May 8, 2015

LIB

Kirsty Duncan

Liberal

Ms. Kirsty Duncan

Mr. Speaker, I will start by saying that I do not make accusations. This is an extremely carefully researched speech.

In this country, all people should be treated equally. The member has given some examples of what he says his government has done.

What has not been done is tackling pay equity. Women in this country have been fighting for pay equity for 100 years. It is not okay that women in Canada earn 81¢ for every dollar a man earns. This hurts women with their paycheques every month and every year. It hurts their families, if they have families. It hurts what women can put away for a pension. It hurts our economy.

When it comes to ending violence against women, the numbers have not gone down. Organizations across this country are calling for a national action plan to end the violence. It is time to stop talking about it. We have to do it. We need a national action plan to end the violence. We need a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
NDP

Philip Toone

New Democratic Party

Mr. Philip Toone (Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, there was a lot of material for careful reflection in the comments of my colleague from the third party. However, I will bring the topic back to the motion in front of us.

The member for Sarnia—Lambton, the previous Conservative speaker, mentioned over and over again that her government is doing a lot for women, including measures that have to do with what the Conservatives call the family tax cut but what in fact most people are calling income splitting. We know from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that income splitting will only benefit the richest 15% of Canadians.

We know that single-parent families are four times more likely to be poor than other families in this country. When the member for Sarnia—Lambton said that a lot of Canadians are no longer on the tax roles, I question whether those families are in fact the poorer families who simply do not make enough money to be at the level where they could be taxed because they have insufficient annual income.

I would like to ask the member, when it comes to unfair, regressive tax measures where we have direct consumer taxes on feminine hygiene products, where these families have insufficient funds to afford a quality of life that most Canadians expect, how in the world will a direct tax that has not been touched by the government—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
CPC

Bruce Stanton

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton)

Order.

The hon. member for Etobicoke North.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
LIB

Kirsty Duncan

Liberal

Ms. Kirsty Duncan

Mr. Speaker, I will just start by talking about gender-based analysis, and then I will explain what I have done regarding income splitting.

Failure to consider the disparate impacts of policies on men and women can have profoundly negative results. For example, cardiovascular disease, which is the number one killer of women, was traditionally considered a man's disease. As a result, research focused on middle-aged men and ignored the fact that some women with heart disease might have different symptoms.

Because the Parliamentary Budget Officer has raised concerns, as have other groups, about what would be the effect of income splitting, I wrote to the Minister of Finance and asked what gender-based analysis plus has been done with respect to income splitting. I am awaiting those answers.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
LIB

Irwin Cotler

Liberal

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague from Etobicoke North for her very carefully researched and evidence-based policy submission.

I want to ask the member, as someone who has also been engaged in protecting against violence against women in armed conflict and internationally, whether she believes that a national plan of action with regard to protecting against violence against women should include reference to protection against international violence against women.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
LIB

Kirsty Duncan

Liberal

Ms. Kirsty Duncan

Mr. Speaker, I do want to recognize all the work my hon. colleague and friend does on human rights, and what he does to fight for women in conflict around the world.

We absolutely must include women in conflict in fragile states, in areas for example like the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Just yesterday there was a new report on Iraq and Syria talking about sexual violence in those two countries. It is important that we do support women internationally and work to end the violence.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
NDP

Niki Ashton

New Democratic Party

Ms. Niki Ashton (Churchill, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

Never before has the old feminist adage been more appropriate. In the case of today's opposition day motion, the political is very, very personal. Almost all women, and even a few men, are united in menstruation for most of their lives. The tampon tax has brought Canadians together, because in a country where the gender pay gap is twice the global average, our bodies deserve a tax break.

More than 85,000 Canadians have signed a petition calling on the federal government to stop charging HST and GST on menstruation products. I am very proud to be joining with them today in supporting my colleague from London—Fanshawe in calling on the government to classify menstrual products as an essential item, because guess what? They are. I am pretty sure that if men menstruated, they would never have been taxing tampons in the first place.

The remarkable thing about this motion is it is living proof of the political strength and savvy of grassroots feminist activism. This campaign began on the ground, or I should say online. I am consistently impressed and inspired by how young activists have actualized themselves and how they are changing the conversations we are having in our country through social media. This campaign went viral online and a few short months later, we are debating it here in the House of Commons.

This issue is clear and it is a matter of discrimination. Only those who menstruate are being taxed. Cisgender men get off tax free. The government is making $36 million every year exclusively off of women and trans men. To remove this tax would be to correct a clear case of gender-based discrimination.

Can the government really argue that tampons and pads are not essential products?

It is not just a matter of principle. For women living in poverty, in the most practical terms it is about economic security. Among adults 18 and older, women account for 54% of people living in poverty in Canada. More than one million adult women are living in poverty. Twenty-one per cent of single mothers in Canada raise their children while living in poverty, as opposed to 7% of single fathers.

Meanwhile, menstrual products are extremely expensive. For women who are living in poverty and women in shelters, we heard how onerous it is to buy these things. In fact, these women are so financially vulnerable that an extra $20 every month can be a real burden.

Corporate manufacturers know that they can charge a lot for tampons and pads because women have no choice in buying them. This underscores my point. We are talking about an essential product.

As Jen Zoratti wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press:

As for me, though, “that time of the month” is a minor inconvenience. For those who are living in poverty or are experiencing homelessness, it can be incredibly challenging. Many are forced to stretch their stocks of menstrual product, get creative or go without.

On the positive side, I feel incredibly happy to be here with my colleagues pushing for this change. The fact that women across the country have taken matters into their own hands to bring menstruation into the mainstream makes me proud to be a feminist.

I also want to note that the puns have been pretty great: “No tax on periods, period”, or on this issue there is “no womb for debate”.

The reality is we need more de-stigmatizing debates like this one. When women can take up space in this House, their House, our House, to talk about our bodies, our rights, and our reproductive health, we see the power of feminism in Parliament. I have to say that I am very proud to be NDP, because it is our party that chose to facilitate this dialogue between young women and their government.

Finally, we need to recognize that the gender gap in Canada is real and the government time and time again does nothing to address it. Economic issues are women's issues. Tax issues are women's issues. Gender-based discrimination can be perpetrated by the federal government as surely as it can be perpetrated by an individual on the street or in the workplace.

In closing, I want to thank the fierce women who started this campaign and the tens of thousands of women who have joined it. I want to give a shout-out to the men and my male colleagues who support this cause. My message today is let us pass this motion. Let us take immediate action rather than putting it off, because the argument is clear; the argument is accurate, and let us be honest, there is just no womb for debate.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
NDP

John Rafferty

New Democratic Party

Mr. John Rafferty (Thunder Bay—Rainy River, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that feminine hygiene products are under the luxury tax category, but that is not what I want to ask the member about.

The government has suggested it will be supporting this motion, but that it will not be doing anything now about it.

I wonder if the member for Churchill would like to make a comment on that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
NDP

Niki Ashton

New Democratic Party

Ms. Niki Ashton

Mr. Speaker, Canadians need to know that that kind of support, which is not support in and of itself, is not good enough.

We are talking about a case of unequal treatment and the need to recognize that this is an essential product, the need to recognize the kind of barriers that women face as a result of this situation. It is a simple act and an act, frankly, of leadership. However, what can Canadian women expect more from the government? The government time and time again has ignored measures that would help women achieve equality. In fact, it has taken measures that further serve to marginalize women, whether they are measures regarding taxation, economic policy or the government's failure to take action on missing and murdered indigenous women and violence against women.

I hope that the activists who have been pushing on this issue will continue to push, and to push beyond this so-called support of the government and call for immediate action as we in the NDP are calling for today.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
NDP

Nathan Cullen

New Democratic Party

Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, obviously it is ridiculous and makes no sense that feminine hygiene products would be classified as a luxury item, and I hope that has been well established on both sides of the House. It shows a case of misprioritization by the Conservatives where they have billions to help out wealthy families and $700 million every year for a CEO tax loophole, but when it comes to an issue like this one, they say they cannot do anything about it right now, but look to the future. Well, the future is the next election. We have a budget bill in front of us right now, but the Conservatives have chosen not to act on this.

In the budget documents from the Conservatives, every year they refer to a typical family, usually a family of four, a husband and wife with two kids and that is fine in the Conservatives' world view. In their typical family in past years the woman has earned more than the man, and then this year, suddenly the Conservatives flipped that ratio around, because in order to justify their $2 billion income-splitting plan, in order for that to make sense in a Conservative world view, suddenly the man had to earn quite a bit more than the woman and the woman had to take a $50,000 or $60,000 pay cut to qualify for income splitting.

The Conservatives can show their social agenda through taxation which is not only did they scrap pay equity law in Canada, but now they want to describe how they want families to work under their Leave it to Beaver world view. They want to go back in time and make choices for Canadian families and particularly for Canada women. We know women still earn three-quarters of what men do for the same work in this country. Rather than helping to rectify that, the Conservatives seem to be interested in enshrining that and making it even worse in some cases.

I wonder if my friend would like to comment on that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
NDP

Niki Ashton

New Democratic Party

Ms. Niki Ashton

Mr. Speaker, that was a great synopsis of what we are dealing with. The Conservative policy vis-à-vis Canadian women ranges from the era of the 1950s, and frankly the 1850s some days, especially when we talk about their regressive views on access to abortions and reproductive services.

However, let me bring it back to the debate today. We are talking about a very simple step of moving the categorization from luxury items, which we have all made the case that they are not, to essential items. With some simple steps, this change could be brought into effect. The Conservatives could follow the lead of numerous provinces that have done this very same thing.

As for waiting, I would like to remind the government that young people in Canada have had enough of these kinds of antics. If there is one demographic that is solidly opposed to the kinds of policies coming from the government, it is young Canadians. What better way to show some sense of listening, or reflection of the kinds of priorities that young people, particularly young women, are putting forward, then saying, “No tax on tampons. We're going to take this action”. Yet, once again, the Conservatives are willing to put it off; once again they avoid listening to the voices of Canadian women, and once again they are stuck in the 1950s, or maybe the 1850s.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
NDP

Laurin Liu

New Democratic Party

Ms. Laurin Liu (Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, today, I am pleased to speak to the NDP opposition day motion to eliminate the unfair tax on feminine hygiene products. I would like to commend my colleague from Churchill for her speech, my colleague from London—Fanshawe for the work she has done on this issue, and the hundreds of thousands of women in Canada who worked so that we could talk about this issue in the House today. They did a wonderful job.

I consider myself lucky to be part of a feminist caucus in the House of Commons that is 40% female. That makes us a strong team that is able to raise issues about the status of women. In fact, in February, I launched a campaign that calls on the federal government to implement a national eating disorder strategy. I would like to thank my colleagues in the NDP caucus, specifically my male colleagues, for supporting this motion.

The NDP just won a huge victory in Alberta. The province elected a caucus made up of 47% women. I am very proud that the majority New Democrat government caucus in Alberta almost reached parity. The only way to improve the status of women in Canada is to elect more women to the House of Commons.

Today, the NDP is calling on the government to eliminate the GST and HST that apply to sanitary napkins and other feminine hygiene products because these products are deemed non-essential. We know that these products are essential since most women cannot live without them. This tax is unfair because it is imposed only on Canadian women who need to use these products. That is why we are calling on the Conservative government to abolish this tax on women. Sanitary napkins and feminine hygiene products are not luxury products.

The tax on sanitary napkins clearly discriminates against women. It makes no sense that women have to pay tax on sanitary napkins while other non-essential products like wedding cakes and cocktail cherries are exempt. That is why the New Democrats want to adopt this motion that will help all women in Canada, especially low-income women, for whom an additional $12 in tax a month constitutes a monthly economic burden.

There are already precedents in Canada, and other jurisdictions around the world have taken similar measures. Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia already exempt feminine hygiene products from PST. This is a hot topic all over the world. Similar campaigns have already been launched in Australia and the United Kingdom. This is an issue that is uniting feminists around the world.

Here in Canada, women pay more than $36 million a year in GST on feminine hygiene products. We consulted a number of studies by the Library of Parliament. That is not an insignificant amount of money for women. In Canada, a disproportionately large number of women live below the poverty line.

I first became aware of the issue of poverty among women in 2012, when I was working on my private member's bill to automatically register all Canadian seniors for the guaranteed income supplement. In my research I learned that women were overrepresented among seniors living below the poverty line. This is extremely disconcerting.

Women are also overrepresented in part-time employment that pays minimum wage. They often have to work two or more jobs in order to make ends meet. What is more, they often have family responsibilities. They have to take care of their children or aging parents, which prevents them from participating in the economy and having a well-paying job. They are often forced to work less. All these factors and more make women more likely to live in poverty.

Today's motion to eliminate taxes from feminine hygiene products will help women, regardless of how much money they earn or their socio-economic status.

A few weeks ago, a very interesting study was mentioned in an article in The Globe and Mail about the wage gap between men and women in Canada, which is double the global average. That is impressive since Canada considers itself a leader that is more progressive than other countries. This study shows that is not so.

A study published by Catalyst Canada showed that women who work in Canada earn on average $8,000 less a year than men who do equivalent work. That is not an insignificant amount of money. It could be used toward a mortgage. By comparison, elsewhere in the world, the average wage gap is only $4,000 a year. The wage gap in Canada is double the global average, which is troublesome. We still have a lot of work to do on this in Parliament.

The NDP has put forward several measures to reduce that wage gap. Just the other day, I was talking about the bill introduced by my colleague from Toronto to create a national strategy to help workers in precarious jobs and those who are self-employed.

We still have a long way to go before we eliminate the wage gap between men and women. The NDP is ready to do it. The Conservative government wants to bring in income splitting, which will help only the richest 15% of families and will encourage women to stay home to look after their kids. This backward policy will not help us achieve gender equality, and we are opposed to the principle. Many people in my riding are angry about the Conservatives' approach, which benefits only the richest families.

The NDP has also put forward measures to create affordable day care spaces because we know that similar measures in Quebec are working. This has encouraged far more Quebec women to participate in the labour market, which is important. We need to keep day care costs to no more than $15 per day across Canada.

I am glad that the Conservative government is supporting our motion today, and I encourage all of my colleagues to support the NDP motion.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
NDP

Peter Julian

New Democratic Party

Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague on her excellent speech. She emphasized the importance of this issue and she spoke very eloquently, as she always does.

The government just said that it will vote in favour of this motion, but it does not want to do anything, so basically it is saying yes because it knows that there is an election coming up and that this is an important issue. However, in reality, the government is not going to do anything to implement this measure that Parliament is voting in favour of. We know it is true. The Conservatives do this systematically. They adopt motions and then they do not do anything about them. It is the same as voting no.

I wanted to ask my colleague whether she really thinks that this government is sincere or whether she thinks it will not do anything between now and the October election.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
NDP

Laurin Liu

New Democratic Party

Ms. Laurin Liu

Mr. Speaker, in fact, I am pleased to know that the government is taking the NDP's good ideas and incorporating them into the budget, but I am also concerned about it because we know that we cannot trust this government to really take action, to go far enough to help Canadian families and women.

Let me give an example. Last year, I introduced a private member's bill to implement protections for unpaid interns. This is another gender equality issue, since women are overrepresented among unpaid interns. The Conservative government took the idea behind my bill and incorporated it into the 2015 budget implementation act, but the protections do not go far enough. Unlike my bill, the government is not offering protection against sexual harassment and it is not setting a maximum number of hours of work.

That is just one example of a government that does not go far enough and that implements half-measures. I am pleased that the government has said that it will support the motion. We will have to keep an eye on this issue, and I hope that the government will really take action.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe

New Democratic Party

Ms. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe (Pierrefonds—Dollard, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her work. She always shows great sensitivity to issues involving minorities as well as women and youth. That was very evident in her speech.

I would like to comment on the Conservatives' response to this motion from the beginning of this debate. They seem to be saying that they have already given out many tax credits, more or less, and so this one can wait.

The motion before us will definitely reduce the cost of feminine hygiene products. That is one aspect. However, there is another aspect that the Conservatives did not mention at all, namely that this is a matter of principle and justice, of gender equality. This is not just about money; it is also about the thousands of women who signed a petition calling on the government, the decision-maker, to recognize that their need for feminine hygiene products is not a luxury. That makes this a matter of principle, and for that reason alone we must vote in favour of the motion before us and implement it as quickly as possible.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
NDP

Laurin Liu

New Democratic Party

Ms. Laurin Liu

Mr. Speaker, my honourable colleague is absolutely right. Getting rid of the tax on products that women buy would enhance the fairness of the tax system. Consequently, it is absolutely a matter of social justice, of gender equality.

I would like to follow up with an anecdote. Every year in December, I participate in the charity drives held in all the towns in my riding. We know that every year there is a great need for donations of feminine hygiene products. Women living in poverty and vulnerable situations are always in need of feminine hygiene products. This shows just how essential these products are. This is a problem that does not get enough attention.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
CPC

Bruce Stanton

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton)

Is the House ready for the question?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Question.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
CPC

Bruce Stanton

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Feminine Hygiene Products
Permalink

May 8, 2015