Jenny in the House: Where is the urgent action to address 30% increase in homelessness?

On April 11, 2017, Jenny rose to ask this question:

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to enter into this important debate.

What are we talking about? We are talking about women and equality among women, and we are talking about, in my view, feminism.

We have heard this over and over again from the Prime Minister. He declares himself as a feminist. When we make that declaration, what exactly does that mean? It is really important for us, and for the Prime Minister as well, to understand what those words mean.

Yes, he has taken some actions with respect to showcasing his cabinet and ensuring that women are 50% of the cabinet. That is an important move. However, coming out of that, what other actions must the government take to ensure that all women, not just women in this chamber or, more specific, women within the cabinet, but all women in every walk of life, have the opportunities offered to men. What action must we take to ensure there is equality for all women and opportunities to succeed.

Let me touch on a few of these things.

We know that poverty is a major challenge in our country. We know that one in 10 people in Canada live in poverty; that is people who live below the low-income cut-off level. Put in context for women, 1.5 million women in Canada live on a low income. What will the government do to address that very specific issue of poverty for Canadians in general and more specifically for women.

I have looked at the policies that the government has put in place and I am dismayed. Something that is very basic, something we should expect, not for 2015 but at all times, is that the women should be recognized and their pay ought to equal that of their male counterparts. However, that is not the case. As it stands right now, I believe women make 74¢ on the dollar that our male counterparts make for equal work of equal value. What is wrong with this picture? If the Prime Minister is a feminist, as he wants to proclaim himself to be, what will he do on that score?

A committee studied this issue and it made a recommendation, a bipartisan recommendation, that action should be taken with respect to that, and that action should take place not years down the road, but here and now. What does the government do? It defers action until 2018. It will take a look at legislation and maybe that will take place in 2019 or maybe after, whenever, whatever.

That is what is happening. Is that a true feminist agenda, that in 2017 we do not take action to ensure that all women, no matter if they are in this chamber or outside of the chamber, are valued in the same way for work of equal value and therefore work for equal pay to their male counterparts? I am so astounded that the government has chosen that path and that course.

Issues of equal value and equal pay have lifetime implications. It is not just the now in the moment. If we are working, that moment counts. However, it is cumulative for the rest of the life of that woman. That is what is at stake here.

Earlier my colleague talked about the issue of women retiring. The implication is that their access to a pension is reduced, if they even have access to a pension. As we now know, more and more people are working in precarious jobs and even if they do have access to a pension, it will be reduced. Why? Because women do not get work of equal value for equal pay.

Let us look at financial security for women. The real issue also impacting women is that a significant number of women are working and making minimum wage. That too is a major issue. Why? Because more and more women are working part time, or are on contract, and are not getting the security they need for full-time employment. The Minister of Finance says that precarious work is now a fact of life. The government accepts that as though it does not have some role to play to ensure people have access to well-paying jobs and to ensure we as a society do something about that.

Looking at some of the statistics, it is shocking to me. Some 37% of first nations women living off-reserve are living in poverty. If we look at on-reserve, that number is even more astounding. Some 50% of status first nations children live in poverty, which by extension means women are also living in poverty. Some 23% of Métis and Inuit women live in poverty. Twenty-eight per cent of visible minorities live in poverty. Thirty-three per cent of women with disabilities live in poverty. For immigrant women, people like my mom, 20% are living in poverty.

We see these statistics. What are we doing about it? As legislators, as parliamentarians, we have some ability and opportunity to make a change that will impact the lives of people for the better, yet we see very little action from the government side.

Related to income security is the issue around homelessness. I touched on that a bit earlier. Let us just put this in context. One of the statistics provided puts homeless Canadians at 235,000. There was just a homelessness count done in my community. It is up 30% in metro Vancouver. Some 3,600 people in the region are without a home. That includes about 1,000 who are in shelters, sleeping on doorways, in alleys, parks, or couch surfing. That is not an insignificant number. That number has gone up 30%. Women are among them.

I have done the homelessness count before, back in the day I was an activist in the community. We are seeing women on park benches, and women, including senior women, on the streets on their own.

What do we see in this year's budget to address homelessness? Zero. It is as though somehow we can wait and push that down the road. I wonder, if it were people here and their families were homeless, would they say that they did not need urgent action and that we could wait another year or two for the government to take action? I would argue they would not.

For the Prime Minister who says he is a feminist, let me say this to him. Do something about it. Match words with real action, so that the people out in the community, all women, from all walks of life, can benefit and be lifted up in society to take their place. That is what a feminist would do."

 

https://openparliament.ca/debates/2017/4/11/jenny-kwan-2/

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