Elizabeth’s statement on the 50th anniversary of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women

On Monday, December 7th, 2020 in Parliament, Question Period

2020-12-07 15:39 [p.3044]

Madam Speaker, it is a real honour to join the voices of the hon. Minister for Women and Gender Equality, the hon. member for Calgary Skyview, the hon. member for Shefford and the hon. member for London—Fanshawe, marking this occasion with all women’s voices in the House.
I have the great honour to speak to the House from the traditional territory of the WSÁNEC peoples. I raise my hands. Hych’ka siem.
It is an honour to speak to the House virtually, although I think, like all of us, we miss seeing each other.
This is an extraordinary occasion to reflect on the 50th anniversary of the very first-ever royal commission headed by a women, dealing with the issues that affected women. I want to draw some parallels between the political realities of when this Parliament started and when the royal commission started.
The Royal Commission on the Status of Women, as the hon. minister mentioned, was the result of pressure on the then Liberal prime minister Lester B. Pearson in a minority government. Lester B. Pearson was told by Laura Sabia, then president of the Canadian Federation of University Women, who led this charge for an examination of the rights of women in Canada, that if he did not agree to a royal commission, two million women would march on Ottawa.
There are remarkable women feminists in this story. One of them needs to be mentioned again, as the hon. minister mentioned, one woman member of Parliament, only one in 1967, but a formidable feminist, Judy LaMarsh. She was also in the cabinet of Lester B. Pearson. She had been part of the extraordinary efforts of that minority Liberal government, with strong NDP pressure, that brought in universal health care, the Canada pension plan and unemployment insurance; in other words, at a time of transformational change in our society, one woman MP.
By the time the report was tabled in 1970, there was still only one woman MP, but the Liberals were in majority. The prime minister was Pierre Trudeau and the one woman MP was not in his caucus. It was Grace MacInnis of Vancouver Kingsway. She was, of course, a New Democrat Party member.
The government lost the opportunity to have a woman in cabinet to do anything with these recommendations. The recommendations were powerful, but when we think about the time and the way the media covered the royal commission, I found this gem and I really have to share it. It is from Maclean’s magazine in January 1968, writing about the chair of the commission. So far today everyone has referred to her the way she is mostly referred to in historical literature, as Florence Bird, but she was known as a journalist, under her professional name of Anne Francis.
In January 1968, Maclean’s magazine wrote:
Above all, Anne Francis is not a feminist; not one of the New Suffragettes who lobbied the Liberal government until it finally appointed a Royal Commission on the Status of Canadian Women, with Anne Francis as chairman. Her husband — and her husband’s friends — say she is a wonderful wife.
I guess she could not have been a feminist. It was strange time, 1968.
The Toronto Star and Le Devoir decided to collect public opinion about the status of women, publishing its surveys to only have responses from men. The majority of men responding to the survey in the Toronto Star said that a woman’s place was in the home. We now know a woman’s place is in the House, but it is the House of Commons, and there are now 100 women in the House of Commons, including our Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and women leadership through all our caucuses.
Let us look at what the report demanded of government. Let us consider it would not have been acted upon if it was still a Liberal minority under Lester B. Pearson with Judy LaMarsh instead of a majority with no women in cabinet. They demanded, as we have heard, legal abortion rights; an end to the wage gap; that women’s rights be respected throughout society; that we have universal child care; and this gem, which has not been mentioned yet today, they called for a program of guaranteed annual income and that it should start in providing guaranteed annual income to single parent families that needed the help and were living in disproportionate levels of poverty. They mentioned as well the disproportionate levels of poverty and the high infant mortality among indigenous women.
The report obviously suffers from time. It does not look through a lens with intersectionality, it does not look at violence against women, but it was pretty progressive.
My challenge to all of us now in 2020, 50 years later, is that with 100 women MPs in the House of Commons, should we not be capable of doing 100 times more than the one woman, Judy LaMarsh, in Lester B. Pearson’s cabinet?
Should we not be capable of saying now is the time to bring in a guaranteed liveable income, now is the time to bring in universal child care and now is the time for real climate action, now in a minority Parliament before the unreceptive typical 100% of the power of a first past the post false majority takes over? We need to do more now.
In memory of all those wonderful feminists, such as Florence Bird and her professional name Anne Francis, Laura Sabia, Judy LaMarsh and Grace MacInnis, and in the name of all the women who have gone before us with so much less at their disposal to push for change, let us do more now. Let us finish the job the royal commission started 50 years ago.

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