.

Recognition of an unborn child as a person would also have a significant impact on tort law and other areas of the common law. Numerous cases have been commenced in the past on behalf of unborn children. They have not been successful because the law does not recognize the fetus as a person with legal status. Any change to this status in the criminal law could potentially have wide ranging implications in common law.

The proposed amendment will also have a significant impact on the mens rea or the intent of the accused. Mens rea includes issues such as the accused's perception of the risk or legal consequence of his or her actions.

The amendment states that it is not a defence that the unborn child is not a human being, that the accused did not know that the mother was pregnant, or that the accused did not mean to injure or cause the death of the unborn child.

Bill C-291 essentially eliminates the intention requirement, and the lack of intention defence appears contrary to the fundamental elements of criminal law.

There is a “thin skull rule” in criminal law which already states that a person who inflicts more than trivial bodily harm must take the victim as he or she found the victim; for example, with a medical condition that leads to more serious consequences to that bodily harm. In other words, judges already have the ability to consider a pregnancy.

Bill C-291 goes beyond this to create an entirely separate offence that eliminates the lack of intention defence inherent to all criminal law. While it may be argued that intent to injure the mother fulfills the mens rea requirement for this separate offence, this is a potentially tenuous link that would likely be challenged in the courts.

It is obvious why this bill was ruled non-votable. Not only is it a veiled attempted to make abortions illegal in Canada, but it would make a significant change to our legal system that is neither necessary nor welcome.

The Conservative Party continues to repeat that it is keeping its election promises, yet its members are bringing bills to the House that directly contradict that platform. I would like to quote directly from what the government has said:

A Conservative government will not initiate or support any legislation to regulate abortion.

This bill does exactly that. It initiates legislation that will essentially regulate abortion in Canada by changing the definition of the legal status of a fetus. It opens the door to making abortion illegal in Canada.

A woman's right to choose was hard fought, and it would be detrimental to Canadian women and an international embarrassment to remove that right. The Conservatives are not standing up for Canadian women by tabling bills that will impact on a woman's right to choose.

Taking away a woman's right to choose will not reduce violence and will not make this a better world. It will only remove her freedom. That simply is unacceptable.

Women's Shelters June 7th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the YWCA released a report on June 1 that outlines the dire need for a national shelter strategy. There are too many women living in abusive relationships and too many women dying at the hands of their spouses. The report found that 77% of women in shelters were in serious or extreme danger.

Because resources are not available, many women are faced with an appalling choice: living in poverty or staying in an abusive relationship. This is a choice that no one in this country should ever have to make.

The need for a national shelter program is critical. Ten per cent of women who seek shelter are turned away due to lack of space. This year, in Ontario alone, 12 women have died at the hands of their partners or spouses. Even one is too many.

Women across this great nation deserve better. They deserve basic human rights: safety and protection. No one should ever be denied this.

Budget Implementation Act, 2006 June 6th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I was quite interested in what the member for St. Catharines had to say. In all of his eulogizing about the great benefits this budget has for students, how can he explain that there was no money set aside for grants and that all of the budget in terms of students is directed at ways to help them increase their debt?

Could he also explain to me how $80 for a textbook will help when $80 is about the cost of one textbook and students require many textbooks?

Budget Implementation Act, 2006 June 6th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member about a portion of the budget bill that did not become apparent until it reached the finance committee.

The current system for mortgage insurance managed by CMHC allows families that cannot afford a down payment to secure money through CMHC. Likewise, community groups can access money that permits them to build and maintain supportive and special needs housing.

Would the hon. member comment on the Conservative plan to open up mortgage insurance to the private sector and jeopardize these families and community groups?

Criminal Code June 2nd, 2006

Mr. Speaker, that points back to my remarks in terms of the situations that keep women in prisons, such as illiteracy, sexual and physical abuse and unemployment. Those are the things that make women's lives very difficult and that clearly underscore their victimization.

We need to improve our literacy programs. We need to ensure that women who have been sexually abused receive the care, the support and the counselling they need. We also need to ensure they have the training to seek employment and look after their children.

I would come back to not just employment to provide for their children but equal employment that includes equal pay for equal work.

Criminal Code June 2nd, 2006

Mr. Speaker, absolutely, we should be fighting for safer streets and safer situations for women and children. However, with such punitive measures as the ones we saw from the Harris government, we will never be able to achieve those.

I find it very interesting, in talking about poverty, that it does relate to women. We all know that women earn two-thirds of what men earn and that many of them are in situations where they cannot look after their families and children. Just yesterday the committee on the status of women had a vote on pay equity, something that is vital to the future of women so they can provide for their families, pull their children out of poverty and not have to face violence and despair, but the Conservative members of the committee voted against tabling a bill on pay equity.

They speak out of one side of the mouth about safety for women and children and then vote against women in a committee that is supposed to stand up for the rights of women. It is despicable.