Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 146, Issue 57

Tuesday, October 6, 2009
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Human Resources and Skills Development

Assistance for Women

Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, my question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. The recent report, How Canada Performs: a Report Card on Canada, released by the Conference Board of Canada, addresses key areas in which Canada is losing the fight against poverty. The report presents alarming figures in key areas such as child working age and elderly poverty.

The nonpartisan organization Make Poverty History, which was founded in 2005 and is headquartered in Ottawa, also indicates that Canada is losing the fight against poverty. Its numbers indicate that, as of 2007, one sixth of Canadian children live in poverty. Canada’s child poverty rate of 15 per cent is three times that of Sweden, Norway and Finland. Each month, more than 770,000 people in Canada use food banks.

Honourable senators, sadly, 40 per cent of those relying on food banks are children. According to the figures presented by the Conference Board, the child poverty rate increased from 12.8 per cent in the mid-1990s to 15.l per cent in the mid-2000s. The working-age poverty rate rose from 9.4 per cent to 12.2 per cent over the same period, and the elderly poverty rate also increased from 2.9 to 5.9 per cent.

This report gave Canada a B grade and ranked us ninth out of seventeen countries, behind such countries as the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium.

Honourable senators, poverty is directly connected to persons obtaining jobs, and it is especially difficult for women. The third report of the government’s economic plan makes the point of highlighting many infrastructure jobs it created, together with upcoming jobs, which will be created disproportionately for men.

Currently, 7 per cent of construction workers are women; 7 per cent of those in trades and transportation are women; and only 22 per cent who are employed as engineers are women.

Some Hon. Senators: Shame.

Senator Jaffer: My question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate is, what is the government doing to help women obtain jobs at this time?


Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): I thank the honourable senator for her question; however, it would take up all of Question Period to respond to her question by itemizing all of the efforts the government is making to help Canadians obtain jobs during this economic downturn.

Honourable senators, with regard to poverty, the government is acting to support low-income families. Canada’s Economic Action Plan raises the income level at which the National Child Benefit supplement for low-income families and the Canada Child Tax Benefit are phased out. This initiative will provide a benefit of up to $436 for a low-income family with two children.

These new family tax benefits came into effect on July 1, as the honourable senator may know. We are effectively doubling the tax relief provided by the Working Income Tax Benefit, WITB, created in Budget 2007, to help low-income Canadians, both women and men, over the so-called “welfare wall” and into employment.

Our economic action plan also makes significant investments for social housing to support low-income Canadians, persons with disabilities and seniors. These investments are in addition to the support we provide to families with the introduction of the Universal Child Care Benefit in Budget 2006, and the Child Tax Credit, introduced in Budget 2007. Through the Universal Child Care Benefit, the government provides more than $2.4 billion each year to the benefit of over two million Canadian children.

Concerning employment for women, the government participates in many programs including the job-sharing program, which has been a tremendous success. That successful program has ensured that companies can keep their employees, both women and men, on the job. The program has created a cohesive atmosphere in many of these companies where people, for the first time in their lives, through job sharing, are beginning to care about each other and are helping each other through these difficult economic times.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Assistance for Refugee and Immigrant Women

Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer: I wish to thank the leader for her answer. I would ask that, perhaps, she could give a detailed written answer as to exactly what the government is doing for women.

I have another question. Sadly, when it comes to obtaining jobs, the situation for refugee and immigrant women is even worse. A Commitment to Training and Employment for Women, states that, six months after women have been in Canada, only 32 per cent of women are employed compared to 54 per cent of men. In 2001, immigrant women had an unemployment rate of 8.1 per cent compared to 7 per cent of Canadian-born women and 6.8 per cent of immigrant men.

What is the government doing, not for the family, but for refugee and immigrant women to help them obtain jobs?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): I thank the honourable senator for her question. It is interesting to look at the unemployment numbers as a result of the worldwide economic downturn. Although the crisis has affected both men and women, women, who often have jobs in the fields of teaching, nursing and health care, have, in some areas of the country, been less affected than some men employed in the manufacturing industries.

However, the honourable senator asked about immigrants, particularly immigrant women. I will be happy to provide Senator Jaffer with a long list of the programs the government has embarked upon help new Canadians who either have lost their jobs or are trying to enter the workforce. I would be happy to provide that in a long, written answer, as the honourable senator asked.