My statement on Women's History Month and Person's Day

October 18, 2017

Speaker, I am proud to rise today on behalf of my leader Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP caucus – the first parliamentary caucus in Canada to be made up of a majority of women – to respond to the Minister’s statement on Person’s Day and Women’s History Month.

88 years ago … on October 18th 1929 … women in Canada were declared persons, following an appeal of an earlier Supreme Court decision that found they were not. The appeal was led by Emily Murphy and the four other fearless feminists from Alberta who made up the Famous Five. Thanks to their determined efforts, the Supreme Court decision was reversed.

Women’s History Month celebrates women like the Famous Five … women who have advanced women’s rights … women who have blazed trails in arts and literature, in science and technology, in business and manufacturing, in healthcare and education … women who have contributed immeasurably to our society and improved our quality of life.   

These pioneers were not just white middle-class women like Emily Murphy. They include inspiring black women, indigenous women and women of colour, whose stories have for too long been excluded from our history books and are just beginning to be told. Women like Viola Desmond, who challenged racial segregation in Nova Scotia and Mary Two-Axe Early, who fought legal discrimination against First Nations women.  

Despite their victory in 1929, neither Emily Murphy nor any of the famous five ever made it to the Senate.  As a male senator said at the time: “We never could have had Mrs. Murphy in the Senate. She would have caused too much trouble”.  Emily Murphy’s fight for justice and equality was viewed as far too radical by the men who dominated Canada’s political establishment.

While it may be troublesome for male politicians to deal with women as equals, Women’s History Month shows us that women’s leadership is undeniably good for society. The evidence is clear that the positive impact of women’s involvement in decision-making is not just because of the experiences and perspectives they bring, but because of the open, collaborative and less hierarchical leadership styles they often exemplify. Economists have shown that women’s leadership is also good for business, with higher corporate profits generated by firms that have more women on their boards. 

Yet women in Ontario continue to be denied the opportunities they deserve for full and meaningful participation in economic and political life, and for equitable access to the services they deserve. Women in Ontario struggle to find affordable childcare … they struggle to find secure, stable employment that reflects their education and experience and provides more than poverty-line wages … they struggle to find affordable housing … they struggle to pay off the huge debts they are carrying for their postsecondary education … they struggle to pay the bills.  

Yesterday the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its fifth report on the Best and Worst Places for Women to live in Canada.  Of the 25 cities that were measured, nine were from Ontario.  Six of these nine Ontario cities were ranked in the bottom-half, including the three worst cities for Canadian women to live. One of the key overall findings is that cities have stalled – they have stalled on closing the gender wage gap, stalled on the employment gap, stalled on access to child care, and stalled on rates of sexual assault that continue to climb.  

Yet this Liberal government has refused to strengthen the equal pay provisions of the Employment Standards Act, which have proven ineffective in preventing gender wage discrimination, they have refused to implement gender-based budgeting, which the NDP called for last spring. 

This week we saw the hashtag #MeToo reveal the reality of every woman’s experience of sexual harassment or sexual assault in the hundreds of thousands of women who have written “Me too” into their social media profiles. Yet this government’s sexual violence action plan is barely making a dent, with students raising concerns about the effectiveness of the standalone campus sexual violence policies … the government’s refusal to implement mandatory sexual violence training mandatory for liquor servers and bartenders as proposed in my Private Member’s Bill, and its failure to guarantee paid leave for employees experiencing domestic violence and sexual violence, as called for in three NDP Private Member’s Bills.

Speaker, in addition to celebrating the amazing women in history who have opened doors for the rest of us, we need to ensure that all Ontario women have equal access to the opportunities available to men. This will open new doors for women leaders, break down cultural and structural barriers, and show everyone what women can achieve.