Canada has become a very different country under Stephen Harper. It's no longer the country we knew and loved. But together we can change this.
By Doreen Nicoll
Published October 16, 2015
This article has been updated.
Record numbers of Canadians voted in the advance polls this past week. Let's hope an unprecedented number vote for change on Monday, October 19.
If you still have to vote, please consider which candidate, and party, supports the kind of Canada that you, your family, friends, neighbours and co-workers want to live in.
This was a long election, but Stephen Harper spent too much time distracting the public from the real issues. He avoided important topics. He ignored invitations to speak with women's groups and told his candidates to follow his lead.
Here's some basic information about issues that impact all Canadians and which should have received more attention.
Children need a strong start early in life. Mothers and fathers need peace of mind when they return to work. Both of these goals can be met with accessible, affordable universal child care.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) charted [PDF] what women aged 25-34 spend on childcare as a percentage of income. In Brampton, it's an average of 36 percent. In Surrey, Windsor, Toronto and London, it's 34-35 percent. In Hamilton, it's 31 percent. In Quebec, child care is a lot more affordable due to the provincial child care program. In the rest of the country, the lack of affordable regulated spaces means many women must choose between remaining out of the workforce, using unregulated home care or relatives.
Chart: Average child care costs for women as a percentage of income (Image Credit: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)
Staying out of the workforce perpetuates economic inequality for women and is simply not an option for female headed households or families trying to balance housing costs, student debt, and the uncertainty of precarious employment.
Harper cancelled Paul Martin's national child care policy and replaced it with a taxable monthly payment. Currently, parents receive $160 for each child under six and $60 for each child six to 17.
Vote for a national child care policy that creates well-paying early childhood educator jobs along with safe, affordable spaces for our children.
Harper is set to cut federal transfer payments to the provinces and is hell bent on privatizing our universal health care system. There's a distinct lack of vision and forethought to this plan.
Canadians need a leader who will sit down with the provinces and not only reinstate realistic transfer payments to the provinces, but include pharmaceutical coverage in the new deal.
The Canada Health Act provides coverage for physician services, hospital care, and pharmaceuticals used in hospital. However, once a patient is discharged they're responsible for the cost of all medications.
Pharmacare is an important election issue as illnesses and conditions that used to be treated in hospital are now increasingly being taken care of at home. This evolution in the health care system only works if patients can afford prescribed medications.
In fact, health and policy researchers are arguing that prescription drugs need to be considered medically necessary under the Canada Health Act.
The cost of prescriptions is problematic for Canadians who live on low to middle incomes. As precarious work replaces conventional jobs with benefits, more Canadians will find themselves without a drug plan. It's also a concern for individuals who are self-employed or unemployed.
Vote for improvements that will strengthen Canada's universal health care system.
Up for Debate interviewed Elizabeth May, Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau and Gilles Duceppe. Canadians gained insight into how each leader would address the issues that impact 52 percent of the population.
Harper declined to be interviewed. I'd like to know: if Harper won't speak with women during an election campaign, when will he speak with them?
Harper has been less than equitable with women in the past. He cut funding to Status of Women Canada (SWC), which meant it had to the close of 12 of its 16 regional offices. When funding was reinstated, Harper prohibited SWC from funding the work of organizations doing advocacy or research.
Harper has shown disdain when it comes to increasing women's economic security and prosperity; encouraging women's leadership and democratic participation; and ending violence against women and girls.
Harper does not promote pay equity. He has no plan to implement a federal minimum wage; living wage; or guaranteed living income.
There is no national housing plan beyond Housing First which addresses chronically homeless individuals who are dealing with addiction and mental health issues.
There is no national food policy, meaning food insecurity, hunger, unhealthy diets, poverty, unsustainable food production and climate change are not adequately addressed.
There will be no national child care plan.
Harper showed blatant contempt for women when on May 27, 2015 he instructed all Conservatives in the House of Commons to vote against NDP MP Niki Ashton's motion, M-444, A National Action Plan to End Violence Against Women.
This motion recommended creating a national action plan on violence against women; holding an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls; and establishing a national child care plan.
Every six days a woman dies at the hands of a current or former partner. There are currently 1,181 murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. A national child care plan would help women leaving abusive relationships re-enter or remain in the workforce so that they could support themselves and their children.
Violence against women is not, and never has been, a woman's issue. It's time for all Canadians to work toward eradicating violence against women and that includes our new Prime Minister.
Vote for a party that will speak with, and truly listen to, your mother, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, wives, daughters, daughters-in-law, co-workers and all of the women in your life. When women's lives improve, all Canadians benefit.
Harper cut all funding to the Sister's in Spirit (SIS) campaign. This campaign raised awareness about Canada's murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. Annual vigils continue to be held across the country on October 4 to keep the campaign alive.
The Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) continued to show support for the SIS campaign by including the SIS logo on materials they distributed. NWAC was threatened with federal funding cuts if it continued using the SIS logo.
Funding was also cut to the Quebec Native Women's Association, Hamilton's Honouring the Circle transitional shelter, and the Native Women's Centre.
These organizations were doing wonderful work but they were becoming too strong, too vocal, and attracting too many of the right people to their causes.
Recently, I had the privilege to hear Dawn Harvard, President of NWAC, and Shelagh Day, co-chair of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action talk about the continuous interference and roadblocks put in place by the Harper government to prevent NAWC from securing an investigation and report from the United Nations.
Eventually, the UN did release scathing reports that admonished the Canadian government for failing its Indigenous people, and women and girls in particular.
I was disgusted and embarrassed by the tactics the Harper government used and the lengths that it went to in attempt after attempt to silence Dawn Harvard and her colleagues. Shame on you and your government Harper.
The Truth and Reconciliation Committee, the United Nations, the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and Amnesty International have all called for a national inquiry into Canada's murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. The inquiry must be followed by the timely implementation of recommendations by the federal government.
The issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls is a result of the way Indigenous women have been treated since first contact with Europeans.
Women were the keepers of the land and as such their power and authority had to be undermined. Since that time, sexism, racism, and inequality have marginalized these women and girls and created the notion that they are somehow expendable. This attitude is pervasive and it needs to be changed.
Please vote for a national inquiry into our murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
Affordable housing is increasingly difficult to find yet, it's the essential first step to reducing poverty, food insecurity, and eradicating violence against women. It's also well documented that owning rather than renting is a very good indicator of health outcomes.
The federal government needs to be at the table with representatives from all provinces, territories and major municipalities in order to solve the national housing crisis. Instead, Harper's government has avoided taking responsibility and continues to mislead the public into believing housing is exclusively a provincial and territorial responsibility.
Harper's housing policy begins and ends with investing in Housing First (HF). HF focuses on finding housing for individuals experiencing chronic homelessness due to addiction and mental health issues.
Even the authors of the HF study stated, "it should be one component of a multi-pronged and evidence-based approach to address the problem of homelessness in Canada."
The Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women has recommended that the Canadian government improve and enforce shelter allowances, social assistance rates, provide better support for people with disabilities, and provide adequate transition housing for women leaving abusive relationships.
Access to shelters, transition housing and affordable long term housing as well as affordable child care is imperative to ending violence against women and children. The Housing First model works wonders for people suffering from mental health and addiction issues, but is not the best model for women and their children fleeing abuse.
The HF model also fails to address long wait lists for social housing; the lack of affordable housing for middle and lower income earners; development of market rental housing.
York University's Homeless Hub estimates an investment of $44 billion, or $2.04 per person per week, over the next decade could end homelessness in Canada and make more affordable housing available to more Canadians.
Vote for a National Housing Strategy that dedicates funding to co-operative housing as well as more new affordable housing projects, and increased social housing on and off-reserve for First Nations.
Pay equity was implemented by the federal government in 1978, but 37 years later, women still earn only 71 percent of what men earn annually.
Lower incomes, combined with time away from the workforce to care for children or aging parents, means women make smaller contributions to Canada's Pension Plan and have less to live on in old age.
The federal government needs to hold employers accountable for ensuring women and men are paid equally for equal work.
Vote for a party that will make this happen.
Without a national food policy, the federal government cannot adequately address health, education, economic and environmental issues as they pertain to food insecurity, hunger, unhealthy diets, poverty, unsustainable food production, and climate change.
Sustainable agriculture promotes genetic diversification; economic diversity; reducing reliance on pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, growth hormones, non-therapeutic antibiotics, and insecticides; increasing and supporting young farmers and farm families to ensure Canada remains a nation that can feed itself.
That means rejecting the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, supporting marketing boards, and decreasing inter-provincial/territorial barriers to trade.
Canadians deserve improved food safety regulations that increase inspection and monitoring while removing conflicts of interest within the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Federally funded, community-guided school lunch programs that will teach healthy eating habits while making use of local ingredients.
We need a moratorium on the patenting of life forms and the use of terminator technologies. We need to ensure that producers of genetically engineered crops are held liable for the damage those crops cause.
We need to promote heritage seed banks; ensure that new plant cultivars and animal breeds remain in the public domain; return to publicly-funded research into organic farming techniques to ensure food sovereignty.
Improved labelling standards need to be established so consumers can make better informed food choices based on the treatment of animals; the origin of food and food products; genetically modified ingredients and foods; improved nutrition labelling.
The government needs to enforce fair and just treatment of agriculture and agri-food workers. Temporary foreign workers should have a means to obtain citizenship.
We need a policy that will ensure healthy and culturally appropriate foods are more accessible in Northern Canada and on reserves where food insecurity rates are 5 to 6 times higher than the national average.
Vote for the party that will protect Canada's food sovereignty and improve food security for all.
Changes to the Employment Insurance (EI) system means fewer Canadians qualify and laid-off workers are forced to accept underemployment or face losing benefits.
Harper increased the age for collecting Old Age Security (OAS) to 67. This caused hardship for widowed and single older women who don't benefit from income splitting but who do often live in poverty.
Vote for positive changes to EI and OAS.
Post-secondary education and skills training is essential to Canada's long-term economic, environmental and social health. It's time to vote for a party that will take post-secondary education and its escalating costs seriously.
Harper merely plans to double the federal grant provided to low and middle-income families through the Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP).
At the end of the day, a child from a low-income family unable to contribute to an RESP could receive $2000 plus interest to cover four years of post-secondary education by registering at birth for a Canada Learning Bond.
A family that can make the required minimum contributions each year from birth to 17 years of age will receive $2200 per child in matching government support to pay for college or university.
Financial insecurity leads to inadequate housing, food insecurity, poorer health, greater health-care costs, bouts of depression, and suicidal thoughts that arise from hopelessness. The solution to situational and chronic poverty is simple - Canadians need a Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI).
The Dauphin, Manitoba experiment from 1974 to 1979, in which 1,300 families were provided with an annual income for three years, was a success. Participation in the workforce continued as usual with two exceptions; new mother stayed home longer and teenagers stayed in school rather than quitting to help their families financially.
Individuals were less likely to be underemployed; hospital visits declined 8.5 per cent; there were fewer work-related injuries, mental health issues, and incidents of domestic abuse.
Former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal has been championing the idea of topping up incomes falling below a designated minimum floor. Segal estimates the annual cost would be about $30 billion or less than 10 per cent of the federal budget. Keep in mind that poverty currently costs Canadians $86 billion annually.
Ideally, GLI would be implemented in conjunction with a federal living wage policy to ensure full-time employees earn annual incomes that fall significantly above the poverty line. In addition, every level of government should mandate their employees and contract workers be paid a living wage.
The shift in labour markets toward precarious employment is here to stay. GLI means an individual or family has access to adequate funds for housing and food as required. Over four million adults and children live with food insecurity. GLI could lower this number by 1.2 million individuals which would translate into significant savings for the health-care, justice, and correctional systems.
Neither a national living wage nor a guaranteed livable income is on Harper's agenda. Vote for a party that takes care of more than the top 1 per cent.
Canada has become a very different country under Harper. It's no longer the country that I knew and loved. It's no longer a country that I'm proud to pass on to my own children and their children. But, together we can change this.
On October 19 reject divisive policies and American-style politics by voting for positive change that will empower and create equality for all Canadians.
Update: this article originally stated that women in Canada pay over 35 percent of their income on child care. In fact that was the rate in the most expensive cities. RTH regrets the error. You can jump to the changed paragraph.
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