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Ottawa rocked for three days in October, as the National Women’s Lobby (the national Canadian campaign that was part of the World March of Women Against Violence and Poverty) met with Members of Parliament, party leaders and federal Cabinet Ministers to discuss the […]
Ottawa rocked for three days in October, as the National Women’s Lobby (the national Canadian campaign that was part of the World March of Women Against Violence and Poverty) met with Members of Parliament, party leaders and federal Cabinet Ministers to discuss the thirteen immediate demands contained in It’s Time for Change, the platform for the campaign, and to seek concrete commitments to end poverty and violence against women.
The lobby was divided into three parts: the Ministers’ lobby, the MP lobby, and meetings with leaders. Participants also had the chance to watch a debate on a motion regarding the thirteen demands in the House of Commons.
The Ministers’ Lobby
Various member organizations of the Canadian Women’s March Committee and affiliated groups met with nine Ministers over the course of two days to talk specifically about concrete commitments from the federal government. Meetings averaged an hour and fifteen minutes in length. While none of the Ministers were prepared to fulfill any of the thirteen immediate demands, we certainly made some gains. In our meeting with The Hon. Claudette Bradshaw about her Homelessness Secretariat, we pointed out that women’s organizations have not been invited to participate in the Secretariat’s consultations. She immediately agreed to correct this problem. In our meeting with Health Minister Allan Rock, we pointed out the severe deficiencies in health care services for women with disabilities and Francophone women outside of Quebec. As a result, Rock agreed to establish working groups to address the specific needs of these two communities.
Some Ministers were prepared to go further than a commitment to consultation. Minister of Justice Anne MacLellan announced a review of the current federal pay equity legislation with an aim to strengthening the obligations of employers to pay women a wage of equal value. Maria Minna, Minister responsible for CIDA, promised an increase in foreign aid, one of the March Committee’s demands.
Party Leaders’ Lobby
Members of the March Committee also met with the leaders of the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québecois, and NDP. We asked the leaders for specific responses to each of the thirteen demands. Gilles Duceppe of the BQ outlined his party’s multi-billion dollar strategy to implement the 13 demands over five years. The Bloc committed a specific response in writing to each of the thirteen demands. NDP leader Alexa McDonough announced that many of the 13 demands would be reflected in her party’s election platform.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Chretien did not exhibit this kind of enthusiasm. He provided no response to the thirteen immediate demands, was not eager to discuss the longer document, It’s Time for Change, and failed to demonstrate an understanding of why the fulfilment of these demands was necessary for the well-being of women in Canada. While this was very disappointing, it was nevertheless the first time in many years that a Canadian Prime Minister has met with women’s groups. As such, we regard it as a significant moment for the Canadian women’s movement.
The March Committee also held a meeting with representatives of the Liberal Women’s Caucus, a formal association of primarily female MPs within the federal Liberal party. In this meeting, Liberal MP’s and members of our Committee discussed how to further advance the demands contained in It’s Time for Change over the next year and to ensure that the eradication of poverty and violence against women becomes a priority of the federal government.
On Tuesday morning, we held the MP Lobby. Seventy-five women met for a short briefing session before breaking into small groups (between 3 and 8 women) that met with over thirty MP’s from almost every province and territory, and from all five mainstream political parties. Sessions lasted anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour. Women asked MP’s to respond specifically to the thirteen immediate demands and to speak about their longer-term commitment to ending poverty and violence against women. At noon, women reconvened for a debriefing session during which one woman from each lobby session reported to the group on the outcome. Meetings with MP’s had been so fascinating that our debriefing session lasted for two hours! For many women, this was the first time they had lobbied a Member of Parliament, let alone on Parliament Hill, and, as a result, it proved to be a morning rich in insights about their federal representatives and the political process in general. Filled with the excitement of meeting an MP one on one, women vowed to follow up with MP’s when they returned home and agreed to encourage other women to do the same. The MP lobby served as an excellent tool in reaffirming the importance of regularly lobbying one’s local MP. MP’s need to hear women’s stories and to be convinced of the importance of promoting women’s rights in Parliament.
The National Women’s Lobby was a resounding success, both in terms of the numbers of women and women’s groups mobilized to lobby, and in terms of the number of MP’s we reached. Many women’s organizations had the opportunity to meet Ministers for the first time, and were able to discuss the thirteen demands in the context of their own work on women’s equality rights. MPs were confronted with an array of enthusiastic, diverse and knowledgeable women from their communities who will be sustaining the political pressure from home. Political leaders were asked to put their money where their mouths are and outline their partys’ plans to end poverty and violence against women. These are no small accomplishments. They are a testimony to the political power women can exercise in this country.
Despite this success, the 13 immediate demands have not yet been met, even in the face of a multi-billion dollar surplus. This demonstrates the need to continue to consolidate the power of women’s voices into a coherent, comprehensive and broad campaign that reflects the reality of all women’s lives in Canada. We hope that the campaign It’s Time for Change is the beginning of something larger and more profound. We must as a women’s movement continue to work together, locally, provincially and nationally and across and within communities in order to keep the pressure up and ensure that we are heard.
On behalf of the Canadian Women’s March Committee, thank you to all of the women in Canada who made the Canadian Women’s March and its lobby campaign so invigorating. The momentum must continue. We look forward to the next round.
Nancy Peckford is the Lobby Coordinator for the Canadian Women’s March Committee