Hon. Helena Guergis (Minister of State (Status of Women)):
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Let me first say that your voice is really working for you this morning. That's good.
I'd like to take this opportunity to give my congratulations on your recent election. I'd also like to congratulate all the members of Parliament on their recent appointments to the status of women committee. I want to commend you for the important work you have done on women's issues in the past and for the important work you are about to do.
It is a pleasure to be with you today.
As a founding member of the standing committee, I am in the unique position of having first served as an opposition member, then as a member of the government, and now as the Minister of State for Status of Women. Given the strong role I believe this committee can play in Parliament, I am particularly enjoying my new vantage point.
I am very pleased to be here today, to outline the Government of Canada's commitment to women's full participation in Canadian society, Status of Women Canada's recent accomplishments, and our future actions.
In October 2008 I was honoured to be appointed Minister of State (Status of Women). My distinguished predecessors all had multiple portfolios, and I have the distinction of being the first minister with sole responsibility for Status of Women Canada.
I welcome this opportunity to describe Status of Women Canada's accomplishments under this government--a government that has brought in the highest level of funding for Status of Women Canada in almost two decades. I belive this has happened because of the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the high priority placed on the plight of women.
I will outline our plans to further advance equality for women, address violence against women, promote women in leadership, and advance their economic security. We are undertaking these actions in order to bring about their full and equal participation in all aspects of Canadian life.
Our government is committed to promoting equality for women.
It is undeniable that the currently most pressing issue on the minds of Canadian women today is the economy, particularly because in times like these, lower-income Canadians are the most impacted and women are disproportionately represented in this category.
It is important that those of us whom the public have entrusted with managing their welfare act immediately and effectively to bring relief to all Canadians. This is why our government brought forth in Budget 2009 a multi-year action plan to stimulate economic growth, restore confidence, and support all Canadians—women and their families.
Immediately upon my appointment, I embarked upon a listening exercise to meet Canadians, especially Canadian women, to hear their concerns and seek their input and solutions to address the challenges that women are facing across the country. Since October, I have met with and spoken to Canadian women from coast to coast to coast: women with disabilities, senior women, aboriginal and immigrant women, single parents with dependent children, representatives of women's groups, businesswomen, and elected women from provincial, territorial, and municipal governments.
In my meetings with women in women's organizations, they expressed the need for tax cuts to inspire spending and asked for funding for roads, for bridges, for recreational centres to help spur economic growth, but they wanted to see actions that would help the vulnerable. They also expressed concerns that there be no cuts to women's programs such as they had faced in the 1990s.
I am proud to say that women believe our government has met their request.
Instead of reducing funding, as had been done in the past, we added an additional $10 million in ongoing funding to the budget of women's programs, bringing the total for Status of Women Canada's budget to $30 million annually. It is as a result of such funding levels that we are now in a position to extend assistance to more women's groups in communities than ever before.
Budget 2009 addresses all of these concerns by: making changes to EI, including a plan to extend maternal and parental benefits to self-employed Canadians, 47% of whom are women; there are measures to raise the child tax benefits; there is more funding for social housing; there are resources for northern communities, for aboriginal Canadians, including aboriginal women; and there are more resources for health care for women, including an additional $554 million through targeted support for the implementation of wait time guarantees and the HPV immunization programs to protect against cervical cancer.
As mothers and caregivers, aboriginal women will benefit from the additional $325 million to continue practical partnership approaches with aboriginal organizations and provincial and territorial governments on delivery of first nations and Inuit health programs and child and family services.
On issue after issue, our government has responded to the needs of women by developing supportive policies and measures to address critical challenges and by providing the resources to assist in dealing with them.
Our government will continue to create the conditions for women to succeed by encouraging women in leadership, promoting women's economic security and prosperity, and addressing the crucial issue of violence against women.
On behalf of the Government of Canada, I was pleased to sign in November Canada's commitment in support of the United Nations Development Fund campaign “Say No to Violence against Women”, an effort to expand awareness and political commitment worldwide to end violence.
I was also pleased to support the YWCA Red Rose campaign to end violence against women, a campaign that I know enjoys the support of all parties in Parliament. Women's organizations such as the YWCA, Women Building Futures, Equal Voice, Home Horizon, etc., are of immense importance in delivering services to women in communities all across Canada. That is why, over the last few weeks, my focus and my attention have been on the awarding of grants under a call for proposals from the Women's Community Fund and on the creation of new partnerships under the Women's Partnership Fund.
I have had the pleasure of personally announcing support for projects by women's groups in Toronto, Moncton, and Ottawa, meeting representatives of the organizations doing the work and some of the women who are benefiting from the initiatives.
I am pleased to report that I have approved a total of 71 projects valued at more than $11 million over three years under the Women's Community Fund.
I am confident that these initiatives will advance equality for women and their full participation in the economic, social, and democratic life of Canada. These projects will yield concrete results for Canadian women and girls, including helping them to find jobs and secure their economic security and prosperity, increasing financial literacy skills, supporting them in leaving the sex trade and leaving situations involving violence and abuse, building confidence in young girls to take on leadership roles, and expanding opportunities for employment in the construction sector as infrastructure investments move forward through our Women Building Futures initiative.
Through the Women's Partnership Fund we have been successful in creating partnerships and leveraging financial and in-kind contributions with partners across society that will support women's leadership in the advanced science and technology sectors; will open doors to corporate markets for women ready to seize new business opportunity and employment opportunities through education, training, coaching and mentoring programs; and will support young girls' leadership development and their engagement in civic and political life.
Our government recognizes that women's contributions to the economy are substantial and they are growing rapidly. Women now make up approximately half of the employed workforce in Canada. They establish businesses at twice the rate of men. They excel in previously male-dominated careers and courses of study. They wield significant power in the economies of Canada and in the world.
In the coming months Status of Women Canada will implement a number of priorities involving strategic policy analysis, planning, and development among other initiatives, developing our action plan, and strengthening gender-based analysis.
Since 2006 our government has worked hard to address the challenges facing the full diversity of Canadian women to promote the conditions for their success. Our reforms have allowed more women's groups to access government assistance and in the process reach over 100,000 more women directly.
As a country we have a foundation upon which we can build a stronger and more prosperous future for all Canadians, women and men alike, and we know that more women will prosper. The more that they do the more Canada will prosper.
Hon. Anita Neville:
Thank you, Minister, for appearing here today and thank you for agreeing to meet with me prior to this, as well as Ms. Beckton. I appreciated the opportunities to meet with both of you before this.
I only have seven minutes, and I probably have seventy minutes' worth of questions, so I'm going to try to ask some questions. You raised a number of interesting comments in your remarks.
My first question we raised it earlier with Ms. Beckton. I'm interested in knowing what kind of gender-based analysis was done of the budget, and if one was done, whether we could have it. That would be my first question.
My second question relates to the criteria of the various funds. When we met with Ms. Beckton, I think it was on the community fund particularly that she indicated that the criteria for each proposal call have changed, nuanced somewhat. I don't know whether it's the minister's directive, whether it's advice from whom, but I'm interested in knowing what the changes are. I had asked for them; I haven't received them yet. How have the different criteria for each proposal call changed?
In your comments you talked about leadership. You talked about jobs, economic security. You talked about violence against women. One of the questions I asked Ms. Beckton when we met was whether we could have a list of those projects that were denied funding, and I was told there are privacy law concerns about that.
I am interested in getting a list of those that were granted funding, but I have received a number of representations from people who have been denied funding. I want to ask specifically about two at the moment, and I suspect my colleagues may have others.
My first one is particularly related to the Assembly of First Nations. They have put in a number of requests for funding, one under the community and partnership fund, one for the Aboriginal Women's Summit. It was submitted in December 2007. Another one is called “Restoring Balance”, and I have the brief description on the culturally relevant, gender-based analysis, capacity-building, which certainly ties in with your comments.
Another one is entitled “Women's Wisdom and Well-Being in a First Nations Context: Walking the Way of our Ancestors”, which also speaks to leadership issues, and another one that was recently submitted is “Women's Wisdom and Well-Being in a First Nations Context”, which also speaks to both leadership and health, none of which have received a response.
I'm trying to be quick so I can get a response from you.
The one that's giving me the greatest concern is CAIFT. On December 2 they submitted a proposal to improve the representation of women in predominantly male sectors of employment in Quebec and to optimize the potential of the female workforce in a sustainable manner to help women achieve better economic security.
I'm advised that the negotiations were going on very well. They had every expectation that they would have a partner, in that they met the program requirements in every regard--economic prosperity, women's leadership. When they put out a press release criticizing the pay equity initiative brought in in the economic stimulus, they abruptly had a response indicating that their project would not be dealt with as initially expected and that there was no more money.
I'm advised that both the organization and the officer in charge, who has now left the organization, were in shock.
It's a lot of questions, and there's not a lot of time, but I'd appreciate whatever answers you could give me in the time.
Ms. Johanne Deschamps (Laurentides—Labelle, BQ):
Thank you, Madam Chair.
First, I would like to thank the minister and Ms. Beckton for being here today.
Madam Minister, thank you for having accepted our invitation and for responding to it so quickly. We are going to enjoy this little chat. I am more comfortable with social, community and people issues than with figures and accounting. As I listened to your presentation, I felt all the hope and the optimism in your words. Everyone is fine, everyone is nice, everything is going very well here in Canada. I would love to be able to have that same feeling, but I find it difficult. I would love for you to look me in the eye and explain that it is so, especially at the moment, when a serious crisis is affecting not only Canada but the entire world. Even before the crisis, in my opinion, women had always suffered more discrimination in the programs available to them. The fact is that more women than men will be affected by this crisis. Could you tell me how you see the current crisis? What leads you to say that there is equality between the sexes? That is your position; it is your wish. Personally, I do not see the day when what you are suggesting to us today is going to happen.
Please, make your best case and try to convince me. Women are affected, more and more so. Take a specific example: Employment Insurance. You may be providing unemployed men and women with five more weeks, but if they are not eligible to start with, they are no better off. We know that only 33% of women are eligible for the current program, as opposed to 44% of men. The five weeks may be meant as a present, but what good is it for women if they are not eligible? I find that the whole situation is difficult, but it is more difficult for women.
You travelled around meeting women's groups. Tell me specifically what their concerns were. What did they tell you?
Hon. Helena Guergis:
Thank you very much. I appreciate your question, and I appreciate your taking the time to meet with me last week and hope that we can do that on a regular basis.
I'm not going to sit here and try to suggest that we don't have a long way to go. Women have come a long way, but we have a long way to go, and I think the fact that the Prime Minister has put a minister solely dedicated to Status of Women Canada is a clear indication that we know that we still have more work to do, and that's the approach we're taking.
With respect to EI, I'm not the best person to answer that question for you, because I'm not the lead minister, and I think you understand that, but some of the changes they asked me for when I went through some of my consultations were that they wanted to see more opportunities for training. Minister Finley has answered many times in the House that there will be an increase in training, and not just for those who are on employment insurance. And I urge you, because you are masters of your own destiny around this table, to have Minister Finley come here to explain in more detail to you what are some of those changes and to explain to you where the training opportunities will be.
That being said, there are a number of groups and organizations we are funding that are taking women through these kinds of opportunities. I mentioned one of them, Building Futures, an incredible program. I toured the facility where they are training women in non-traditional roles, as heavy equipment operators, welders, etc. But some of the women who are coming into this program have come through some extremely difficult situations in their lives. On the premises, there are apartments and rooms for them. They live there while they go through their training, because if you want to take the training, often you can't afford to take it and pay for your home and where you need to live at the same time. We recognize that, so some of the programs we are funding are doing these kinds of things and addressing these issues on the ground with concrete action where women are concerned. This is one of the areas.
In Budget 2009, with respect to small-business women, about whom I spoke in great detail when commenting that 47% of small businesses are now run by women.... The business women said they wanted to have access to maternity benefits, and I think the commitment to have a panel and an in-depth conversation about that will be helpful. I urge the committee members to be a part of that process. I've heard this need not only in the last few months, but also going back to when I owned my own small business back in early 1990s.
I don't believe I've answered every one of your questions, but is there another comment that you have for me?
Hon. Helena Guergis:
Let me do the best I can on that.
A lot of the changes you can read in the department report. I know it's been tabled, and if you haven't had an opportunity to have a look at it, I would encourage you to, because there is a lot of good news within that departmental review.
Of course, in Budget 2007 we did announce an additional $10 million a year for Status of Women Canada, so now we do have a higher level of funding.
I talked earlier about the increase in the number of organizations receiving money. It's allowed us to widen our reach across the country. It's an open and competitive funding program now, with a significant uptick in the number of organizations applying for funding. Of the 69% I noted in saying that we've seen an increase in the number of organizations, 41% of those are actually new first-time people coming in and receiving funding and opportunities. Some of the organizations have been quoted in the paper saying they had projects sitting on their desks for ten years and it was under the leadership of this government that they were finally given the resources to deliver them, implement them, and see some real action on the ground.
I hear that a lot, and I think that's very positive. Because we did a lot of research for a lot of years—a lot of studies telling us what we needed to do, what was wrong—our government has taken the very positive approach of giving the resources to some of these organizations who said “I know what to do; just give me the tools to be able to deliver this directly to women on the ground”. So we are seeing that.
For 2007 and 2008, there were 181 new projects funded. And we're seeing beyond just simply funding more projects. The performance report talked about the results these programs are getting. Clare could speak in more detail to some of those results and the measurements we use to see those results.
On the community fund and the partnership fund, the community fund is more of a granting side, where we've seen the funding substantially increase. But then we have the partnership fund, where we work with community organizations and find donations. And sometimes provincial levels of government are a part of that process, where we develop a partnership and it can go for two and three years to help an organization develop a program, but at the same time with the hopes that maybe it could be something that could be taken up by the province at a later date if it were viewed as somewhat of a pilot project.
And I'm happy to provide the committee with a list of organizations that have received funding. Perhaps the committee could sit at another time and we could walk you through some of the specific projects that have received funding: what they were attempting to do, what they have achieved, and the time they have been operating. I know that many of you around the table would probably be very interested to see some of those results.
Mrs. Patricia Davidson (Sarnia—Lambton, CPC):
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Minister, thank you very much for appearing here this morning. We certainly appreciate the perspective that, as a former member of this committee, you bring to this portfolio. I think that can only be a plus for all of us. You've seen the struggles we've had in some instances in trying to move the issues forward, so hopefully we will see a bit more sympathy and support because of that.
I know you told us you had done community consultations. I'm guessing it was across the country—I'm not really sure—but maybe you could comment on that a little bit, too.
Could you tell us some of the things you heard when you were out there and how we can address them? I know we've talked a bit about employment insurance and, rightly so, you have said you're not the minister responsible for that. But I know that the minister who is has told us that 80% of the people who pay into that insurance fund are able to collect from it. So, I mean, that leaves 20%. And I think we all know that there are some of us who pay into it who can never collect, such as all of us sitting at this table. So you know, there is a reason why there is a 20% there.
I know there have been changes too, that the eligibility criteria for the number of weeks can change, as well, because of area issues and unemployment issues.
Can you comment on any of those things, as to how they might impact women, and just some of the issues you've talked about with women, with economic security and prosperity and what Status of Women Canada might be doing to encourage that?
Hon. Helena Guergis:
There were a lot of questions in there, and I'm trying to figure out which one I want to go with first.
With respect to the day care issue, I think you understand that it is not federal jurisdiction, it is provincial jurisdiction. Some of the areas you have touched on are not my areas as a lead minister. I am not the lead minister for them.
But back to the action plan. My responsibility is to work with all of my senior colleagues to develop an action plan, a whole-of-government approach, and to work with them to establish what in their departments we can do that can be a part of an action for advancing the equality of women.
There are two things on this. I came into this as the sole minister, and there's a minimal amount of work that's been done on the action plan. There's good and bad in that. I think that it's good because it gives me an opportunity to dedicate myself to developing an action plan and taking the time I need so that I can make my mark on it, so that I can consult with more women, which I intend to do. To Irene's point, there have been some consultations, but they are by no means even close to being where I would like it to be in order to come up with the plan that I want.
I would like to come back to this committee and actually have you be a part of the facilitation process that I have almost completed developing, and I want to talk about where we want to see women in five, ten, fifteen years. Where do we want to see Status of Women Canada in that same time? What is our vision, and what is it that we're looking for to ensure that we can achieve that equality for women? To Johanne's point, we don't have it the way we should have it right now, and we need to work harder and we need to develop a concrete action plan that we can point to, that we can measure to ensure that it's accountable, that we're actually seeing some results on the ground.
I will be coming back. I intend on being here as often as you need me. There's an open door policy that we can engage in a regular conversation with all of us at the table to ensure that we can develop this action plan together, in consultation with all of the women stakeholders groups that we have.
Hon. Helena Guergis:
I keep getting caught on my earring.
There's Equal Voice. I know a number of you were at the announcement just last week that we have developed a partnership, with $1.2 million, to work with Equal Voice, which is an organization that wants to see more women elected. It's a multi-partisan approach with all levels of government, working to see more women elected and working with young girls at that early age where they're making decisions on what direction they may want to head in their lives. There's a mentorship side to it, and I'm very proud of it. I know that Equal Voice will be working with all of my colleagues around this table, because that's their approach: to have a speaker series and include women from all political stripes to promote that opportunity.
For our part as a government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has in fact appointed the highest number of women to cabinet in Canada's history. I think that needs to be recognized. I'm really honoured and proud to be working with a significant number of talented women from all parties in the House of Commons. I think that having 69 members there is impressive, but we have still a long way to go. I know that each of us in our own individual capacity works within our own political affiliation and party to see that we support there being more women sitting with us in the House.
There's a northern component with the Equal Voice announcement, which is something that is new as well, to work up into the north and with the francophone community to reach out to girls from across the country to give them more opportunities.
Right here in Ottawa, there's a “City For All Women” initiative in collaboration with the Lowertown Community Resource Centre. It has received a grant as well, to address equity and inclusion in the municipal decision-making process. It's a very interesting and exciting one that wants to empower and promote equity and inclusion while recognizing that there's diversity among women. This is something I thought was important: including aboriginals, women with disabilities, the visible minorities, immigrants, and marginalized groups. That program is one of the things we're doing through Status of Women Canada.
In Thunder Bay, there's the Volunteer Action Centre of Thunder Bay. It received a grant for aboriginal women and volunteer initiatives throughout the Thunder Bay area, to give participants some work experience and build a resume by volunteering at local non-profit organizations, and to see them develop leadership skills and move into some of those positions on their own as they gain more experience and more confidence.
That's just a bit of some of the things we're trying to do. We have a great deal more, though.
Ms. Nicole Demers:
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you for being here, Ms. Beckton. I will not get into long thank you's, because we do not have much time.
Madam Minister, in your speech, I was very impressed when you talked about the opportunities provided to women in construction. As my colleague Ms. Neville said earlier, the Conseil d'intervention pour l’accès des femmes au travail submitted a proposal to Status of Women Canada that met the criteria perfectly and that would have been very effective for women wanting to work in non-traditional trades in Quebec. The proposal had previously almost been accepted by Status of Women Canada, but then it was rejected. I would like you to take another look at it, Madam Minister.
I would also like to ask if you are familiar with the analysis of gender budgeting published by the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action.
I also have a question about social concerns. Traditionally, in recent years—except the last two—we were invited, by the minister or by the person representing the status of women in cabinet, to take part in an important United Nations conference on what had been done for women in the past year. Do you intend to re-establish this tradition and invite members of the committee to take part in that conference?
I know that you are not the person responsible for pay equity. I also know that you are not the person responsible for Employment Insurance and health. However, I do expect that the Minister of State for the Status of Women has the leadership required to influence her cabinet colleagues and to take concrete action on the advancement of women in all areas. Even if you are not the person responsible, you are an influential woman capable of making your colleagues understand how important these matters are.
For example, Gardasil worries me greatly. We are getting reports from the United States that are more and more troubling. Girls get very sick after receiving that vaccine. I trust you, Madam Minister. As Minister of State for the Status of Women, you will provide the leadership that has been missing until now, so that the status of women will be markedly improved.
Hon. Helena Guergis:
On the non-traditional trades, I would really love to see the committee, if it has the time, do some more significant work on that, on the jurisdictional responsibilities and where the federal government can play more of a role. If you have some recommendations, I would appreciate that.
On the UN conference, I have requested an agenda on that. I have also requested that we have a leaner team, lean and mean is what I'm calling it, and we have had in the past. But with respect to who will be attending with me in terms of political representation, it will be up to the whips to make that decision. So that conversation will be going on as to who will, through your whip.
On pay equity, EI, all the women's issues, rest assured I am extremely vocal at the table in my role. I have what I call a little big stick now around the table when I'm talking with my colleagues.
On pay equity, I have relayed what I have heard, and I do support the initiatives that Minister Toews is taking, because it does reflect what I have heard from the women I have spoken with.
With respect to EI, some women's organizations have written to me praising the budget, saying it is in the best interests, it will help small-business women weather these tough economic times and that they appreciate the extension of five weeks, they like the fact that there are going to be more training opportunities. So of course there are differing opinions out there. We're not always going to address everybody's issue, but I do support the initiatives we are going forward with. I think they are reflective of what I have heard in my consultations, and I support them.