House of Commons Hansard #23 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore
Ontario

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Leader of the Opposition

moved that Bill C-471, An Act respecting the implementation of the recommendations of the Pay Equity Task Force and amending another Act in consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise this morning to present private member's Bill C-471, which relates to putting into operation the recommendations of a 2004 working group on pay equity and modifying another law in consequence.

To come right to the point, hidden in the 2009 budget was a measure that undermined pay equity. This bill, which we support, restores pay equity as a human right. That is paramount for us.

Mr. Speaker, you may at this point, however, have a feeling that you have walked into Groundhog Day because I have been on my feet before on this very project. That is because the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament before Christmas, so we are having a Groundhog Day experience today as I reintroduce this legislation.

The purpose of the government's prorogation of Parliament, of course, was, as it said, to recalibrate. It seems to have now recalibrated its cabinet a bit, but it has not been able to avoid the questions that it sought to avoid when it prorogued Parliament, namely, the questions about Afghan detainees and the other urgent public matters on which it sought to avoid the scrutiny of Canada.

The prorogation attempt failed. All it has managed to do is set back the legislative agenda for several months and, unfortunately, the legislative progress of this worthy measure. That is why I am here today and the House will remember the experience of having lived through this whole thing once before.

Let me enter into the discussion of the matter. Budget 2009, in the dumpster bill aspects of the budget implementation act, introduced measures which would reduce pay equity to a chip on the bargaining table in labour relations. We on this side of the House believe, as a matter of principle, that pay equity is not a labour relations issue but a fundamental human right.

We need to see this measure in the context of a historical anniversary. The House will be aware that this is the 40th anniversary of the report on the status of women, the great commission chaired by Florence Bird, a great Canadian. It was commissioned under the Pearson government that set the agenda for women's issues and equity issues for the next 40 years. That agenda included, let us remember: child care, pay equity, maternal leave and more women in the House and the judiciary.

We can say after 40 years that some progress has been made, but there is an enormous amount of work still to do and on this side of the House we remain fiercely and passionately committed to that agenda. We remain committed to early learning and child care for every Canadian family that wants it. We remain committed to adequate and restored funding for Status of Women Canada.

We remain committed to the idea that it is a stain on our national honour that there are missing aboriginal women who have simply disappeared. We have not even taken the trouble as a country to give their families the answers they need as to what happened to these fellow citizens of our country. That is a wrong that must be righted and we stand for the righting of that wrong.

We also stand for the reintroduction of the court challenges program, which women have used to defend their rights and which the government has undermined. Finally, to put this measure in context, we stand for pay equity for women.

It is abundantly clear that we have a lot of work to do. Women in Canada earn 72¢ for every dollar a man earns.

In the case of a woman with children, it is 52¢.

We think this is in an inequity that must be corrected and it can only be corrected by proactive federal pay legislation. Men outnumber women by 330%. Yes, members heard me right. It is 330% among top earners. This is also a sign that in a country that claims equality, we have much more to do.

We must do better. We can do better. We will do better.

Let us review very briefly the government's record on this issue. It came to the G8 summit with the admirable objective of helping women and children in the developing world, but with nothing on the necessary reproductive health care that will actually make a difference and reduce death in pregnancy and improve maternal and child health. Nothing.

The government has cut the operating budget of Status of Women Canada. Just last week it cut the pay equity commission in New Brunswick. It has abolished the court challenges program. It has eliminated $1 billion of committed federal funding to day care since 2006.

This is the record of the government on the other side of the House. This is where we begin to see the larger design between taking pay equity off the human rights table and putting it on the labour regulations table where it can be traded away.

This is the grander design to which we object. We are taking the pay equity issue as an example of a wider failure of the government to advance the cause of women's equality in Canada.

What does our proposal specifically entail? It entails a federal pay equity commission with jurisdiction over the federal public service, crown corporations and the federally regulated corporations. This commission would have a proactive mandate. It would have a mandate to deliver judgments in a timely fashion. Above all, it would give women the right to advance their claims to pay equity within the framework of human rights.

This is an important matter because the Government of Canada is the largest employer in the country. The Government of Canada can set an example to all employers across the country and it must on the issue of pay equity for women.

In conclusion, this private member's bill will undo what we conceive to be a wrong. It will restore pay equity as a human right with a proactive federal pay equity commission. We urge all members to support it.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the Leader of the Opposition decided to vote for the budget, what part did he not understand? That was the budget that took away women's right to pay equity.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her question and I also thank her for all the hard work she does as a member of Parliament.

We are very aware of what was in the 2009 budget. We read it carefully, but we found that it contained a fundamental error that undermines pay equity and prevents Canada from protecting people's rights to pay equity. Our position is that a federal pay equity commission must be restored to protect and defend human rights, which are what pay equity is all about.

I would like to say that I would be very happy if the hon. member were to support this bill.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, in his speech today the Leader of the Opposition said that our government has done nothing for aboriginal women. I work very closely with Grand Chief Ron Evans and the aboriginal women and men across this country.

Earlier this year our government gave $100,000 for a conference that was held in Winnipeg on missing women. In addition to that, this money was also used for education materials to help people understand what happens when predators target children.

I am wondering whether the opposition leader knew of this initiative that was so important and why he would not be a bit more careful in his comments instead of being so partisan because our government has done a lot of work.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think there is a concern across the House about missing aboriginal women. The question is not whether there is concern. The question is whether there is action.

The hon. colleague opposite is in government. It is up to the government to create a commission of inquiry to get to the truth of this. The funding and the gestures that it has made are commendable. We are saying they are also inadequate and we need to go further.

This is also a government that has been unable to reduce the gap in the funding of education for aboriginal women and unable to reduce the gaps in funding for health care for aboriginal women. This is a government that had to be pressed and pushed by the Government of Saskatchewan and other authorities, and by the distinguished member for Wascana, to step up with the First Nations University. The stepping up is not full and it is not complete. It is begrudging and it is not completed.

All of these measures indicate that the government does not fully understand the importance of advancing the cause: the equality of aboriginal women. That was the point I was trying to make.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives made their attack on pay equity very clear when they came back with that toxic economic update that they threw to the middle of the House and there were three main issues in it. First, there was the attack on pay equity; second, there was the attack on environmental standards; and third, there was the attack on political parties getting financed.

Therefore, we were at a constitutional crisis at that moment and when the Liberals caved, they received one benefit. The only thing that the Conservatives caved on was the fact that the Liberal Party is still getting its election donations through the taxpayer. At the time when we could have made the issue of pay equity an issue to push back, when it was an issue of confidence, the Liberals rolled over. They were missing in action.

Now, we are to believe that a private member's bill that comes in on a Monday morning is action. I would say that the member had the chance to take action and the Liberals refused because they did not want to stand up at the time. Now they are going to walk around the country saying, “Wait, after we voted to kill pay equity, now we have a private member's bill”.

I think that shows a complete lack of concern for the fact that my party and our colleagues in the Bloc were looking to the Liberals to fight for pay equity--

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order. We are running out of time. The hon. member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, a brief response.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I note my colleague's comments with interest and some amusement, noting that his party supported the government last September. I would urge him to set aside partisanship and rancour from times past and consider the virtues of supporting a measure, which I am sure aligns with the fundamental principles of his party.

I cannot understand why, if we have a chance to correct what I am sure his party agrees is a serious and grave mistake, he would not seize the opportunity to vote with us on the bill and correct the wrong that he identifies as clearly as we do.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

North Vancouver
B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to see the Leader of the Opposition back in the House of Commons today.

It is a pleasure to speak today to the issue of pay equity. Contrary to the statements of the hon. member sponsoring the bill we are debating today, our government supports the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. Our commitment to this fundamental right is why we acted to ensure a more proactive and timely approach to equitable compensation in the federal public service. Our government's approach has brought much needed reform to the previous complaint based pay equity regime. The previous regime was lengthy, costly and adversarial, and did not serve employees or employers well.

We are fortunate in this country. Canada's public service is among the finest in the world. Canada's public service employs some of the best and brightest people whose work is intimately tied to the well-being of our country. Public service employees work in more than 200 federal organizations and dozens of different occupations, from border guards, to food inspectors and from public health specialists to diplomats. We should never doubt for a moment the importance of what public servants do on behalf of this country.

This point was brought home by the Prime Minister's advisory committee on public service when it stated in its first report:

As a national institution, a high-quality, merit-based Public Service is part of Canada’s comparative advantage and a key to competitiveness in the global economy. It also helps provide the foundation for sound democratic government, which is critical to a positive business climate in Canada.

This proud reputation is what has made the federal public service one of the best and most attractive places to work. Competitive salaries and a full range of family friendly benefits also make the public service attractive for both men and women.

The hon. member raises the issue of gender gap. We have seen significant progress toward greater gender balance in the public service, particularly within the senior ranks. It is worth noting that back in 1983 fewer than 5% of women were in senior management. Today, women make up 43% of the senior and executive ranks of the federal public service. To be sure, women are taking their rightful place in the federal public service. They are not only accessing top jobs but their representation in other categories has also increased dramatically over the years. For example, women now represent nearly 56% of knowledge workers. They also represent about half of the economist group and they represent about 43% of the commerce officer group.

It is safe to say that over the past few years there has been a significant change in the face of Canada's public service and women have played a big role in this change. Today's public service provides women and men with equal access to all positions and identical wages within the same groups and levels. I am proud of the example we are setting for both private and public sector organizations around the world. Remarkable progress has been made in addressing the wage gap between men and women in the federal public service.

The difference between total wages for women and total wages for men has been decreasing steadily. This bodes well for the future. This situation and the need to ensure the strides women have made in the federal public sector continue to be maintained led our government to put in place a more modern approach to pay equity. We took action to end the long and drawn out court cases of the past. It is worth recalling that the last court ruling on pay equity was in 1999, a settlement that took a gruelling 15 years to achieve. We cannot afford any more repeat performances. This is unfair to women. Public service employees deserve better. Taxpayers deserve better.

The root of the problem in the previous system is that pay equity issues were raised after compensation decisions were made. Federal public service employers and unions were not required to take pay equity issues into account during wage setting. These issues were only raised when complaints were made. This has led to ad hoc progress on pay equity, a situation that the Canadian Human Rights Commission lamented in its 2001 special report to Parliament.

Those are some of the reasons that our government passed legislation, with the support of many members opposite, that ensures that old ways become a thing of the past in the public sector. The new system makes employers and bargaining agents jointly accountable for setting fair wages, ensures these decisions are made at the time of collective bargaining for unionized employees and imposes a rigorous process to ensure the federal public service employers address pay equity in a timely way for non-unionized employees.

I will underline a key feature of our reforms. The new system maintains the right of women to launch complaints through an independent oversight organization: the Public Service Labour Relations Board. As a neutral third party, established in 1967, the board is well-equipped to ensure fair and objective recourse. It should be obvious to all that we needed to replace the previous complaint based pay equity regime that left us with a lengthy, costly and adversarial process. This was a process that did not take into account the realities of the Canadian labour market.

Moving to an approach that is based on collaboration with bargaining agents, ensures pay equity issues are addressed as they arise and that problems are resolved quickly.

The legislation this government introduced gives us a more modern and collaborative approach. It rids us of the previous system which was archaic, onerous and unfair to women in the public service. Most important, it protects the principal of equal pay for work of equal value. It ensures that women and men continue to benefit from quality working conditions in Canada's public service. Equitable compensation can only be ensured through a proactive, timely and fair system where employers and bargaining agents work together rather than as adversaries. That is what we have put in plan.

Now, the bill in question calls for a repeal of the legislation that created this new approach. By proposing this bill, the Leader of the Opposition is asking women to wait once again. He is asking women to wait for a new system that would cover the federally-regulated private sector. This is a diverse group of employers who would face significant challenges in implementing such far-reaching measures. We understand how difficult this would be for Canadian employers. We have taken a approach to addressing pay equity with this group of employers. We brought forward the pay equity program run by Human Resources and Social Development Canada. This program takes a three-pronged approach of education, mediation and compliance monitoring to help private sector employers comply with the legislation.

Our government has moved forward toward a more just approach. To support the bill before us would be to delay justice once again. Justice delayed is justice denied.

I call upon my colleagues in the House to oppose this bill and thereby support the new system our government has put in place.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me no pleasure to rise today in the House to speak to this private member's bill.

In 2009, we did not agree with the budget and we voted against it because it did irreparable harm to women who have done an outstanding job working in the public sector for many years and yet are not given their due.

These women, who have worked for many years in government departments and federally regulated corporations, had the right to expect that all the opposition members would vote against the budget bill that stripped them of their rights.

Unfortunately, over the past four years, the government has chipped away at their rights. The same thing has happened with a number of other status of women issues. Members of the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party stood up in the House to vote against the bill that day because we had no doubt that if we voted for it, we would betray the trust of all of those women. Those women are Quebeckers and Canadians. I want to emphasize that they are Canadians because the opposition leader seems to think that the Bloc Québécois stands up only for the rights of Quebeckers, not those of Canadians.

I want to point out that the opposition leader and his party members were not among the members who dared vote against this bill. When the time came to vote, they were not considering the Canadians this bill would hurt. He did not do what he should have back then, which is why we have to debate another bill today to give the right to pay equity back to these women.

Pay equity is not complicated: it means receiving equal pay for work of equal value. Work of equal value is easy to define if we have the proper tools to define it. A task force began studying the issue in 2001, and in 2004, it produced a comprehensive report over 500 pages long. The report recommended very specific steps to take to achieve pay equity and ensure that all women working for an organization under federal jurisdiction benefit from pay equity.

People have been fighting for this for years. For example, the rights of a number of women working for Bell Canada and various federal organizations were infringed upon. In Quebec, pay equity has already been achieved. These women were aware that their situation was not the same as that of Quebec women working for organizations under Quebec jurisdiction.

In the early 2000s, there was enough money to meet these needs, but sadly, the Liberal government of the day did not meet the needs of public and private sector employees under federal jurisdiction.

We could spend all day wondering. But the answer is in the question. As soon as an opposition party takes power, its convictions and perceptions of things change. It suddenly realizes that it is not possible to achieve pay equity, because it would be much too costly. But when these parties are in opposition, their convictions are much more in tune with the needs of the workers, ordinary human beings working from 9 to 5 every day. We meet these people in our ridings.

They trust us. They develop a bond with us. We listen carefully and then we are supposed to share their concerns here, in the House, to show them that they have been heard and that we will listen to them. Unfortunately, as it stands, neither side of this House seems to be listening.

The government is not listening. Since it took power, the government has made cuts to women's programs. It cut the court challenges program, it made shameless cuts to programs in Status of Women Canada, and it took away the right to pay equity.

Earlier, the hon. member was saying that anyone who now wants to seek pay equity can go before the labour court. How can a woman go before the labour court all by herself if she does not even have the right to be accompanied by a union representative? She does not even have the right to be accompanied by someone who knows all the rules and all the labour laws to defend her. If someone from her union decided to support her and defend her, the union would have to pay a $50,000 fine. Can you believe that? Have we ever seen such a glaring inequity? I have never seen anything like it, and I hope I never will again. I hope to never see such glaring inequities in this House again.

All women working in the public sector have called on us to return to the House and prepare a much more detailed and complete bill that will restore their right to pay equity. For these reasons, the Bloc Québécois will definitely be supporting the bill presented by the Leader of the Opposition.

However, we will examine this bill with a fine-tooth comb. We will ensure that it meets all needs, and that its application and implementation also conform to what is decided by Parliament.

All too often it is easy to draft a bill. It is easy to vote in favour of a bill. However, once the bill has been passed, things may be different.

Take, for example, the Immigration Act and the Liberal Party promises with respect to immigration. To date, these promises have not been kept, even though they were enshrined in legislation. They were made and voted on.

I would be surprised, even astonished, to see a bill on pay equity passed by the House. We know that the Conservatives will oppose this bill. I would be astonished if such a bill contained all the measures required to give women true pay equity.

Working women in Quebec who fall under federal labour laws are not entitled to preventive withdrawal, a measure extended to all other Quebec women. That is also part of equity.

Quebec women who work in federally-regulated undertakings do not have the right to the same parental leave as other women in Quebec. If, unfortunately, after taking parental leave, their employer fires them when they return to work, they are not entitled to employment insurance benefits. They are not entitled because they were sick during their parental leave.

In fact, according to the employment insurance system, a woman who gives birth to a child is sick. She qualifies for sick leave. Even if the Quebec government pays for parental leave, the woman fired when she returns to work is considered to have been sick. These are issues that must be clarified.

I hope that when this bill goes to committee, given the great wisdom of this House, we will be able to ensure the pertinence of all items contained therein.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, you may recall that on March 4, 2009, the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore instructed his party to vote to end pay equity in this country. He and his party effectively handed a death sentence to pay equity in Canada.

The day before the vote, he stood outside this chamber and said to the press, in reference to pay equity, “We have made it clear that we are not pursuing an amendment strategy. Sometimes we have to hold our nose”.

He abandoned women, abandoned equality and voted to dismantle pay equity in Canada. Now, just a few scant months later, he has introduced a private member's bill in support of something he and his party voted to eliminate. The member knows very well that this bill, even if supported by all opposition members and passed in the House, will never see royal assent. It will never become law. This member knows full well that he had his opportunity to save pay equity last spring and he failed.

Women have fought long and hard for the right to equal pay for work of equal value. When he and his party stood up in the House and voted in favour of Bill C-10, they betrayed women all across the country and made it clear that women's equality means absolutely nothing to the Liberal members of this place.

I confess that I find this bill, coming from the Liberal Party, to be hypocritical. They had 13 years of majority government to promote stable economic security for women. They had 13 years of majority government to implement progressive pay equity legislation. What did they do? They cut spending to Status of Women and failed to implement any of the 113 recommendations from the pay equity task force.

The Conservative members of the House have no intention of addressing inequality between the sexes in this country either. We see unequivocal proof from government actions in regard to pay equity, changes it made to Status of Women, the elimination of the court challenges program, the dismantling of the gun registry and more. The Conservatives have absolutely no intention of addressing inequality any more than their Liberal predecessors.

The Conservatives, with support from the Liberals, are taking Canadians back 25 years instead of moving Canada forward. Now it is clear to me why the Conservative Party eliminated pay equity last spring. In 1998, the current Prime Minister described our current pay equity laws in the following words. He said:

For taxpayers, however, it's a rip-of. And it has nothing to do with gender. Both men and women taxpayers will pay additional money to both men and women in the civil service. That's why the federal government should scrap its ridiculous pay equity law.

He also pointed to specific flaws in the current legislation. He said:

Now “pay equity” has everything to do with pay and nothing to do with equity. It's based on the vague notion of “equal pay for work of equal value”, which is not the same as equal pay for the same job.

Just to be clear, in 1998, the member who is now our Prime Minister did not, and does not, believe in pay equity at all.

What is not clear to me is why the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore and his party, all of whom voted to eliminate pay equity, are suddenly so very interested in introducing a pay equity bill for consideration in this Parliament. I want to reiterate. The fact remains that while Liberals were in power, women's rights, economic security and pay equity were stalled. The Liberals failed to act as an effective government and now they are failing to act as an effective opposition.

In March 1997, the then secretary of state for the status of women announced the elimination of program funding for women's organizations starting in the 1998-99 fiscal year. From that point on, moneys from Status of Women Canada were delivered on a project-by-project basis within the priority areas set out each year by SWC. This eliminated any long-term or core funding for women's groups. Overall, program funding for women's organizations was cut by more than 25% over the 1990s.

The Liberal government also disbanded the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, an agency that conducted research on a wide range of issues as they affect women. The previous Liberal government then merged the body that provides funding to women's organizations, the women's program, into Status of Women Canada and proceeded to eliminate the Canadian Labour Force Development Board, which had given organizations of women, people of colour and people with disabilities a small voice in training policy. Women's equality-seeking groups were dealt blow after blow.

Economic security for women hinges on key things such as access to child care, access to affordable housing and the ability to earn a decent living. Both Liberal and Conservative governments have failed to address the need for affordable housing in Canada. The first step toward economic security for any person is a safe place to live. Despite this, the Liberals ended the federal role in social housing in 1996.

Both Liberal and Conservative governments also failed to create affordable child care in this country. The Conservative-touted taxable money for child care has failed to create a single child care space in Canada. In 1993, the Liberals promised to create 150,000 new child care spaces, but after 12 years and 3 majority governments, they had created none.

Today, a woman still earns only about 72.5¢ for every dollar a man earns. Because pay inequity contributes to poverty, it has a devastating effect on the health and social consequences for children. Pay inequity is also related to economic dependence, which can affect an abused woman's ability to leave a violent relationship. The choice between abuse and poverty is one no person should ever have to make. It is also true that women bringing home lower paycheques also receive lower retirement income. Too often senior women live hand to mouth until the end of their lives.

I will not stand here and just point out how both the Liberals and the Conservatives have failed women in Canada. It could take up several speaking spots to do that. I prefer to show fellow members of the House that positive action for women can be achieved. New Democrats have released a fairness for women action plan. Part of that plan includes making equal pay the law. Canada needs proactive pay equity legislation that would compel all employers to ensure that all employees are getting equal pay for work of equal value. The NDP's plan to make Canada a leader in gender equality has at its core the implementation of the pay equity task force and in particular the introduction of proactive federal pay equity legislation.

New Democrats would increase access to employment insurance. Only one in three unemployed women collects employment insurance benefits. The NDP plan to ensure access to EI includes an overhaul of the legislation governing employment benefits. In the 40th Parliament, the NDP introduced 12 private members' bills to include access to this vital income support. Establishing a $12 minimum wage is crucial. Two-thirds of minimum wage workers over the age of 15 are women. Many minimum-wage-earning women are living well below the poverty line. Clearly the federal government has a role to play in setting fair pay to ensure the welfare of all hardworking Canadians and their families. The NDP has tabled a bill to reinstate the federal minimum wage at $12 an hour. Members will recall that the minimum wage was scrapped by the Liberals.

Creating a national child care program is at the centre of family security. The House should pass the NDP's national child care act and establish a network of high quality, licensed, not-for-profit child care spaces. The creation of new, reliable child care spaces would mean that women were no longer forced to choose between work and family.

Improving parental and maternity benefits is another part of the NDP plan. One in every three mothers lacks access to maternity and parental benefits under employment insurance. Women are paying an economic penalty for having children. Our plan calls for a dramatic overhaul of maternity and parental leave programs now.

We can achieve equality for women in Canada. What we lack is political will. Past Liberal governments stalled and failed to act. Conservative governments have ignored problems and chosen not to promote equality. Women come last and profitable corporations are first with the members across the aisle. They have chosen tax cuts instead of equity for women. We need a real commitment from the House to act and create the legislation needed to achieve equality for women in Canada. We cannot trust the words of the leader of the Liberal Party any more than we can support the activities of the Conservatives.

In 2006, a former Liberal staffer told the nation that the last-minute Kelowna accord and child care provisions were a deathbed repentance. Canadians turned them out because they did not keep their promises then, and we do not believe them now. The next step is to provide the same treatment for Conservatives: equal treatment for inequality and the offence of betrayal.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the debate on this private member's bill put forward by the leader of my party. This is a very important bill and one which I hope will be supported wholeheartedly by all members of this House.

As members may well be aware, women's equality in this country has been very much the casualty of the current government. We have been subjected to short-term political manoeuvring on women's issues for political gain. In light of some of the remarks that were made earlier, it is important to take a walk down memory lane to remind members in the House of some of the actions taken.

Members who were here in 2005 will remember that the House went down on a vote just on the cusp of a number of major initiatives that members talked about being implemented and taking root.

Members will remember that the national child care strategy had been signed by all of the provinces. My province of Manitoba was the first to sign this agreement. It was one of the most memorable moments in my career as a member of Parliament.

Members will also remember that the Kelowna accord had been signed and was about to take root. I listened to the disrespect shown to the Kelowna accord by some members of the House, that it was written on a napkin, that it was a last minute accord. I want them to say that face to face to those individuals who participated in the 18 month process of developing the Kelowna accord.

That accord would have improved the educational opportunities of countless numbers of young people in this country. It would have improved health care. It would have provided training in health care to a large number of young people. It would have dealt with the issues of maternal health in first nations communities. It would have dealt with the issues of governance.

More important, I want to remind members that the minister of justice at the time and the minister of labour at the time came to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women and made a firm, unequivocal commitment to bring forward legislation in March of the following year that would act on the recommendations of the task force on pay equity.

The commitment was made. The legislation was being drafted and it was going to come to the House for review. There was going to be a long consultation process with the appropriate stakeholders in the country on the legislation. It is important that members realize that this legislation was in development, there to be addressed with a strong, firm commitment.

It is important to remember that a national housing policy was about to be announced.

All of that was lost because of the political desire and political aspirations of members in the House.

Women's equality has very much taken a beating under the Conservative government. We have heard other members talk about the removal of equality from the status of women. We have heard about the removal of advocacy funding under Status of Women. We have heard about the fact that research dollars are no longer available under Status of Women.

We heard from the previous minister that she in fact had the final say on what organizations would or would not receive money under Status of Women funding programs, the partnership and the community program, and that she made the final decision as to who would receive money. We know from anecdotal evidence that the funding for hard-working, long-standing organizations in this country was denied on ideological grounds.

We know there has been little or no gender-based analysis done by the government. As I indicated before, we have lost the early learning and child care programs. Cuts have been made to literacy programs, which affects many women in this country.

As my colleague indicated, there has been little or no action on the missing and murdered aboriginal women. Just this weekend I had the opportunity to meet with a number of families of the missing and murdered aboriginal women to hear of the lack of supports that are available for the families of the women who have gone missing, the trauma in their lives and the inability to respond to it.

We know that the court challenges program has removed women's equality.

The previous minister indicated that she had the authority to influence policy across government and that she operated with “a little big stick”. I would say that as far as pay equity was concerned, the minister had no voice, no stick, not big, not little, and it did little for the women of this country.

It was unfortunate that the government surreptitiously, cynically may be the more appropriate word, chose to bring in the pay equity reforms under the budget implementation bill. The government really put the economic recovery of this country at risk by lumping it into that bill rather than having the courage of its convictions to introduce it as a separate bill standing on its own.

We have heard about the disparity of women's wages in this country. We have heard about the disparity of EI availability to women. We know that women are going to be greatly disadvantaged by the legislation the government has brought in, which is why the legislation we are debating today is so important.

Equal pay for work of equal value is a human right. It is not something to be bargained away through the bargaining process. It is not something where if one goes to one's union officials and chooses to ask for the support of one's union in accessing equal pay for work of equal value that a $50,000 fine be introduced. This is a very cynical approach. It is a very limited approach. It does little good for the women of this country.

I ask that members on both sides of this House read the legislation that we are debating this morning. I think that all reasonable right-thinking individuals would understand that this is a fundamental human right for women. It should be supported. It has support throughout the country. It does not disadvantage women. It is an important piece of legislation for the women of this country.

I would reiterate in closing that women in this country have not been well served in the last four years under the current government. It is time to begin a new chapter with a new minister and review what has not been done and what can be done.

This legislation would make a big difference in the lives of women. I urge all colleagues to support it.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak against Bill C-471, a private member's bill on pay equity.

I would like to draw to the attention of the House an article in today's paper, the headline of which is “Women grab reins of power in PS”, from which I would like to quote. I am very proud to be part of a government that has taken a look at this issue and realized that it needed to be addressed. We took stock of it and addressed it in budget 2009. The article states:

A married woman was forbidden from working in Canada's public service 55 years ago, but today women have the majority of jobs and a growing hold on the executive ranks.

They have outnumbered men since 1999, but the government's latest demographic snapshot shows 43 per cent of executives are now women...

I believe that is to the credit of what this government has done and what this government saw was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Our government has made its views against this bill crystal clear, but I am happy to repeat our position today so there is no doubt in anybody's mind that this bill should be sent to the parliamentary dustbin. To be blunt, this bill is too little, too complicated and too late, not to mention out of order.

Our government already took action to modernize pay equity for the public sector. We did this last year when we introduced the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act as part of Canada's economic action plan in budget 2009. That budget was the earliest to be released in Canadian history. Moving at record speed, we cut red tape and delivered the largest economic stimulus in Canadian history.

Today we are beginning to see the first signs of better days ahead. The recovery is still fragile, but it is clear that the Canadian economy has started to recover. This is due in large part to the actions our government has taken, including the extraordinary measures in Canada's economic action plan announced in budgets 2009 and 2010.

Budget 2009 was also notable for creating a proactive pay equity system for the federal public sector. This was no small feat. For too long, women in this country had to endure an adversarial complaints-based pay equity system. For too long, women had to endure a system which was lengthy, costly and did not serve employees or employers well. Thankfully, this Conservative government did something about it. We introduced the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act.

The Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act speaks to our government's respect for the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. It speaks to the fact that women should not have to wait up to 20 years to have their pay equity concerns addressed and that women should not have to endure gruelling, expensive and divisive court proceedings. This had been a long time coming and I am proud to be part of the effort that finally brought this issue to a close.

Our legislation makes employers and unions in the federal public sector jointly accountable for ensuring that wages are equitable through the collective bargaining process. In other words, the legislation ensures that men and women who do work of the same value receive the same pay. It does so through the process in which wages are actually set and agreed upon. The new system we brought in ensures that equitable compensation issues are addressed as they arise. This is a regime that is modern, timely and responsive. It ensures disputes are resolved quickly and collaboratively.

Now would be as good a time as any to bring up the fact that the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act was passed by Parliament with the support of the Liberal Party, including its leader, who happens to be sponsoring this bill before us today. Mr. Speaker, you heard right. Last year, the Liberals helped us pass the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act and now they want to undo it. Is this is a responsible way to conduct the nation's business? I do not think so. No wonder Canadians do not trust the party opposite.

Bill C-471 has many shortcomings. I cannot go into all of them today, but let me discuss a few of them.

One of the most problematic parts of the bill is that it calls on the government to implement every single recommendation of the 2004 Pay Equity Task Force report. There are 113 recommendations, many of which our government rejected with good reason when we drafted the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act.

When the report was released in 2004, the Liberal government of the day publicly spoke out against supporting every recommendation. The former ministers of labour and justice said that the “report does not provide an adequate blueprint for implementation of pay equity and a broad range of federally-regulated workplaces”. Therefore, it is clear that many people in the Liberal Party feel uncomfortable with the task force report.

The Liberal leader may not appreciate the mood of his caucus on this issue. He was still living abroad when this happened. Yet the Liberal leader is here today asking Parliament to now implement it wholesale.

I am also gravely concerned that the bill is out of order as it would require a royal recommendation. Some of the recommendations in the task force report would require the creation of new statutory agencies as well as a new system adjudicators. These things cost money. As we know, any legislation that includes new expenditures requires a royal recommendation, which may only be introduced by a minister.

I dare say that the Leader of the Opposition is not a member of cabinet and as a result his bill is out of order.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, we made a point of order on this issue and we look forward to your ruling. Bill C-471 would require that all statutory oversight agencies are put in place not later than January 1, 2011. This is less than a year from now.

In our party we make it a point to consult with stakeholders that will be impacted by our policy. Rushing in the measures proposed in Bill C-471 would not allow for any meaningful consultations. That is not how good policy is made.

To close my remarks, I would like to reiterate our government's position on this proposed legislation. Parliament has already taken action to modernize pay equity in the federal public sector when it passed our Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act. This legislation is the best means to achieve equitable compensation in the public sector. The private member's bill before us today is faulty and impracticable. It would lead to a pay equity regime that requires machinery changes and costs that have neither been fully identified nor quantified.

In the coming weeks and months, our government will consult all key stakeholders and employee representatives as we develop the regulations in support of our legislation. These regulations are scheduled to be in place in 2011, which gives us plenty of time to conduct meaningful consultations with all interested and affected parties. What is more, we believe our legislation will result in better collaboration between federal public sector employers and bargaining agents in achieving equitable compensation.

This government believes that women deserve fair pay. This is a fundamental right and they deserve it now, not 20 years from now.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House resumed from April 1 consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010 and other measures be read the second time and referred to a committee.