In Debate: on the Throne Speech part 1

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Burnaby—Douglas.

On March 3, the country listened to a less than inspiring Speech from the Throne. The throne speech was a prelude to yet another disappointing document, the budget of the Conservative government, a budget that promised little to hard-working Canadians and even less to women.

We now have an additional $6 billion in corporate tax cuts that benefit the country's wealthiest, mostly men in profitable corporations.

The government itself has admitted that corporate income tax cuts are not effective in the promotion of overall economic growth and yet it is spending $10.1 billion to widen the gender gap and drive up poverty rates among women and single parents.

The government continues to show its disdain for women with a $9.6 billion in infrastructure spending that leaves women out completely. No gender equity requirements have been introduced in any of these infrastructure spending projects and social infrastructure is entirely missing.

The Conservatives talk a good game by reducing the lowest income tax rate from 16% to 15%, but at least 40.4% of women receive no benefit from any of these cuts because their incomes are too low to qualify.

Budget 2010 does nothing to expand employment insurance and Canadian women bear the brunt of this. Women in this country will continue to struggle to qualify for EI. Recent studies suggest that right now only one-third of Canadian women will benefit from EI enhancements.

The Conservative government has no plan to assist the 810,000 Canadians laid off during the recession and clearly no plan to assist the 70% of women in part-time or seasonal jobs who pay into EI but who are unable to receive benefits when they are laid off.

The government continues to betray the women of Canada who fought long and hard to achieve equal pay for work of equal value. Budget 2010 offered nothing to move pay equity forward. The government has upheld the regressive changes it made in budget 2009, regressive changes shamefully supported by the Liberals which transformed pay equity in the public service from a right to a bargaining chip to be decided upon during labour negotiations.

Once again the Conservative government has made it clear that women and children of this country are its last priority. The Speech from the Throne promised to strengthen the universal care benefit for sole support single parent families, but budget 2010 reveals that this was purely rhetorical. The $3.25 a week will not even buy a happy meal let alone child care.

If the government was truly committed to making Canada the best place for families, as the throne speech claims, it would invest in a quality universal, accessible national child care plan, not just toss change at Canadian parents who are in the lowest income brackets.

Canadian families, and particularly Canadian women, need a national day care plan to ensure their economic security. Yet time and again, the government and its predecessor have abandoned single parent families and women with young children with insulting measures like the $168-a-year for so-called strengthened child care.

It is not just single parent families who suffer. The poverty rate for senior women in Canada is almost double that of senior men. In the throne speech the government promised to protect transfer funding for pensions, yet budget 2010 offers mere consultations. It does nothing to increase the guaranteed income supplement above the low income cut-off and therefore nothing to help lift a disproportionate number of senior women out of poverty.

Both the throne speech and the budget seemed encouraging with regard to the government's commitment to focus on missing and murdered aboriginal women with a pledge of $10 million to Sisters in Spirit, but there is only vague information about how that funding will be distributed or even when it will be available. It is paramount that this funding be directed to the organizations of aboriginal women who are experts on this issue, who have already done the research and who know where the funding will have its biggest impact.

The Speech from the Throne cites the government's commitment to greater investment in maternal and child health in developing countries. I confess I am speechless over the hypocrisy of this claim from the same government that slashed funding to the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, KAIROS and UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

How can a government that claims to value the health of women and children in developing countries cut funding to these key organizations which are mandated to protect women from rape as a weapon of war; help victims of violence, predominantly women in developing countries; escort child refugees to safety; and protect the human rights of the most vulnerable?

Those are mean-spirited and ideological cuts that undermine the justice and relief work that KAIROS, CFSH and UNRWA bring to the very people the government says that it wants to help. It is time for the government to do more than make empty promises. It must do more than mention the G8 maternal and child health project.

In Malawi, 14 women a day die in childbirth. In India, a woman dies every five minutes as a result of pregnancy or birth-related complications. Both the throne speech and budget 2010 cite maternal and child health around the world as a priority, yet no funding for this initiative is indicated in either. It is time for the government to live up to its human rights commitments on the global stage.

Women and children around the world deserve more from Canada and so do the women of this country. Older women, women living alone and single mothers are the Canadians most likely to have to choose between food, heat and housing and yet budget 2010 offers nothing for housing. In fact, over the next three years, the government will take $300 million from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

This behaviour continues to entrench the poverty of Canadian women. The priorities outlined in both the throne speech and budget 2010 are an insult to 52% of Canada's population. Once again, the Conservative government has failed women.

Positive action for women can be achieved. New Democrats have made fairness for women our policy. Part of that plan includes making equal pay the law. Canada needs proactive pay equity legislation that would compel employers to ensure that all employees are getting equal pay for work of equal value. The NDP plan would make Canada a leader in gender equality with the implementation of the recommendations of the 2004 pay equity task force and the introduction of proactive federal pay equity legislation.

New Democrats would increase access to employment insurance. The NDP plan to ensure that access to EI includes an overhaul of the legislation governing employment benefits. In the 40th Parliament, NDP members have introduced 12 private member's bills to improve access to this vital income support. Establishing a $12 minimum wage is also crucial. Two-thirds of minimum wage workers over the age of 15 are women and many of these women are living well below the poverty line.

Clearly, the federal government has a role to play in setting fair pay to ensure the welfare of all hard-working Canadians and their families. The NDP has tabled a bill to reinstate the federal minimum wage at $12 an hour, the minimum wage that was scrapped by the previous Liberal government.

Creating a national child care program is at the centre of economic security for all Canadian families. The House should pass the NDP's national child care act and establish a network of high quality, licensed, not-for-profit child care spaces. The creation of new, reliable child care spaces would mean that women are no longer forced to choose between work and family.

Improving parental and maternity benefits is another part of the NDP plan. One in every three mothers lacks access to maternity and parental benefits under the employment insurance program. Women are paying an economic penalty for having children.

New Democrats are also calling for the creation of a pension guarantee fund, which will ensure that Canadian workers actually receive the retirement benefits they have earned, even if their employers go out of business. We support the augmentation of the guaranteed income supplement, as well as a doubling of the basic CPP benefit.

This side of the House supports funding to global maternal and child health initiatives and the G8 project. However, our party also supports funding for advocacy groups that work to end the inequalities suffered by Canadian women and groups who work to curb violence against women and improve the lives of the Canadian children we see living in poverty.

New Democrats believe that funding cuts to KAIROS, the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health and UNRWA are misguided and immoral. We call for a full restoration of this funding. We strongly believe in work to establish ecological and economic justice that promotes and enhances human rights around the world.

The NDP prioritizes affordable housing as a critical and positive policy that helps all Canadians. We have tabled bills that include the initiative to enshrine the right to safe, affordable housing into law and exempt affordable rental and non-profit housing from the GST.

We can achieve equality for women in Canada and we can support families but we lack the political will in the House. The past Liberal government stalled and the Conservatives have ignored problems and chosen not to promote equality. Women come last and profitable corporations come first with the members across the way.