In Debate: Speaking out against Liberal hypocrisy

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

Madam Speaker, on March 4, the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore instructed his party to vote to end pay equity in our country. He and his party handed a death sentence to pay equity in Canada. The day before the vote, he stood outside these chambers and he said to the press, in reference to pay equity, “We have made it clear that we are not pursing an amendment strategy...Sometimes we have to hold our nose”. The member abandoned women, abandoned equality and he voted to dismantle pay equity in Canada.

Now just a few scant months later, he has introduced a private member's bill in support of something he and his party voted to eliminate.

The member across knows very well that this bill, even if supported by all opposition members and passed in the House, will never see royal assent and become law. The member knows full well that he had his opportunity to save pay equity last spring and he failed.

Women have fought long and hard for the right to equal pay for work of equal value. By he and his party standing up in the House and voting in favour of Bill C-10, they betrayed women all across the country and made it clear that women's equality meant absolutely nothing to the Liberal members of this place.

I confess, I find the bill coming from the Liberal Party to be hypocritical. The Liberals had 13 years of majority government to promote stable economic security for women. They had 13 years of majority government to implement progressive pay equity legislation. What did they do? They cut spending to Status of Women Canada and failed to implement any of the 113 recommendations from the pay equity task force.

The Conservative members of the House have no intention of addressing inequality between the sexes in our country. This has been proven by their reaction to pay equity, changes made to Status of Women, the elimination of the court challenges program, the dismantling of the gun registry and more. They have no intention of addressing inequality any more than their Liberal predecessors.

The Conservatives, with support from the Liberals, are taking Canadians back 25 years instead of moving Canada forward.

Now it is clear to me why the Conservative Party eliminated pay equity last spring. In 1998 the now Prime Minister described our current pay equity laws in the following words:

For taxpayers, however, it's a rip-off. And it has nothing to do with gender. Both men and women taxpayers will pay additional money to both men and women in the civil service.

That's why the federal government should scrap its ridiculous pay equity law.

He also pointed to specific flaws in the current legislation:

Now “pay equity” has everything to do with pay and nothing to do with equity. It's based on the vague notion of “equal pay for work of equal value,” which is not the same as equal pay for the same job.

Just to be clear. In 1998 the member who is now our Prime Minister did not and still does not believe in pay equity at all.

What is not clear to me is why the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore and his party, all of whom voted to eliminate pay equity, are suddenly so interested in introducing a pay equity bill for consideration in this Parliament.

I want to reiterate. The fact remains that while Liberals were in power, women's rights, economic security and pay equity were stalled. They failed to act as an effective government, and now they are failing to act as an effective opposition.

In March 1997 the Liberal then secretary of state for status of women announced the elimination of program funding for women's organizations starting in the 1998-99 fiscal year. From that point on, moneys from Status of Women Canada were delivered on a project by project basis within the priority areas set out each year by SWC. This eliminated any long term or core funding for women's groups. Overall, program funding for women's organizations was cut by more than 25% over the 1990s.

The Liberal government also disbanded the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, a semi-independent agency, which conducted research on a wide range of issues as they affect women.

The previous government then merged the body that provided funding to women's organizations, the women's programs, into Status of Women Canada and then eliminated the Canadian Labour Force Development Board, which had given organizations of women, people of colour and people with disabilities a small voice in training policy. Women's equality-seeking groups were dealt blow after blow.

Economic security for women hinges on key things, such as access to child care and access to affordable housing and the ability to earn a decent living. Both Liberal and Conservative governments have failed to address the need for affordable housing in Canada. The first step toward economic security for any person is a safe place to live.

Despite this, the Liberals ended the federal role in social housing in 1996. Both Liberal and Conservative governments have also failed to create affordable child care in this country. The Conservatives touted taxable money for child care and have failed to create a single child care space in Canada.

In 1993, the Liberals promised to create 150,000 new child care spaces, but after 12 years and three majority governments, they created none.

Today a woman still earns only 72.5¢ for every dollar a man earns. Because pay inequity contributes to poverty it has devastating health and social consequences for children. Pay inequity is also related to economic dependence, which can affect the ability of a woman to leave an abusive relationship. The choice between abuse and poverty is one that no person should ever have to make.

It is also true that the women bringing home lower paycheques also receive lower retirement incomes. Too often senior women live hand-to-mouth until the end of their lives.

I am not going to stand here and just point out how both the Liberals and Conservatives have failed women in Canada; it could take up several speaking spots to do that. I would prefer to show fellow members of the House that positive action for women can be achieved.

New Democrats have released a fairness for women action plan. Part of that plan includes making equal pay for work of equal value the law. Canada needs proactive pay equity legislation that would compel all employers to ensure that all employees are getting equal pay for work of equal value. The NDP plan to make Canada a leader in gender equality has at its core the implementation of the pay equity task force and the introduction of proactive federal pay equity legislation in particular.

New Democrats would increase access to employment insurance. Only one in three unemployed women collects employment insurance benefits. The NDP plan to ensure access to EI includes an overhaul of the legislation governing employment benefits. In the 40th Parliament, the NDP introduced 12 private members' bills to improve access to this vital income support.

Establishing a $12 minimum wage is crucial. Two-thirds of minimum wage workers over the age of 15 are women. Many minimum wage earning 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 was scrapped by the Liberals.

Creating a national child care program is also at the centre of family security. The House should pass the NDP national child care act and establish a network of high quality, licensed, not-for-profit child care spaces. The creation of new and reliable child care spaces would mean that women were 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 Act. Women are paying an economic penalty for having children. Our plan calls for a dramatic overhaul of maternity and parental leave programs.

We can achieve equality for women in Canada; what we lack is political will. Past Liberal governments stalled and failed to act. Conservative governments have ignored problems and chosen not to promote equality. Women come last and profitable corporations are first for the members across the aisle. They have chosen tax cuts instead of equity for women.

We need a real commitment from this House to act and create the legislation needed to achieve equality for women in Canada.

We cannot trust the words of the leader of the Liberal Party any more than we can support the activities of the Conservatives.

In 2006, a former Liberal staffer told the nation that the last minute Kelowna accord and child care provisions were a Liberal government deathbed repentance. Canadians turfed them out because they did not keep their promises then. Why on earth would we believe them now? Canadians certainly do not believe them now.