Speech by the Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, to the National Council of Women of Canada


Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Saturday, June 11, 2016

(check against delivery)

Good morning everyone.

Greetings and good wishes from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Government of Canada.  And thank you for your kind invitation to speak to you today.  I am honoured to be here and to have this opportunity to meet with the National Council of Women of Canada.

As I begin, I think congratulations are in order - this year we celebrate both the 100th anniversary of the Saskatoon Council of Women and the 100th anniversary of women obtaining the right to vote in Saskatchewan.   These are two very remarkable achievements.

And, while many of you will know the pride I feel in my home province, it’s almost inconceivable to think that the first federal election in which women were allowed to vote didn’t come until five years later, in 1921.

Many of you may also know how very proud I am to celebrate the achievements of women as part of a federal Cabinet that includes an equal number of women and men.  This historic accomplishment recognizes that our country is enriched and our government is more effective when Canada’s diversity is represented at all levels.

But there continue to be great strides yet to be taken to address gaps in gender equality.

When I was first elected to the House of Commons, in 1974, the total number of women elected to the House — across Canada and from all parties — was smaller than the number of female colleagues currently around the Cabinet table.

But Canada’s 30th Parliament in 1974 included such ground-breaking women as Jeanne Sauvé, born here in Saskatchewan, who broke down barriers as a CBC journalist, a Member of Parliament, a Cabinet Minister, Speaker of the House of Commons and - if that wasn’t enough – as the 23rd Governor General of Canada.

And there was Monique Bégin, a dynamo who, in addition to her pioneering role in passing the Canada Health Act and creating the New Horizons program when she was in Cabinet, served early in her career as executive secretary to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women.

Also there in 1974 was British Columbia’s Iona Campagnolo – the first Minister of Sport and later a University Chancellor and then Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.

It was a great group.  Looking back at those strong people today, I guess it should come as no surprise that they were recruited to their public roles by a Prime Minister also named Trudeau, in whose Caucus I was honoured to serve.  As the only Member of Parliament to have served with both Pierre Trudeau and now Justin Trudeau, I speak from some experience about the shift towards gender parity we are witnessing today.

Similarly, in the United States, the Democratic Party has just broken the glass ceiling by selecting its first female nominee for President.  In claiming that historic position, Hilary Clinton referenced the long hard struggle for equality which women have endured for decades and even centuries.

But in both our countries, positive movement has clearly been too slow.  According to a list compiled by the Inter-parliamentary Union, Canada ranks 62nd in the representation of women in national parliaments.  Sixty-second!  And the US places 97th!  Both of us behind places like Rwanda, Serbia, Uganda, Kazakhstan and Iraq. This is unacceptable and it is incumbent on all of us to keep pushing for parity.

In keeping with your theme of “Safety and Security”, I’d like to say a few things about some of my Cabinet responsibilities.

The Public Safety portfolio is enormous and complex.  It plays a leadership role nationally in emergency preparedness, response and recovery — the fire at Fort Mac for example.  It also includes responsibility for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Correctional Service of Canada, the Parole Board of Canada, and a range of oversight bodies that supervise these agencies.

Women make up well over 50% of our total workforce throughout the portfolio with the exception of the RCMP where the ratio is 44%.  And notably within the RCMP, the commanding officer here in Saskatchewan is Brenda Butterworth-Carr, the commanding officer in Alberta is Marianne Ryan, the commanding officer in Prince Edward Island is Joanne Crampton and the commanding officer of Depot Division Training Academy in Regina is Louise Lafrance.

My portfolio adds up to 65,000 employees working to keep Canadians safe.  Annual investments of some $9-billion.  The largest non-military portfolio in the Government of Canada.  Women are in the front ranks of leadership.

My Associate Deputy Minister is Gina Wilson.  Three of my four ADMs are women – Monik Beauregard in National Security, Lori MacDonald in Emergency Management and Kathy Thompson in Countering Crime.  My Chief of Staff is Marci Surkes.  And the President of the Canada Border Services Agency is Linda Lizotte-MacPherson.

When the new Cabinet was sworn in last November — for the first time ever — mandate letters from the Prime Minister were made public. So his instructions to all his Ministers are completely transparent.  Among other things, my Mandate Letter includes an important agenda to support the skillful and courageous people who work as First Responders - firefighters, police officers and paramedics.   Increasingly, women are filling these roles.

First responders are the people we expect to keep the rest of us safe, and every day they are called upon to face high-stress, life-threatening situations that are simply unimaginable to most Canadians.  To recognize what they do, we are working on a new Public Safety Officer Compensation Benefit to provide support to the families of those who lose their lives in the line of duty.

We will also produce a National Strategy on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to better research this serious and growing issue, to recognize the symptoms, make help more readily available, avoid stigmas and get people back on the job more successfully.

I am proud to recognize the brave women who continue to push history out of its comfort zone and toward a better future.  Many put their own safety at risk to keep our country safe.

A few generations ago, it would have been unthinkable to have women serving in positions of safety and security.  The first-ever troop of female recruits to the RCMP (Troop 17) was admitted to Depot Division in the fall of 1974.  That was 42 years ago.  I had just been elected to my first term as a Member of Parliament.

Today, nobody is shocked to learn the RCMP welcomes women and men of all backgrounds.  That diversity in its workforce provides better knowledge and understanding, ensures a more balanced approach, and lets it work even closer with the communities served.

Statistics from 2013 indicate that one-third of police personnel in Canada are now women.  That places us fifth in the world in terms of female representation.  That’s a good sign.  But since every silver lining has its cloud, only 17% of senior officers and non-commissioned officers in our police forces are yet women.

That’s a trend I sincerely hope will change.  I am confident that it will.  We need more Marianne Ryans and Brenda Butterworth-Carrs and Joanne Cramptons and Louise Lafrances.

As part of my Public Safety responsibilities, I was in Alberta last month, as that Beast of a fire was raging in Fort McMurray, cutting through the city and half a million hectares of forest, displacing 90 thousand residents, leaving a swath of unspeakable destruction, and mobilizing masses of people and resources from across Canada in support of the response to this tragedy.

Among the many dedicated people I met, from evacuee families, volunteers, first responders, emergency coordinators and elected officials, I was most encouraged – and impressed – after meeting with the Premier, the Alberta Cabinet Minister who serves as my provincial counterpart, and the divisional commanding officer of the RCMP.  They were consumed by the intensity of the crisis, but displayed leadership, competence, courage and compassion in the face of their massive, unprecedented task.  And all 3 are women.  And so is Fort Mac’s mayor.

Outside my portfolio looking at the Canadian Armed Forces, one of the first military forces in the world to allow women to serve in all occupations, women currently comprise 14.5%.  The Chief of the Defence Staff has made a commitment to improve this number to reach at least 25% in 10 years.

This past month marked a milestone as Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama appointed US General Lori Robinson as the first female commander of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defence Command.

But discussing these accomplished women just reminds us that we are still “impressed” by having women in positions of authority and leadership.  I look forward to the day when it’s no longer surprising or unusual.

You know more than any that while much has been achieved, there continue to be great strides needed to address gaps in gender equality.  I thank you for your efforts to motivate and empower those around you to pursue careers in government and security.  I thank you for leading by example in demonstrating that a society based on equality is not some vague and distant goal, but a requirement that is good for humankind.

On the policy front in our government in the field of “Safety and Security”:

We’re investing $8.4-billion to begin bridging the life gaps between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous peoples – in education, health, housing and clean water – all of that builds safer, more secure communities  We’re also proceeding with the absolutely essential National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, to help our society identify how to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again.

On marijuana — our whole approach is based upon health and public safety.  The current regime has failed.  Under that regime Canadian teenagers have become the heaviest users of marijuana in the western world and organized crime has been enriched by Billions of dollars in illegal profits every year.  So past policy has not worked.  We will implement a new legal regime — including strict regulations, standards, restrictions, taxation and enforcement – to keep our kids safer and cut cash flows to crime lords.

In the Correctional System — never a popular topic, but an essential one — we need to move beyond ideological rhetoric and popular symbols of retribution and revenge.  We need an evidence-based assessment of what actually works most effectively to prevent re-offending and recidivism and keep Canadians safe.

Have the policies of the past 10 years increased or decreased public safety?  What about the use of solitary confinement?  Why are the numbers of Indigenous people in jail increasing 5-times faster than non-Indigenous people?  How are we dealing with mental illnesses?

On street violence — guns and gangs — which I’ve discussed recently with Big City Mayors in Toronto and Surrey, we’re examining stronger border measures to combat smuggling and practical ways to help get illegal hand guns and assault weapons off our streets.

We’re committed to more federal support for police Task Forces taking on gangs and guns, and a far more balanced and inclusive “Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee” involving law enforcement, public health and women’s groups – as well as hunting, farming, ranching and sporting advocates.

And we need a holistic approach that doesn’t depend solely on “goal line” defences to deal with problems “late in the game”, but also pro-active upstream initiatives that try to get “ahead of the game”.

That’s why we are investing heavily in stronger families and stronger communities:

  • the middle class tax cut and the new Canadian Child Benefit to reduce inequality and lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty;
  • better access to post-secondary education for hundreds of thousands of middle and low income students, without the lingering burden of more student debt;
  • doubling the number of summer jobs for students from coast to coast;
  • large scale investments in public infrastructure of all kinds to drive greater economic growth, more jobs and more resilient cities and towns;
  • investments in housing and transit;
  • investments in child care facilities, in safe shelters for women and families, and in happy welcoming places for seniors and the vulnerable.

Governments on all levels need to work together on things like these.  We need to park our jurisdictional arguments at the door, get out of our silos and stovepipes, bring what we can to the table, and collaborate together to build stronger and safer communities and people.

This is also exactly what I want to accomplish with our new National Office on Community Outreach and Engagement.  It was funded in our Budget to be a centre of excellence and co-ordination in countering radicalization to terrorism and violence.

How can we best identify those communities or individuals who may be vulnerable to the appeals and pressures of extremism?  And how can we intervene constructively with the right people in the right way at the right time to prevent tragedies before they happen?

The Aga Khan has said that Canada is the finest expression of pluralism the world has ever known.  That’s a huge compliment and we need to work hard every day to keep Canadians safe, and to safeguard our values, rights and freedoms, and the open generous, diverse and inclusive character of our country.

In a great many ways, women are the lead! 

And I thank you.

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