NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Nova Scotia Status of Women
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
COMMUNITY SERVICES COMMITTEE
Mr. Chuck Porter, Chairman
Ms. Rafah DiCostanzo, Vice-Chairman
Mr. Keith Irving
Mr. Bill Horne
Mr. Gordon Wilson
Mr. Eddie Orrell
Ms. Barbara Adams
Ms. Susan Leblanc
Ms. Tammy Martin
Mrs. Darlene Henry
Legislative Committee Clerk
Mr. Gordon Hebb
Chief Legislative Counsel
Nova Scotia Status of Women
Ms. Stephanie MacInnis-Langley, Executive Director
Ms. Pat Gorham, Director of Programs and Stakeholder Relations
Ms. Heather Ternoway, Director of Policy and Research
HALIFAX, TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2018
STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY SERVICES
Mr. Chuck Porter
Ms. Rafah DiCostanzo
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning everyone and welcome to the Community Services Committee meeting this morning. We will start with introductions first, as we always do.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before I go to our guests - we’ll welcome you in just a moment - we’ve got a couple of short things on the agenda that I’ll address first. As you’ll see under committee business, the agreement to post a presentation on the website, I guess we need to have a motion and move to do so. Is it a motion or just an agreement, Darlene? Just an agreement to post today’s presentation on the website. Any objection to that?
It is agreed. Thank you very much.
An agreement to meet or not to meet while the House is in session. Typically, as most of us would know, the committee has not met traditionally when we are in session so I need an agreement as well that we follow processes as we have in the past.
It is agreed. Thank you very much.
The next meeting date, as you see there, is March 6th. That is probably due to the House, the session, it is going to be moved out, just so we all know.
I will now go to Ms. MacInnis-Langley, the Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Welcome this morning. I’ll have you introduce yourself and the ladies with you, and we’ll move right on to the presentation.
MS. STEPHANIE MACINNIS-LANGLEY: I’d like to introduce you to my staff. Heather Ternoway is the Director of Research with our office. That’s a fairly new position with our office and we’re really appreciative of having her. Pat Gorham is the Director of Stakeholder Relations and Programs - Programs are a new area for the Status of Women. It’s wonderful to be here, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just before you do move on, I should have mentioned one thing. Anyone who has a cellphone, if they could turn it off or turn to vibrate so we’re not interrupted during the presentation or in our meeting this morning.
Everyone knows where the exits are and the washrooms are just out there for anyone who may not know. Those are our housekeeping duties.
One other thing I’ll mention, for the purposes of Hansard, when I recognize either a member or one of our guests I will address you by your name, just so that Hansard picks that up. If you would just give me half a second to do that before you begin speaking, that would be great. I will recognize Ms. MacInnis-Langley to begin the presentation and thank you.
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: Good morning and thank you so much for the opportunity to come and chat with you this morning and talk about the Status of Women and all the good things we’ve been engaged in this year. The presentation is to talk about our 40th Anniversary. The Status of Women is 40 years in existence, which is a wonderful commentary on the Province of Nova Scotia. As we celebrated 40 years of women’s leadership, we did an anniversary video and I want to talk a little bit about the current focus of council.
As you will see from the slide, Minister Regan is our minister, she is the Minister of Community Services and the Minister responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women Act and housing. We have the Nova Scotia Advisory Council, my position, and the Status of Women office.
On the office side, we are in total eight staff; on the Advisory Council, we can have up to 12 members. Our Advisory Council comes to us from the ABC process.
The council was established in 1977 under an Act. It’s really a proud moment to say that Nova Scotia has remained committed to the Status of Women and the issues of women’s equity from that time on. Once the council was established, the Status of Women Act speaks to the role and parameters of the council itself and is less specific to the mandate and priorities of the Status of Women office.
I’m sure you are all aware that in the early 1990s there was a Women’s Directorate and there was an Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Both of those organizations combined and were aligned as one, thus they became the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women. I guess people weren’t into acronyms at that time. That’s how we began.
The Act tells the story. It’s a bit dated, I will say. It needs a bit of renovation. But it talks about the role of council and council’s responsibilities. We have already established a manual for council to help people as they fulfill that role and understand their role in this way.
It really is a privilege to talk about the council because in several provinces, councils no longer exist. They have been dissolved. There are Status of Women offices across the country, but many of the provinces have not maintained their council offices. For Nova Scotia, it’s a wonderful legacy to be able to say that we’re still here, we’re resilient, and our work matters.
We’re not a government department. We’re an arm’s length agency. Our focus has always been to change outcomes for women, to work collaboratively with government partners and the community stakeholders to try to advance women’s equality. In many ways, our council really is one of a kind because some of the advisory councils across the country, for example, Newfoundland and Labrador or Prince Edward Island, are completely separate from government. P.E.I. is similar to us - they’re aligned with a government department. New Brunswick went through a renovation, and they have a separate entity now, which is a Women’s Equality office, which has a similar portfolio but is somewhat different.
There is an organization called the National Coalition of Provincial and Territorial Advisory Councils, and we meet once a year. This past year, we met in Newfoundland and Labrador. The idea is that we come together to look at ways and spaces where we may be able to collaborate on changing things for women. That’s a little bit of the background.
The vision and mandate, of course, for the Status of Women office has been and remains to advance equality, fairness, and dignity for all women and girls in Nova Scotia by influencing public opinion, policy, and programming across the province in the following intersecting ways. Violence against women is a key priority for us. Women’s leadership in action is a priority. Women’s economic security continues to be an area of priority as well as health and wellness. Those are our areas.
The council members, of which there are 12, also represent a variety of those subject matter areas and are very, very keen. The chair of our council is Michelle Kelly. She is a partner with the Cox & Palmer law firm. Past chairs, you’ll see in our video, which we’ll show in a few moments. They are formidable women leaders, women citizens. In their own right, they make a great contribution to advancing gender equality for Nova Scotia.
As I mentioned, we have eight staff in our office. My position is an OIC, an Order in Council, appointment. The staff are hired. We’re all government employees. We’re all civil servants.
Let’s talk about what 40 years would look like. What I can tell you is that in our video, we have showcased women who have participated from the very beginning. You’ll see amazing public women like Liz Crocker and Francene Cosman, who have a long history in commitment to Nova Scotia. They’ll talk about what their contribution has been and how they see the future. Also, we have our current minister, Minister Regan, talking to us as well. Let’s roll the video.
[10:08 a.m. Audiovisual presentation]
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: In your folder this morning you will see you have a book called The Nova Scotia Nine. The Nova Scotia Nine was a collaborative effort between Jo Napier, the artist; Joanne Wise, the writer; and the Status of Women office. The booklet was created by Jo Napier, she did life-size portraits of women who were pioneers in this province and she aligned them with women of today. For example, you’ll see Muriel Duckworth who was a peace activist, and she is aligned with Alexa McDonough. Or - my heavens, their names have gone out of my mind - you’ll see Granny aligned with another lady of today.
The whole purpose of the book was to provide for young women, and all women, some knowledge that we had leaders in our midst for a very long time. Jo Napier has done all the artwork, she did the paintings. They were bought by the Royal Bank. They are at Purdy’s Wharf in the Royal Bank office. From time to time we borrowed them for different events.
We settled on Granny LeJeune Ross as our iconic woman for our 40th Anniversary. We used the colours that Joanne used for Granny Ross. Granny Ross was a medical trailblazer. She was a fierce homesteading pioneer. Her family was deported several times back to France. She settled with her family in Little Bras d’Or. She ended up going back to France and came back. As she came back as an adult, she was married and settled in the Margaree Valley.
At the time people were very frightened about some of the illnesses, but Granny Ross rose to the challenge. She was a person who was fearless in her community. She became the community’s most trusted medical practitioner for childbirth, end-of-life care, and all points in between. She contributed in her time, and as the years passed, she became a folk hero.
She succeeded in building trust. She was very good at community engagement. One of the fundamental things we recognize today as a key priority is working with our communities to improve health, to improve success. That was 200 years ago that she engaged in community engagement.
The theme for this year’s Women’s History Month was Claim Your Place. My council wanted to ensure that we identified, not necessarily women who had been recognized repeatedly for their successes but women who may have never been recognized, women who may have never been noticed but the communities knew them, so Granny was our choice. We created infinity scarves with Granny’s picture on them. We were very pleased to have her as our icon for this 40th Anniversary. She demonstrates the qualities that we feel are key.
We tied her image to logos, to video bookmarks, and to our commemorative scarves. The council that I have the pleasure of working with wanted to identify this as women leaders in action. We did a speaker series. Their decision was that we would do our speaker series. The first person we brought in for our speaker series was a woman named Deborah Gillis, who is in New York. She runs Catalyst Corporate, but more importantly, Deborah Gillis is from Margaree, Cape Breton.
We felt that she was a voice we really wanted people to hear, so we hosted a breakfast. We had 300 diverse women and men attend the breakfast, and Deborah Gillis was our keynote speaker.
Deborah Gillis as an executive, a high-ranking executive in New York, commands a tremendous salary for speaking. But because of her commitment to women in Nova Scotia, she donated her speaker fee - she spoke for free. We were very, very proud to have her. One of my council members has a personal friendship with Deborah Gillis, which is how it led us to have her as a speaker.
Our focus was on inclusion, it was on diversity, it was on outreach. We wanted to make sure we had a broad cross-section of Nova Scotians attend. There’s a group in metro called Diverse Voices for Change. They’re new Canadian women. They do a great job working together. Many of them are trying to look at the potential to run for office, the potential to be involved politically. We had of course our women from the African Nova Scotian community, African Nova Scotian women in the Public Service. We had a table for our Mi’kmaq women leaders.
Our keynote speech was recorded, and we kept track of how many views. It was viewed 3,000 times. We had 300 people in the room for the breakfast, and we had 3,000 views of the video. We got tremendous positive feedback. The legacy really is the story of the Status of Women Office, the past chairs, the past executive director, and looking backward and looking forward. It was a really, really exciting time for us.
Now I want to talk about Women’s History Month. As I said, it was Claim Your Place. I also wanted to note with you that the Nova Scotia Archives did a community timeline of the domestic violence work that happened in Nova Scotia. That was a partnership that we had with the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia. We tracked the work and the achievements and the successes of the work over a long period of time. That is now with the Nova Scotia Archives, and it’s very exciting.
I also wanted to talk a little bit about Barb’s Bench. This year, we placed a Barb’s Bench. We have called it the Barb’s Bench program because the Baillie family from Spryfield had come to us with the idea of developing a bench in the community to recognize the victimization of women. Their mom, Mrs. Baillie, had been murdered by their father many years ago. We have a partnership with Silent Witness Nova Scotia. The benches are placed in communities as communities come to Silent Witness and say, we would like a bench in our community. A bench has been placed in Shubie Park. There’s a bench now placed in New Glasgow. There will be another bench placed this year. We’re really pleased with that because it’s a reminder of how important it is to recognize families dealing with domestic violence, women dealing with domestic violence, and of course, anyone who has lost their sister, mother, or family member to domestic violence.
The next thing I wanted to highlight for you is the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The hearings were held in Membertou, and a little bit further over, Heather will talk about the national inquiry and the work of the national inquiry.
I wanted to highlight the current focus of our council. Minister Regan has requested advice for a recruitment strategy to increase the number of women applying to agencies, boards, and commissions and to ensure that we have a gender balance. Our council is very proud to partner with her and to look at opportunities and to look at ways that we can give suggestions or advice to make that process more effective, and to get more women involved. They’re also going to be recruiting women to apply for the agencies, boards, and commissions process, which is exciting.
Our Nova Scotia chair of the council, Michelle Kelly, who you saw with her beautiful daughter in our video, is our incoming chair of the Coalition of Provincial and Territorial Advisory Councils on the Status of Women. That national meeting will be in Nova Scotia this year in June. Status of Women will host it.
The Advisory Council on the Status of Women office is preparing - as I mentioned, our legislation is old. It’s from 1977. Although there has been some tweaking, it really needs to be renovated. We’re going to be looking at that this year.
Of course, on International Women’s Day, the breakfast is going to happen. It’s going to be the second event in our leadership series for council. We partner with the Centre for Women in Business. I think I failed to mention that when we held our breakfast, that was a partnership with the Centre for Women in Business. Tanya Priske, the executive director there, and her team have been amazing to work with. We always work with the Centre for Women in Business in trying to host events or trying to demonstrate the need for leadership and the need for action. The speaker this year is Mandy Rennehan. She’s the CEO of Freshco.
The next thing I wanted to mention to you is our Campaign School for Women. We will be hosting a Campaign School for Women in 2018 in late May. We’ll be holding it at Mount Saint Vincent University. We will be reaching out to all the female MLAs in the province, we’ll be reaching out to our municipal council, and I think anyone who is sitting federally, to be part of that campaign school, as a leader, as a mentor, as a shining star. That will happen this year.
I want Heather to talk to you a little bit about the murdered and missing women inquiry because I think it’s so relevant and the role that Nova Scotia played is so relevant, if that would be okay, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That’s just fine. Ms. Ternoway.
MS. HEATHER TERNOWAY: Thank you, Stephanie, for handing it over. We’re so proud of the work that we were able to do in support of the Mi’kmaq women in this province and the families that have gone through unconscionable heartache and grief in addressing missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in their lives. A national inquiry, as you are probably aware, was launched by the federal government in partnership with all the provinces and territories in September 2016. As a result of that call, there was limited information that was flowing to any partners, NGOs, Indigenous organizations, governments, as the inquiry got their feet under themselves to get things going.
The Status of Women office formed a collaborative network, an information- sharing network originally with Mi’kmaq organizations and Mi’kmaq women leaders, including Karen Bernard, our council member who you saw on the video, to bring everyone together to talk about what was going on and to demonstrate our care and support for the families that were going to be going through this process so that they had all the information they needed to understand whether they were going to participate in the inquiry and to share their stories with the commission, an opportunity that they have been advocating for and fighting for for decades.
The Status of Women office, as Stephanie mentioned, plays a serious convening and collaborative partnership-building role so we were able to be the convening space and the glue in the organizational hub for a number of Mi’kmaq women leaders and organizations that turned into this powerhouse, a leadership table that really took ownership of caring for families, providing them information, and in support of the hearings that were held in Membertou in October. This was the first time that the national inquiry held a hearing in a First Nation community.
The Mi’kmaq women leaders identified very early on that they needed to work with the community and work across their networks and work with families to prepare differently because this was going to be happening in a community. They worked for about six months with our support, as well as a few other government departments - through Justice, Aboriginal Affairs, and Community Services - to pull together a comprehensive, careful hosting and ceremony plan. They hosted a full day of ceremonies before the hearings even began, which is unheard of. That has not happened at any other hearing across the country up until that time or since that time.
Local communities have rallied around the inquiry and hosted an opening ceremony the evening before the day of the hearings. They felt it was very important to prepare in a proper way so they started with sunrise ceremonies and a sacred fire. There were water ceremonies that were held at the original Kings Road Reserve location in Membertou to acknowledge the significance of the relocation of that community and the many generations of pain that everyone in the Mi’kmaq community and the family has gone through with this situation with missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. There were feasts held, opening ceremonies with a grand entry with leaders from the province and from the Mi’kmaq community, and Mi’kmaq women’s community and families being honoured.
It’s interesting to call it an opening ceremony because it wasn’t a celebratory occasion, but the opportunity to bring people together in a good way, to start off the hearings in a Mi’kmaq way, in a way that was appropriate and designed and created by the community was very powerful. Throughout the three days of hearings some Mi’kmaq women leaders looked after everyone. They hosted a family room during the hearings that was a place of respite for family members, for their supporters, and for others who were around during those three days.
They had community support networks from the Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network, the Family Information Liaison Unit, to make sure that families were well supported because they had heard from other hearings that there were concerns about the level of long-term health supports and care for families once the inquiry’s time frame for support ran out so they took ownership of that. They organized art therapy activities and a number of other very loving and caring activities to make sure that people were safe, that they had something to eat, someone to talk to, someone to share their pain with, and someone that they knew, someone who was familiar to them.
This network continues to support families on an individual basis. They are very committed to ongoing support, and they’re here long-term. They have been working with these communities and families for decades and generations. We’re so proud to be able to support that movement, which is now being looked at across the country as a best practice and an example of how to collaborate with the national inquiry and how to support community organizations in their vision of ownership and caring for those families.
That’s all I have to say for now.
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: In closing, I would remind you that women comprise over 50 per cent of the population of Nova Scotia. Women make up half of the paid labour force in Nova Scotia, 50.3 per cent. Issues that affect women affect families and communities. Gender equity certainly matters to all Nova Scotians.
We are a women’s policy office. We are not a service provider. When you look at issues and concerns for women in this province, we are tasked many times to connect women with services and service delivery people - to walk them or support them in accessing services. But we do not deliver direct services in this province. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much for the presentation. We’ll move on to questions. Just a reminder, if you would like to ask questions, indicate to myself as the Chair. We’ll start, as we always do, with a question and a follow-up. We’ll go around at least for a round or two that way, and we’ll try to get (Interruption) They’re laughing because some of them struggle a little bit with the one or two. (Laughter) However, we’re pretty lenient in this committee, and we’ll try to keep it that way.
I will start with Ms. Adams.
MS. BARBARA ADAMS: I am one of those people who went through campaign school. I can tell you that I credit it probably as the single most important thing I could have done to have brought me to where I am, so I will always remain a huge fan and supporter.
My question today is, I had a constituent who called me because the federal government had introduced and passed legislation allowing maternity leave to go from 12 months to 18 months and to spread out the payments that you get over 12 months over 18 months. I’m just wondering if you or anyone here is able to advise us as to when or if we are planning on introducing our own legislation in the province to ensure that that is an opportunity for Nova Scotians because right at the moment, it isn’t.
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: I would say to you that it’s something that has been brought to our attention by some of the young mothers that we talk to. We are looking at it, and we are certainly supportive of how Nova Scotia will proceed. We can’t answer whether Nova Scotia is proceeding, but what I can commit to is following up and coming back to you with an answer if that’s okay.
MS. ADAMS: I’m wondering, given the importance of the violence against women strategies, if you have any sense of the numbers and how things may have changed. I know we had a history of the 40 years, but I’m wondering how the rate of violence may have changed over the years or the rate of conviction for those violence offences has changed over the years. Where are we with that process?
MS. PAT GORHAM: We work with the Department of Justice to track on an annual basis the Statistics Canada analysis. I would caution that that’s based on police reporting into the Juristat. All of the research into intimate partner violence or sexualized violence indicates that that’s a very narrow feedback image because many women make the self-protective choice not to engage with police.
However, what we have been seeing is a downward trend year over year in the rates of violence overall. Some of that may be related to our aging demographic and the change in how many women are in the age group that are typically vulnerable to victimization. That’s that 18-to-35 age group.
However, it’s interesting to note that while the number of victims of intimate partner violence decreased in the last few years, the majority of victims continue to be female. The 2016 Juristat showed that in Nova Scotia 76 per cent of those in that police-reported cohort were females. This is overridingly an experience of violence and harm experienced by women. I think that’s indicative of the fact that even if the overall rates have trended downwards this continues to be a very serious matter.
In terms of the comparison to the overall rate in Canada, in the 2016 analysis we’ve gone down a little bit, we’re a little bit below the national average. However, the incidents of violent victimization in Nova Scotia are higher so we still have a lot of work to do.
This is a short fact sheet that we prepare with the assistance of the Department of Justice for every December 6th. We could make that available to the committee, if you wanted to examine the data further.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That would be fine, thank you. Ms. Leblanc.
MS. SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you for your presentation. As a new politician and a youngish woman - it’s all relative - I want to acknowledge the work that the Advisory Council has done so thank you for all that work. Of course, the video was very poignant and wonderful to watch. I was thinking of Liz Crocker talking about her baby. Well that baby has just had her own baby. It’s really nice to hear Liz talking about her girls.
In 1976, before the council was formed, there was the task force report. In that report, the authors note that child care had long suffered from a welfare stigma and from a current method of subsidization. Over the next 20 years we know that the Advisory Council has made multiple recommendations for a universal system of child care, and of course we don’t have one yet. I’m wondering if you would say that you’re disappointed with the pace of the change on that issue, that we still don’t have a universally accessible model of child care and that the government is still using subsidies. Can you speak to that a little bit?
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed, Ms. Leblanc, I’m never disappointed with progress. I would have to say that like Liz Crocker and Francene Cosman said, there’s still work to be done. We’ve come a long way, we have a long way to go. I think for me that’s the overarching message.
I have a daughter who is a child care teacher, who has gotten an increase in her income this past year, which I’m very appreciative of. I think that both federally and provincially we have a road to travel with child care and how we manage child care. I am optimistic and I am always available to consult on the change, that’s what I would say. There’s a way forward and we’re going to stay here until we find it.
[10:43 a.m. Ms. Rafah DiCostanzo took the Chair.]
MS. LEBLANC: Would you say then that you are continuing to call for a universal child care system or is that a priority of the council right now?
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: Child care is always a concern for us because child care sometimes impacts women’s opportunities to serve on boards or to be available to run for office or, in fact, sometimes it compromises their ability for long employment stints. Those are areas that we try to work really hard on.
One of the things I can tell you that we’ve done, that we’ve made a concerted effort with all governments since I’ve come to this job, is that we created a WINS bursary with the Nova Scotia Community College. It was initially, in 2009, called the Bread and Roses bursary. That bursary provides women with $1,500. It’s renewable. It’s not a lot of money but it does help them to pay some child care costs or some costs for books or some babysitting costs for after-hours studying.
We’ve gotten so much feedback, we’ve had over 100, I believe it’s 190 women have accessed that scholarship. As I mentioned earlier, although we don’t deliver programs, we really support any chance we get to provide opportunities. I will tell you that I am very proud that successive government departments in the Nova Scotia Government have successively put money into that WINS Bursary to help us. Obviously the Status of Women doesn’t raise money and we don’t have the luxury of a few hundred thousand dollars to put in that pot, but government departments have been very supportive, most of the government departments where those women would find employment.
We host meetings with the Nova Scotia Community College and many of those women have found full-time employment in really good paying jobs that allow them to pay child care.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I believe the next on the list is Mr. Keith Irving.
MR. KEITH IRVING: Thank you for your presentation and congratulations on 40 years. I do want to recognize your enthusiasm and dedication to this work, so thank you on behalf of all of us.
I just need a bit of clarification or understanding. You mentioned that you don’t deliver programs, that you are a policy office. With respect to domestic violence and supporting victims, I understood that the previous minister, Joanne Bernard, moved support for transition houses over to the Status of Women. Could you just clarify that relationship and sort of the budgeting of the support of those transition houses, like Chrysalis House in my neck of the woods.
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: I’ll begin and then I’m going to invite my colleague, Pat Gorham, who is the Manager of Programs and Stakeholder Relations.
Yes, Minister Bernard in her role as Minister of Community Services, transferred the women’s centres, transition houses and Alice Housing, which is the largest second-stage housing operation in our province, to the Status of Women Office. That’s our first engagement in supervising or managing or supporting. I shouldn’t say supervise, it’s not our role, but we support their programs.
As a former director of a shelter for battered women, who built a shelter for battered women in this province, I’ve had the privilege of knowing all those women over a very long period of time. That was one of my proudest moments in government, when we were allowed to have transition houses in women’s centres aligned with the Status of Women. We share their reality. We share their goals. We share their objectives. We want to see women living free from violence and we want to look at ways we can work from a policy perspective to increase the responses to those women. I invite my colleague to talk about that partnership.
MS. GORHAM: The bulk of our budget goes to supporting those two networks. It’s about $9 million per annum that goes to the operating grants to the transition houses and the block grants that the women’s centres use in conjunction with other grants that they are able to pull in.
I think the way I’ve come to understand how important those two networks are to Nova Scotia is that really the transition houses are a very important community public safety partner and the communities that have those services lodged in their communities are so fortunate that these organizations are there ready to provide 24/7 protective care, as well as guidance forward for women whose lives have been exploded by violence. I think it’s important to reimagine them more as public safety partners. Their work is very critical to safe communities.
The women’s centres, interestingly, are almost all located in rural Nova Scotia. As they’ve evolved how to serve their communities and how to serve the women in their communities, it’s very clear that they are very much part of your rural social safety net. They play a very vital role in ensuring that women are aware of how to connect with helpful services around poverty relief, whether it’s to get on the fuel oil subsidy program or some of the other elements. In a rural setting where you have to travel great distances to receive services, they are able to assist them with some of those elements.
They are really doing some very interesting work in keeping the vitality of your rural communities strong, so we’re very pleased to be responsible for hearing from them, trying to find solution pathways to the issues that are concerning to them, looking for where there are opportunities to leverage any funding and to be respectful of the important role they play as social activists on women’s issues and ensuring that we are aware of what they are working on and trying to be supportive.
What we’re working on with the transition houses and the women’s centres right now is a collaborative process to develop how they would like to be in partnership with government with respect to their service agreements, how they would like that business relationship to be articulated. That’s the main project we’re working on now. We’re very hopeful that we’ll come up with a collaborative solution on how to frame that appropriately.
[10:48 a.m. Mr. Chuck Porter resumed the Chair.]
MR. IRVING: I think you’ve pretty much covered my question here. Just in terms of the comments you made, in your estimation this is a good fit for this to be under the Status of Women, as opposed to the $900 million Department of Community Services, with all its juggling. You’re seeing a better link from what’s happening on the ground, particularly in rural Nova Scotia and the policy development that you’re responsible for, that this is a good fit.
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: Yes, absolutely. I think it was a really good decision. I can quote one of the women’s centres, my good friend Lucille Harper, when they announced they were going to move over, she said oh, it’s my lucky day. I do think that because we share the same understanding, we’re a feminist organization, we understand many of the challenges that women face, we understand the challenges that the directors face in a rural community, we absolutely support the public safety entities that they are. I think it’s an excellent fit and I think that because they bring issues to us, we are able to work together to try to resolve them and to find the right people in the right departments.
I wouldn’t say that the large department isn’t the right fit, those departments and those staff have always been excellent supporters. In all departments in government there are champions for this kind of work.
Approximately one in four of us is a victim of domestic violence so we work with people, with our colleagues and in our offices, who are challenged with the realities of violence against women. I think that across government people are very supportive and people see the need for it to exist.
You asked a question about budget and I will say the budget for the Status of Women is in the range of $9 million; $8 million of that goes out to women’s centres and transition houses. We have a very small budget for the Status of Women office itself. It’s an adequate budget, I’m not saying anything wrong, but the bulk of the money goes out to those service providers. We have always been keen supporters of the work they do and we’ve always been the first people to message the value they provide.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: Thank you, ladies, for your presentation - a couple of quick questions. A couple of meetings ago we had the sexual violence strategy people in. I believe you guys were involved in the sexual violence strategy. We found out during that meeting that some of the money to support survivors of sexual violence was not being refunded or renewed or whatever you want to call it. What is being done to see that the people who are survivors of sexual violence still get the support they need, if that funding is being cut off? Where does your group stand on that and is there anything being done to try to reverse that or make sure that that funding will continue to support the victims of sexual violence?
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: The first thing I would say is that we are very fortunate in Nova Scotia to have had a sexual violence strategy which is now Sexual Violence Prevention and Supports. When the sexual violence strategy was announced and that $6 million was announced, there were a number of initiatives put in place. People across the province applied for grant funding.
Grant funding is very specific to grants. It’s temporary, it’s not operational, it doesn’t provide long-term initiatives. The ideology would be that just like the federal government, when the federal government provides multi-year grants under Status of Women Canada, it can be any amount of money but there’s a sunset. You get the grant in 2018, but by 2020 or 2021, you can either find sustainability or look at how you integrate that into your existing service. I can’t speak to the decisions of the sexual violence strategy - that would be up to the Department of Community Services and Sarah Granke, who is a wonderful, wonderful person and has done an excellent job.
I think what we need to look at is what we need in our communities. The levels of service we need and the number of victims who come forward - we have to always balance what we can provide. Nova Scotia is a small province. We want people to get service, and we want to look at how we can integrate services within existing services.
I would be the first person to tell you that a women-serving organization in Nova Scotia is one of the most creative organizations; they apply for grants in multiple sectors. Status of Women Canada has just come out with a brand-new call again for grants. My hope would be that they would be looking at other innovative opportunities and that for sustainability, they would look within their own organization at how they can go forward and how they can partner.
We really have to stress how much you need to partner with existing organizations. Whether it’s mental health or whether it’s sexual violence or whether it’s a women’s centre or transition house, we have to look at that, just like we do at Status of Women. Status of Women, as I said to you, has less than $1 million to work with. That’s a lot of money in the real world, but we have eight staff, and we fund and work on a variety of initiatives. But when we are able to do things that are bigger is when we are able to partner. We partner with the Centre for Women in Business. Or we partner with the Department of Justice or Department of Labour and Advanced Education or Department of Community Services. That’s what allows us to go forward.
Will we always be their champion? Yes. Will we look at ways we can support them and look for creative solutions? Yes, yes we would.
MR. ORRELL: On a little lighter note, I guess, to that. You have been having your campaign schools for 10 or so years now . . .
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: Fifteen.
MR. ORRELL: We have the results here at the table. We have some good women in the Legislature now. We heard Minister Regan say that 50 women have been elected in Nova Scotia only.
What success have you had with the schools as far as federal and municipal, getting women involved in boards and agencies? Is there a percentage that would have taken the school over the years, and is there a percentage of them who have actually been elected to federal, provincial, or municipal politics and/or boards and agencies? I think it’s a great thing if we get people thinking.
The problem is that women have so many other barriers. Women living in rural Nova Scotia with children are not likely going to run for politics and be here in the city as much as would be required and leave their families. That’s women’s nature. I understand that part of it. Are there barriers we can get over by something in the way that we can help with that?
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: I’m going to call on my colleague Pat Gorham to talk to you about our campaign school. But one of the things I would say to you is that for all the women who have gone through our campaign school, some of them have never run for office, but they have worked on campaigns. Some of them have worked on leadership campaigns, or they have worked on campaigns behind the scenes, or they have worked on social media. That in itself is an opportunity that allows them to exercise their skills.
Oftentimes, women will not identify the skills they have for the job in front of them. I can’t stress enough the number of women who say to me, oh, gee, I don’t think I could run for office. I would say to you that Ms. Adams could speak to that more eloquently than I can.
I think that we want women to run for office. We look for ways to remove the barriers. Obviously one of the challenges for women running for office is the hours the Legislature sits, and we understand that. We are always talking about that with women to look at opportunities and ways that they can share child care or have child care support - or elder care. We’re in a time when many of us are providing elder care.
We’ll get Pat to talk to you about campaign school itself.
MS. GORHAM: I have to say that we haven’t been focused on tracking those who get elected who attend campaign school because the purpose of campaign school is to create a learning space and an opportunity for women to consider this. We’re delighted when we’re able to see that graduates do decide to run for office. There are a lot of systemic reasons why a woman who would like to run, finds that door closed. Some of that rests with the ability of political Parties to figure out how to make space for women, to be supportive and strategic in promoting a gender-balanced slate of candidates. Those are challenges that are bigger than one woman who takes a school and decides to run. We’re seeing a strengthening in interest.
I’ll tell you a little bit about this work we’re doing for this upcoming campaign school. We’re working with a group of women of colour and women from new Canadian communities who have formed a committee here in Halifax called Diverse Voices for Change. Their collective goal is - they’ve done some good work analyzing what those systemic barriers are that would keep a woman of colour from moving from wanting to be involved to being embraced and welcomed and seen as a partner and a contributor in a political context. They’re helping us to bring a good, strong diversity focus to the campaign school.
Then they’re going to work with us after the campaign school to look at some of the other things that could be built to be supportive of women. Some of the ideas they’re looking at is that a one-shot school is good, but where is the mentoring that might follow that, as a woman encounters an awkward experience of trying to be nominated and trying to understand well what was it that I didn’t quite get right, that I didn’t manage to succeed? What are the lessons learned so I can kind of gear up and try again?
We’re looking at some new approaches and so we’re excited to see their perspective because they’re bringing a perspective of looking at those systemic barriers that keep them out of the opportunity to play a powerful role. Some of what they’re also interested in is that if they have a clearer voice they would be able to be more influential on those who do hold the positions to be more attentive to the needs of diverse communities. It’s a win-win from their perspective whether they get elected or not.
However, I do have a few statistics. We’ve seen 224 women come through our school in the 15 years. This is run every four years and then we’ve been partnering with the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities to organize municipally-focused campaign schools as well. The combination of these two school systems that we’ve been running, 224 women, which I think shows the challenge, that’s not a lot of people that we’ve been able to offer the school to.
One of the things we’re looking at is how do we make access to campaign consideration something that doesn’t happen just once every four years? Those are some of the things we’re working on going forward, to try to see how we do this so that we see more than 224 women over 15 years.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Thank you folks. Certainly, we have some excellent leaders here in taking this program forward. I echo all the comments of Ms. Leblanc and Mr. Irving. We appreciate what you’re doing.
I want to share a quick story here. This book is one of the most interesting, powerful things that I’ve seen. I just flipped through it. I wish I knew it was around since 2014. I missed four years of not circulating this. Stories are so important in empowering women to show them the courage.
We had a ferry that was christened in Digby County a year ago. We let the school in Freeport pick the name. I mean, they’ve been named after MLAs before and stuff like that. We went into the school and they had a competition there and a young fellow came up with the name Margaret’s Justice. Now, I don’t know if you’ve heard this story but Margaret’s Justice is Margaret Davis. In 1828, she had some land taken away from her. She took it upon herself - she was widowed - to take a boat all the way to Clementsport and then walked to Halifax to put herself before the government to argue her case to get her land back, and then stayed there for a couple of weeks and walked back.
I know we’ve got 900 stories, you could write 10 of these books, one every year. The Fundy Rose is another one - Rose Fortune, I could go on and on. These are stories we need to keep retelling, I think. I’m just wondering, first, are you planning on doing another book? If you aren’t, is there a way that we can - what role do you see MLAs playing in helping out with your job and making sure that these stories get out? My daughter is going to read this as soon as I get home.
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: The first thing I can say is that we can supply you with more books. We’d love for you to share them. The book came about because the author, Jo Napier, had a little girl she adopted from China and she wanted to tell her about women in Nova Scotia. She couldn’t find a book that had stories about women in Nova Scotia - a condensed book - so that’s how the book came about.
She started with the paintings and she contacted our office and asked me if I would partner with her. I was extremely excited to do so, so the book came about in that genre. She’s painting right now women in the science, trades and technology field, which suits us very well given that we have a bursary with the Nova Scotia Community College and that there’s a focus at UNESCO around women in non-traditional or the STEM fields.
The answer to that is we haven’t talked about a second version. We certainly will as we go forward because there is tremendous interest. Heritage Day is coming up and I know that the woman selected for this year’s Heritage Day is Mona Parsons. I know the event that is going to happen, the Communities, Culture and Heritage folks are going to use our book as part of the story for that day. I would say to you that it’s an ongoing partnership and we hope there will be other paintings come out of it.
I will tell you a funny story. Before the Royal Bank purchased them, we used to bring some of the paintings - have them shipped to events. We had an event for December 6th in the Red Room of the Legislature. We had Muriel Duckworth and Rita Joe with us. We had the Mi'kmaq drummers and we had feminist gumboot dancers from New Brunswick. The feminist gumboot dancers loosened the plaster in the room below so we were not as welcome as we used to be, after us and those paintings.
The paintings are so large they are life-size, they are like the size of the screen there. When the Royal Bank purchased them, they let us come and visit; we’ve actually been there. A week ago, we were there with our council to visit the paintings. We hope that Jo will be interested in doing another project with us - right now it’s the women in the STEM field and we’re going to look at how we can promote that.
Your second question is as an MLA, I think it’s really important that you have a good understanding of what the Status of Women Office does and how it can be helpful. Feel free to refer any women to our office that we can provide information to - provide connections, provide links. We’re always interested in hearing from women in the community. I think those are some of the ways.
If you are encouraging women to run for office, that would be great. If you are asking the questions of how many women are serving on this board or that board, that, too, would be great. I think it’s incremental, but I think change is incremental so I think it’s very positive.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I’ve got a feeling that I don’t get a follow-up.
MR. CHAIRMAN: How many questions did you want to ask in one question? (Laughter) I’ll be lenient today, you can go ahead with one short question.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Just one comment back to Margaret’s Justice that I liked the most is that now when the tourists go on that ferry or people from away, they ask about the name and the story gets retold. I think we should take advantage of that more often with our buildings and whatever.
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: I would really encourage you to do that. I will tell you that at the Status of Women office a couple of years back we approached the HRM regarding the naming of streets. What we discovered is that they had over 100 names for men for streets in new subdivisions and two women. One of the women was Ruth Goldbloom - we would want anything named after Ruth Goldbloom, she was an exceptional person.
The reality is that if you don’t ask the questions, we don’t get the answer, so I would really encourage you. If they are naming something, if they are naming a city hall, if they are naming a building, think about gender. Think about how gender matters
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Leblanc.
MS. LEBLANC: I’m going to shift the course of the conversation just to go back to economic security. As you know, Nova Scotia has the lowest minimum wage of any province in the country, and we know that women are overrepresented in the lowest-paying sections of the workforce. Your statistic shows that women do make up 50.3 per cent of the paid labour force, and in our research, we know that women make up more than 32,000 of the 54,000 Nova Scotians earning between $10 and $12 an hour. Given all those depressing numbers, I’m wondering, does the advisory council support a phased-in move to a $15 minimum wage as we have seen in other provinces?
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: What I would say to you is that we are absolutely open and available to consultation. Should we be asked, we would certainly do the research and come back with the appropriate answer.
We of course support women’s economic security. We of course are concerned about the level of minimum wage. We’re also concerned about the economic security of the Province of Nova Scotia and whether businesses can support or manage these increases.
We would welcome any conversation with the department. I’m sure that will be forthcoming, that we will be having a conversation around gender and wage and wage gaps. We would absolutely welcome the conversation.
MS. LEBLANC: Speaking of that, I was wondering, when legislation is written or brought forward by the government, does the advisory council have a chance to look at legislation and look at it through a gender lens before it’s brought forward in the House?
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: I would say to you that my understanding is that for all policy and all policy recommendations, government considers gender. It’s a part of their policy across departments. It’s part of their policy considerations. On the report and recommendations that go to Cabinet, there’s a checkbox that says, has a gender analysis been done? Any department putting that forward would look at whether they have done a true gender analysis and check it off. I would be very comfortable in saying government is very mindful of gender in policy development.
We’re a little bit different than the Women’s Policy Office in Newfoundland and Labrador, where any legislation going forward gets vetted through the policy office. We see that that has worked well. It has worked well with the oil and gas industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In Nova Scotia, I think we have been progressing, and we’re doing a much better job in terms of looking at gender in developing policy. Any time there’s legislation going forward that has any specificity to women, we have always been called. The staff in the departments will call us, and they’re very inclusive in asking, have you looked at this? Can you tell us what you think? I think, like in every province in Canada, gender has become much more the norm in policy development and in policy decisions. We would encourage you as provincial leaders to also encourage your municipal leaders to look at gender in developing policy.
So yes. I would say absolutely yes to that question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. DiCostanzo.
MS. RAFAH DICOSTANZO: I just wanted to start by saying that I’m so appreciative of the amazing work that you guys are doing, especially with the shelter homes. I have worked in a couple of them, and I’m truly amazed at what is available for women once they make it to those shelter homes.
My question is, how do women find out about those shelters? Is it always through the police? I’m just wondering, especially for new immigrant women, and of course, the cases I dealt with were all immigrant. They would not know how to access. Is there something that we can do? Should it be publicized? This doesn’t exist in their country, so they don’t think there is, so they’re living in violence at home, and they don’t know about it. How do people reach those decisions? Do you get a referral from police most of the time? How does it work?
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: I will invite my colleague, Pat, to join me in this conversation. For immigrant women of course many of those women, or some of the women, are in contact with ISANS and they get referred that way. Some of them are referred by the police. Others are referred, for example, by lawyers. We have just gone through developing a project with the QEII emergency department to put posters in the emergency department to offer up full numbers and contact.
We have a project in Nova Scotia called Neighbours, Friends and Family, where people can call and get referral information and refer people, so they can do that. Once they call the number, they’ll get connected to a transition house, and the transition house will then give them the information. It’s that kind of word-of-mouth and connecting with people. There’s no formal process. Police are very quick to refer Victims Services with the police, provincial Victims Services are quick to refer, so people can get connected in those ways.
I’ll ask Pat to add in.
MS. GORHAM: Yes, I think you’ve identified a real challenge for many public services that new Canadians don’t know how to access so I think we’ve had several engagements with our colleagues at Immigration as to what the best way is to get that information out.
I’ll talk about one really interesting project we’re supporting that the YWCA has developed. Sometimes it’s not so much getting information about violence, it’s even speaking about whether there’s even violence happening in your life because there’s so much risk involved. They have a project which we helped to broker the funding for where they’re offering in one of the buildings where many new Canadians live, with the collaboration of the landlord, to offer essentially a drop-in centre for women so there’s child care. The women don’t have to take a bus, and they don’t have to change their daily routine which is often very focused on home and family. They can come with their children, there’s child care for their children and the women are deciding what it is they want to use that time for. Also passively, information about how to be safe is shared by the young hostess who is looking after them, the counsellor who is working with them.
Interestingly, what the women have chosen as being the most urgent thing they need to work on together - which is kind of heartbreaking - is being more competent in English. Some of the women I met when I visited the centre had been in Canada for four or five years but really had never sort of been able to get that level of comfort and confidence in navigating using the English language. That is where they wanted to start but then what they talk about when they are working with English is services. So there’s a really nice, sort of non-threatening way to bring in news about how you can be safe if you need to be safe. I think that’s a very innovative way that is the way to go. It’s more preventive to sort of be introducing that information. I think those are some of the things we need to figure out how to do more of.
MS. DICOSTANZO: This is not related to that, but I just wanted to say that in my riding we have a new area called Rockingham South, I believe, and all the streets are named after women and Ruth Goldbloom is in that. I’m very proud of that, every street of that new development is named after a woman who has done something and Ruth is one of them. I just wanted to make sure that everybody knew that. It is happening in Clayton Park West.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Horne.
MR. BILL HORNE: Thank you so much for your presentation. I certainly learned a lot about your integration within all the different departments we have in government. I’m sure there’s more stories there and I’ll be asking you them. The value of scholarships for women, I think, is very important. Also the centres you have that you are involved with, as far as safety nets for the communities.
How about Health and Wellness in your participation. It’s a big part of your mandate, I believe. I’m wondering if you could let us know some of the stories there where you participated within the Department of Health and Wellness.
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: Thank you for your question. One of the areas that I feel is an area of concern is certainly women and mental health. What we heard from our women’s centres across the province is that women are not - they feel that the women they serve are being underserved in mental health. We’ve had the good fortune to have a student with us this year. She has been doing some research in terms of the barriers for women accessing mental health services. The women’s centres have been providing support to a large number of women who have mental health concerns. We’re looking at that project and we will be following that up as a policy issue with the Department of Health and Wellness, once the research is completed by our student. I think that’s one of the ways that we’re very concerned.
Obviously we were very concerned about the access to abortion. Our minister was very front and centre in making sure that Nova Scotia women had access to the abortion pill. So there’s pieces that happen and as they happen we respond as they happen.
I know there has been a lot of focus in the last few weeks that I’ve noticed around women and heart disease so we’ll be talking to our health colleagues about how that is identified and whether there are policy decisions coming forward that we can assist with.
MR. HORNE: You did talk a little bit about the Department of Justice. I was wondering how you feel you can be an important part of that in the decisions made for women.
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: Well, as a former employee of the Department of Justice, I think my relationships are very positive. We work really closely with the department. Minister Furey and I worked together as colleagues in that department before he moved on to a political career.
We’ve worked very closely with the Department of Justice for a very long time. There’s domestic violence legislation that went through. They are working right now on developing a Domestic Violence Court program and Ms. Gorham can speak to that.
We’re constantly in contact with the Department of Justice and if we get any opportunities to do any projects together, to co-fund a project, the Department of Justice is always at the table.
MS. GORHAM: I’ll just highlight that the Domestic Violence Court program that will be opening soon in Halifax has been the design of how complementary services will be developed. It has been done using a very community-focused approach, with I think up to 53 community partners contributing to the working group, looking at how we could better serve those women particularly - as well as the men, who might be coming through the court program - with a view to how we make sure that that experience of going through the court program results in significant behaviour change and improved safety. So the Status of Women is at that table contributing to that discussion.
We work very closely with our colleagues at Victim Services, looking for opportunities to support their agenda. For instance, in June we’ll be bringing the very expert team from the United States that has developed the victim-centred safety risk assessment called the Jacquelyn Campbell Danger Assessment which takes a slightly different approach to assessing a woman’s risk for higher level of violence than what is called the ODARA, which is the scoring system used by police to determine whether the case before them is one where the woman is at risk of serious injury or danger.
Dr. Campbell and her team will be coming here in June and I think together, combining our small resources, we should be able to get 120 certified assessors and we’ll be making sure that the transition houses - that will be our contribution, to subsidize the seats for the transition house team because they’ve had a lot of staff turnover and many of their young staff aren’t certified to use that danger assessment.
That’s the kind of capacity-building project we would work on because we’re not responsible for the larger mandate of the Department of Justice but there are ways in which we can identify how the Status of Women can be of some assistance and how things you are trying to do can trickle down to the community actors who also need that kind of training and resources. That’s an example of some of the ways we partner. We’re excited to be able to have found the bits of money to bring the team up from the school of nursing to provide that certification training.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Adams and we will move to one question, in an effort to get - oh, I’m sorry, Ms. Ternoway, it’s all yours, please carry on.
MS. TERNOWAY: I just wanted to add something in terms of a specific collaboration with the Department of Justice. I was speaking earlier about our collaborative work across departments to support the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
Another example of that collaboration is the way that the Department of Justice and Victim Services approached opening a family information liaison unit to support families and victims connected to the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. This was through federal funding, through the Department of Justice, that had very specific parameters about how each province and territory could offer enhanced supports for those particular victims throughout the duration of the national inquiry. The model that was being proposed in Nova Scotia was consistent with that funding approach, and Status of Women played a key role in working with the Department of Justice, the Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network, and the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association who identified that that model wasn’t exactly right for their communities and for the needs of their families.
Through a collaborative approach, we were able to develop a better model, a more collaborative model that actually involved an Aboriginal victim case coordinator at the Department of Justice and three Mi’kmaq community outreach support specialists who are out in communities meeting people where they are, connecting them into the formal information-seeking and victim services navigation process that’s helping them find the information that they may never have had access to about their missing or murdered loved ones. We’re very proud to have been a partner with Justice in creating a collaborative approach that’s helping families right now, every day, as this is going on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Adams, and we will go to one question in an effort to get the rest of our time in. I know there are others who want to ask some questions.
MS. ADAMS: To follow up on Mr. Horne shifting the focus to health and wellness, if we look at your vision and mandate, I think everybody knew coming in that the council was focused on violence against women and the economic security and the leadership.
The health and wellness piece, because there is a Department of Health and Wellness - as a health professional myself, I’m getting a lot of calls about access to health services, specifically from women. In all honesty, I haven’t gotten very many calls from men except to say, my wife and I don’t have a family doctor. A couple of the ones that came up that stood out for me were women who were pregnant whose family doctor was not willing to take on their baby as a patient. The department of family medicine told me to have the women put their fetuses on the 811 doctor wait-list. I have mentioned that a number of times. To my knowledge, the women I know who have put their fetuses on the 811 list have not gotten phone calls. Two of the ones who are in my constituency, their children are now 14 months old, and they still haven’t gotten a call.
One call that I had the other day is very disturbing to me. A woman had had a mammogram ordered while she still had a family doctor. Then her family doctor finished up with her. When she went in for the mammogram at the Bayers Road Shopping Centre clinic, they asked, who’s your family doctor? She said, I don’t have one. They said, well then, you cannot have the test. She had already had a test, and this was a follow-up for a lump, so she was quite distraught and forced the issue. They did the test and sent it to the old family doctor, who was still practising. Then there was a hassle for us to get the results because there was no one who was legally responsible for those.
I wanted to make you aware of that. We did get her the results, and they were good, thank God, but it’s a trend that I’m starting to see. We’re not sure who’s making the policies to say, you have had a test ordered but if you don’t have a doctor you can’t have it. I’m sharing that because that’s a massive issue. I’m wondering what the council’s role is in terms of health and wellness and how that partners with the Department of Health and Wellness. Even things like caregivers - the majority of caregivers who are in their 50s, 60s, and 70s are women.
I’m just wondering how many calls you get to the department because you’re the first person who has ever said that your funding was adequate. When I found out that of $9 million, you only have $1 million to deal with leadership, economic security, and health and wellness - I would be the first one to say that’s peanuts. If we want better economic security and greater leadership and better health and wellness advocacy, I would be the first one to tell you I think you need a bigger budget.
I’m just wondering how many calls you might get about health and wellness, and what you see as your role versus the Department of Health and Wellness.
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: I had no idea about the mammogram and as a breast cancer survivor, I will be following up so thank you for raising it. I didn’t know that was a new practice.
We have limited ability to work on health and wellness issues because of the other issues like the violence against women, the leadership, the economic security. Those have been our key focus. That doesn’t mean we’re not involved with policy or recommending policy or trying to encourage policy changes, like we did with the abortion pill, like we do. Either the staff or my council will send letters to the Health and Wellness Minister or staff will send a letter to the department to look at a policy or changing a policy.
Where we get our information is from women’s centres primarily and transition houses, that run up against challenges or problems and they bring them to us to look for resolution in the health and wellness area. Our role would be to then liaise with that department to get a response to whatever the key issue was or whatever that issue is.
We’re not having large numbers of women calling the office saying that these are the blanket issues for us or these are the key issues for us. We did not have someone call about access to testing so I will certainly take that back and ask for a response and follow up with you. I really appreciate it and I don’t know if you have more to add.
MS. GORHAM: I think identifying how to advocate for women’s health needs in the complicated landscape of what is the Nova Scotia Health Authority, what is the Department of Health and Wellness. I know that the Health Authority is looking at evolving their methodology for delivering community-based mental health services and it’s in a state of transition. During this period of transition, our understanding is that it could be that the community organizations that are there to care for citizens are being asked to do more about situations where women are struggling with anxiety or depression. As Stephanie said, we’re looking at that to try and understand whether that’s a feature of this transition phase or whether it’s a genuine community gap that needs to be identified.
I think the work we’ve done to date is a step forward but there’s much more to do in terms of articulating a health equity message with a gender lens.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. DiCostanzo on one question.
MS. DICOSTANZO: I just wanted to add something that I know in regard to health and wellness for women. I’ve worked with a group that met once a month through the refugee clinic but it wasn’t only for refugees. They do women’s wellness only and I was an interpreter for that. It’s actually the gynecologists who were studying who were doing their residency. They came, six or seven of them and they occupied the whole clinic and for three hours they do nothing but women’s wellness. It’s a lot about whatever issues women have. I think that has been there for about a year. If they are doing it for the refugee clinic, I’m sure they are doing it somewhere else. I’ve worked with them and it is specifically for women’s health, so that’s one.
The other question I had is regarding mental health. I know in Halifax West High School, there’s a group of girls who have gotten together and they are doing mental health in the high school; I was so impressed and I actually put it on my Facebook. Is there something that I can connect them maybe with the Status of Women and we can encourage them so that we can have something like that in every high school? I really think that what they are doing is wonderful.
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: That would be wonderful.
MS. DICOSTANZO: It’s in my mind to connect them with you, to help them develop it, to see what they can come up with and we copy it in other high schools.
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: Absolutely, that would be great.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Leblanc.
MS. LEBLANC: I mentioned that I am a newish MLA and one of the things that has been weighing on me since I was elected and have been in the House stems from an incident that happened well before I was elected. This has been in the news a lot. There was a member of the Liberal staff who was charged with domestic violence. He pled guilty and he carried out his sentence. He was fired for not disclosing the fact that this has happened, but then he was secretly rehired for the past election campaign.
At the time, there was a member who was campaigning and spoke to, as it happens, the survivor of that assault - this has been in news all over the place. The survivor was told that women’s organizations across the province had been consulted about the rehiring of this individual and that they had unanimously given support to the rehiring.
This was then bandied about in the House during Question Period over the course of several days and the whole time I sat there, I felt extremely powerless. There was just no way to respond to it at the time, but it is something that we had been seeing in the news around the same time that happened. The MeToo campaign began with Harvey Weinstein and the allegations against him. Then, as you know, it has just been bulldozing, I think, in a rather positive and hopeful way in popular culture.
My question about this is, when all of that happened, and when the women’s centres were consulted about the rehiring of the individual, was the Advisory Council on the Status of Women consulted, given that you influence so many things that happen in the government? My question is, did anyone ask you what you thought?
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: Well, we’re not political. We’re not a partisan organization, so we don’t get asked by political Parties on political issues what we think. Right off the bat, I can tell you that that’s not part of our role. If we were to be asked, we would give advice, but if we’re not asked, we don’t give advice. We also don’t comment on political decisions that are made by political Parties; that’s not our role. Like I said, if a political Party came to us and said, could you advise us on this, could you give us some feedback, we would be happy to provide that.
What I would say to you is, I think it’s a credit to a political Party not to involve a non-partisan government agency that is arm’s length from government to advise on any decisions they’re making politically. That’s not our role. Our role is to look at the safety and security of women. My concern would be, is the woman safe? Does the woman have a safety plan? Does the woman have support? Are there places I can refer her to? Political decisions are outside my focus altogether. I don’t get involved in political decisions, and I don’t participate in political Parties.
The only thing I could say to you is that I would be very, very concerned if a political Party came to the Nova Scotia Advisory Council - which is an arm’s-length agency of government - and asked us to provide input on their Party and their members. That wouldn’t be my role, that would never be my role, and I wouldn’t look for that role.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson, one question.
MR. GORDON WILSON: You touched on agencies, boards, and commissions and the work that you’re planning to do there to try and bolster the numbers there. The only thing you really mentioned is that you’re actually going to go out and do some recruiting. I think all of us should take on that role, firstly, MLAs also. Outside of the recruiting side, are there any other thoughts on strategies? Recruiting isn’t the easiest thing to do, to go out and ask. I’m just wondering. I know it’s ongoing discussions, and you’re early on into it, I would assume, but I would be interested in knowing more.
MS. GORHAM: I think some of what our council is looking at is sort of two threads for the work that they’re doing in looking at this, given that they are participants in the ABC process, they bring their own experience of participating. Some of our council members bring a perspective of women who are new to Canada, and they have identified that the ability to understand the purpose of an agency, board, or commission is a bit mysterious.
Some of it is helping the team that communicates to Nova Scotians about agencies, boards, and commissions to look at other ways to share why choosing to do this might be something a citizen would want to do. It seems to be a little bit assumed that you would want to do this. We have had some conversations with the team at Executive Council that has the responsibility for promoting and recruiting on a biannual basis. How could the council complement what they’re doing? It is somewhat independent. Could the council look at a more focused or proactive approach?
Those are some of the ideas around recruitment, and there are other ways that recruitment can be achieved. Then also to look at whether we could have some more portability in somebody who applies, to make sure they know they could choose several different agencies, boards and commissions to be considered. We’re sort of looking at how the system can be more responsive and what are some creative recruitment strategies the council could take responsibility for, to complement the recruitment already being done by government to populate the level of participation.
Some of the agencies, boards and commissions are structured such that some of the seats are populated by the industry that is being assisted by the boards and commissions. So there is an opportunity to communicate to the industry partners as well, to look at, how are you using gender to populate the seats that you are responsible for populating because not all of them are just by citizen application.
There are a few layers we are looking at to come up with a bit of a plan to see a stronger outcome. Sometimes just by making it part of conversation, different people looking at it, changes people’s perspective that they might give that a try. That’s sort of where we’re going and the council hopes to provide those suggested pathways to the minister very shortly.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: A few minutes ago you alluded to the availability of abortion; it’s important to you guys. Just recently we heard about - and I don’t want to try and pronounce the abortion pill because I murder the English language at the best of times so I’m not going to attempt that. We’ve heard from some health care professionals that it’s still maybe not as accessible to women because of the actual follow-up and the care needed through the health care system that doctors can’t provide, because of the process and the billing, and so on and so forth.
Does the Status of Women have any input on where that can go or what you guys can do to help move that forward so that access is there for people who are needing or requiring to go through that process and have the proper follow-up and care so that they are treated equally?
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: My council has been very concerned about access to the abortion pill. That’s an item that’s on the agenda for their April meeting. The Chair of my council had written to the Minister of Health and Wellness. I’m sure she’ll be writing a follow-up letter when we come back to the table.
My council meets four to five times a year so they have a fairly heavy agenda. Anything that’s an emergent issue we try to have the conversation so she knows what letters need to come out as she comes back to the table. We’re meeting in April and that will be one of the first items on the agenda.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacInnis-Langley, I would say thank you to you and Ms. Gorham and Ms. Ternoway. I would offer you a few minutes if you would like to make some closing comments or if any of the other ladies would like to make some closing comments.
MS. MACINNIS-LANGLEY: I guess what I would want to say to you most importantly today is thank you - thank you for inviting us, thank you for listening to us and thank you for supporting the work we do.
I believe the Status of Women Office occupies a unique role, a special role, as a government policy office, as the locus for a council of citizen leaders to have a voice. Much of our work, as we told you, is as a connector. We advance impactful work, we work in collaboration with all government departments and offices. Some of the examples would be, we were very much involved in the development of the Nova Scotia sexual violence strategy. We supported the incubation and we still house the VOICES folks from the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children; I was on the design team to design the inquiry.
We partner with the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association and the organization called LOVE Nova Scotia - or Leave Out Violence Nova Scotia - to pilot a girls’ resilience project and we were really proud to bring the First Nation girls from Shubenacadie with their leaders to the UN last year. They presented to UN leaders from around the world.
Those are just some of the ways that Status of Women is involved. We’re a very small office and we try to have impact on multiple fronts. Sometimes there are issues that we’d like to be more engaged in but we have to find the time to do it.
I do want to thank you. I want each of you to be engaged in promoting women’s leadership and thank you for having us today, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you so much. I can assure you that as a man who has four daughters, I don’t need to promote a lot. They are very strong-minded. They must get that from their mother, I’m sure. It has been a pleasure having you with us this morning. Thank you and keep up the great work you are doing.
To the rest of the committee, one bit of business is that we did agree to meet, based on the House schedule. The clerk will advise us, I guess, based on the House schedule as things roll out over the next month or so through March and April and however that may be.
Ms. Leblanc, you have a question? You look puzzled.
MS. LEBLANC: So we will be meeting as the House sits?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No. As per our discussion earlier, we won’t be meeting, we’ll wait for notice from the clerk, based on timing of the House being in session, when that could end and so on.
MS. LEBLANC: Right, gotcha.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So we’ll wait for notice from our fine clerk. Thank you very much. We stand adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 11:46 a.m.]