Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to participate in today's important debate.
The women in my riding are worried because of the actions of this government. Unfortunately, some of our worst fears have been confirmed. This government wants to do away with the progress we have made on women's rights.
But it is not surprising that millions of dollars are being cut from essential programs and that Status of Women Canada is also at risk. It is not surprising because this government, which only recently came to power, has done everything it can to hit important programs and policies that help women and their families in Canada.
This is not surprising from a government that killed the meagre beginnings of a national child care program.
Year after year and election after election, we were promised that such a program would be created. In 1993, 1997 and 2000, the former Liberal governments promised us help and failed to deliver in spite of majority governments and surplus budgets. Finally, after enough pressure from more New Democrat MPs, we were seeing the beginning of such a national program.
It was not surprising that we would see a cut to women's programs from a Conservative government whose committee chairs are all men and whose caucus is made up of just 11% women MPs. I am proud to stand on this side of the House with strong women's voices in the NDP caucus, more than 40%, and we will do even better next time.
It is not surprising that these Conservatives would cut programs to some of the most vulnerable in our society. It is not surprising from a party that believes our foreign policy should move so drastically away from our proud peacekeeping tradition and move closer to that of George W. Bush.
This anti-insurrection war, with its search-and-destroy operations in southern Afghanistan, is a bad mission for Canada. There is no resolution in sight, and this mission is not bringing peace to Afghanistan.
It came as no surprise this week that the government announced millions of dollars in cuts to women's programs.
We have a Prime Minister who prefers war to dialogue and political solutions.
That is why I speak in favour of the motion presented today. The motion is important because of the work of Status of Women Canada.
Status of Women Canada promotes gender equality and the full participation of women in the economic, social, cultural, and political life of Canada. It focuses on improving women's economic autonomy and well-being, eliminating systemic violence against women and children, and advancing women's human rights. It works to provide Canadians with strengthened and more equitable public policy by conducting gender based analysis and promoting its application throughout the federal government. It supports the work of women's organizations and other equality-seeking organizations.
I agree with all of these goals and so do women I speak with in my riding. My question to government members is this: which of these goals do they not support? How many of these priorities are expendable to the Conservative caucus here in the House?
This government plans to cut 40% of Status of Women Canada's budget. These funds would have been used to develop policies, communicate with Canadians, and provide vital subsidies to volunteer organizations that lack funds.
Apparently, there is no money for Status of Women Canada and the important work it does, even though there is a $13 billion surplus and even though we are giving over a billion dollars in subsidies to the oil industry, which has more money than it knows what to do with. If this government really wanted to cut the fat, that is where it would start.
This motion is ironic, perhaps even cynical, because it was put forward by the Liberals. During their three majority mandates, the Liberals never kept their promises about daycare, and they categorically refused to legislate pay equity.
This motion comes from the same Liberal Party which, when in power, delivered the biggest cutbacks in history to transfer payments for health and education.
It left Canadians without a national housing program, the only industrialized country in the world without one; and of course this continues with the current government.
It reduced eligibility for employment insurance and saw child poverty rise under its watch.
Oh, yes, we know the Liberals were going to do it, but 13 years just was not enough, and if they had only had another chance. I do not buy that and Canadians did not buy it either.
That betrayal meant that we live in a country in which, despite its great wealth, despite its natural abundance in human capacity, we still see one in five Canadian women living in poverty. That is 2.8 million women who are struggling to get by and struggling to feed and clothe their children.
During a briefing for the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women, Status of Women Canada discussed two important areas in which Canada is not making enough progress.
Women are more likely to be poor because of a number of factors, including single parenthood, disabilities, immigration and racial discrimination. In Toronto, in my riding, the poorest people are often women. They show great courage in their daily struggle to survive.
Nevertheless, despite the important information that Status of Women Canada provided to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women, she said, and I quote, “Our government is not a government that keeps institutions alive just for the sake of keeping them alive”.
Perhaps it should not be surprising that an institution which is providing such sobering facts about women and poverty should be threatened with silence, this from a Prime Minister who made these cuts with no consultation and no debate and from a government that has cut the court challenges program that helps women and others, such as linguistic minorities, access funding to test equality cases.
As I stated in this House yesterday, what arrogance. It is this controlling nature that deeply disturbs us.
I urge this House to support the motion before us today, which rightfully chides the new government for failing to recognize the importance of women in Canadian society, in spite of the fact that it is presented by a party that so often failed Canadian women when it was in power.
Still, we must stand together today and stand up to a government that is rolling back the clock on women's equality even before we fully got there, a government that is clearly taking this country in the wrong direction.