House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was wine.

Topics

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo
B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Madam Speaker, I would like to take a moment to congratulate my colleague from Okanagan—Coquihalla for his excellent work on this legislation. He has certainly been a strong advocate for his riding and the many excellent wineries and vineyards of which his constituents are so proud.

I would also like to take time to acknowledge the contributions and the hard work of the member for Kelowna—Lake Country, whose efforts have been essential to the strong progress of the bill.

As other speakers have already noted, there are many compelling reasons to support my hon. colleague's private member's bill.

I would first like to start with a short story. I am a member from British Columbia. My parents lived in Ontario and they would come out for a visit every summer. As part of their treat, and part of what they did during the summer, they explored some of the wonderful wineries around our province. We found a sparkling wine that was of particular joy to our pallets. For many years during their visits, this wine helped us celebrate births, different activities and celebrations. When they were in British Columbia, we always enjoyed this sparkling white wine.

I thought it would be nice to have this sparkling white wine when it came time to celebrate their 50th anniversary in Ontario. I did not know at the time about the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act. It turned out to be an absolutely impossible task to provide the sparkling white wine for this festive event. I was quite surprised to learn that.

Why was that such a challenge? It really goes back to the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act that dates back to the days of the temperance movement.

Unfortunately, the outdated provisions of the IILA have serious consequences for Canadian consumers and businesses. We are lagging behind our major trading partners on this important issue. The United States struck down barriers to direct consumer sales back in 2005. As long as certain provisions of the IILA stay in place, Canadian consumers will remain at a distinct disadvantage by not having access to wines from across Canada. Furthermore, this legislation intrudes into areas of provincial responsibility, an area where this government has no desire to be and does not belong. Our preference is simply to get out of the way and let the provinces go about their business in areas of their jurisdiction.

That is why the amendment only deals with the federal aspects of the prohibition-era law, which restricts the movement of wine across provincial boundaries.

Bill C-311 would ensure that provinces would maintain the ability to set policy regarding provincial exemptions on wine importation. They would be free to enhance or expand the interprovincial trade in wine as they saw fit.

There are also practical considerations related to this bill. For instance, although the IILA provides penalties for non-compliance, the law is challenging for the federal government to enforce. The proposed changes will make the IILA more relevant to the current travel practices of Canadians and will remove an unenforced section of law.

More to the point, our government's goal is to reduce, not create or maintain, barriers to provincial trade. We are working closely with our provincial and territorial counterparts to advance this goal.

However, the bill is not solely about governments' rights and responsibilities. It is fundamentally about giving consumers greater choice.

Currently, Canadians do not have easy access to made in Canada wines, which are internationally recognized as being the best in the world. Even though Canadian wines win awards around the globe, they are often not available outside the provinces in which they are produced. Liquor boards have limited space shelf and have tried to expand choice through private order programs, but they can be slow and costly. As in the case I was relaying earlier, it was just so cumbersome and burdensome that it was not worth the time and effort.

These costs are also a deterrent to the wine industry, especially small and medium-sized businesses trying to get a foothold in the marketplace. The wine industry is growing all across Canada beyond the well-known locations such as British Columbia and Ontario. Nova Scotia, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are all involved in the wine-making business as they diversify their economies. These fledgling firms need our support, not government interference. Of all the arguments in favour of Bill C-311, few matter more to business people than the potential economic spinoffs of this legislation. This is particularly true in British Columbia, one of the most important wine regions in Canada.

To appreciate the importance of the sector to the provincial economy, let me provide a broad overview of the industry and members will see how much is at stake.

The wine industry in British Columbia is one of the fastest growing agri-food sectors. In 1988, B.C. was home to just 14 wineries. Today it boasts almost 200 wineries, 710 vineyards, producing 60 different varieties of grapes.

Or put another way, British Columbia now has 9,100 acres under vine, up from just 1,000 acres planted in 1989. People will find crops in all five wine growing regions of the province including the Okanagan, Similkameen and Fraser Valley as well as Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. In fact, I am proud to say that the wine industry is also of growing importance in my riding of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.

Tourism across the province greatly benefits from the promotion of B.C.'s wine sector and it provides added value to visitors from around the world. Events such as Sun Peaks winter wine festival serve to cross promote our excellent regional wine as well as other attractions available in the region.

To translate these numbers into production volumes, one-third of Canada's grapes are grown in the province. The value of these crops is $40 million annually.

Let us extrapolate those to jobs in the province. The swelling ranks of people employed in both growing and harvesting the crops, hosting festivals and visitors and other related industries is extensive. Everything from festival planning to wine barrel production revolve around B.C. wineries.

Along with the growth in the sector has come exceptional skill. In 2010, B.C.'s maturing wine industry won over 1,600 medals in competitions around the globe. The province is especially recognized for its outstanding dessert wines.

This success is attracting global attention. According to Sotheby's International Realty Canada, people are coming from all over the world to see B.C.'s wine success story for themselves. It cites the examples of the Okanagan Valley, which is increasingly attracting international visits to its growing wine tourism region as well as its spectacular lake and scenery. It is worth noting that the Okanagan Valley has been named a Frommer's Top Travel Destination, a prestigious global ranking.

In addition to boutique wineries, tours and festivals, upscale restaurants, championship golf courses and luxury hotels, all cater to wine tourists. Many of these individuals fall in love with the idea of having their own vineyard. As a reflection of this interest, Sotheby's has created a distinct Vineyard Collection to market wine-related properties, drawing prospective buyers from as far afield as China, Italy and Germany.

A further spinoff of this interest and attention is a growing export market. Demand for high quality B.C. wines internationally has led to a nearly 300% increase in exports to Asia since 2008. Similarly, Canadians are free to purchase imported wines from other countries. How ironic that we cannot have access to these quality products grown right in our own backyard.

Even if Canadians buy wines on site when visiting wineries in other provinces, they are not permitted by the IILA to bring those purchases back home with them. Yet they can bring foreign wines through the border when they travel outside the country.

Consumers of domestic wines should not be shortchanged by the outdated Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, a problem that this private member's bill will finally address. For the first time in nearly a century, it will be possible for wine producers to sell their products openly and freely into other provinces in keeping with provincial laws. Unlike the 1920s, they have access to modern technologies like the Internet that make such sales simple and cost-effective. At the click of a mouse, even the most discerning wine palate could be satisfied with an award winning wine produced by Canadian vintners.

I call on all members to lend their support to this worthy and long overdue legislative change. Canada's wine makers are counting on it.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I too am very pleased to rise in this House and add my support to Bill C-311.

When the member for Brossard—La Prairie rose to speak on behalf of the New Democrats to kick off this debate, he indicated that we were supportive of the legislation and that we would be pleased to discuss it at committee and perhaps enhance the bill to make it even better for the wineries in Canada.

We are talking about Bill C-311, An Act to amend the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (interprovincial importation of wine for personal use). The proposal is to amend the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act by providing a new exemption to the prohibition on the interprovincial importation of intoxicating liquors. This would allow the importation of wine from one province to another by individuals who bring wine or cause wine to be brought into another province for personal consumption. We are talking about a minor change to the legislation, but an important change.

Many other members have very ably outlined some of the technical aspects of the bill, but I want to take this conversation down to the local level to talk about why wine importation is so important in our individual communities.

In my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, I am very blessed to live in a rich agricultural area. We have many wineries in the Cowichan Valley. I want to talk about a recent festival because it highlights the rich diversity of Nanaimo—Cowichan. Many other members share this kind of riding, but I think it is important to highlight what this means to our local wineries, restaurants and farmers.

We just had a Cowichan wine culinary festival. The festival ran from Wednesday, September 14, to Sunday, September 18. When the invitation was sent out, all wine and culinary aficionados were invited to our wineries, farms and restaurants. The invitation talked about the range and variety of activities that would happen in the Cowichan Valley:

“Our community has rallied around our vintners, farmers, food producers and chefs who have created tasting or tour activities and events showcasing the best of Cowichan,” commented Mike Hanson, Festival Director, 2011 Cowichan Wine & Culinary Festival. “Together we are offering a truly memorable cultural destination experience”.

That is an important aspect of this. We are not just talking about growing grapes, but about making wine and incorporating it into a total experience. Of course, the Cowichan Valley is becoming quite well known for its winery tours, which incorporate visits to some of the restaurants.

The festival also offered an assortment of the region's best wines and ciders, tours and tastings, unique farm-fresh epicurean delights from organic farmers and food producers, live entertainment, green earth seminars, hand-blown glassware and your favourite bottles of wine over lunch.

Unfortunately, I was here in Ottawa during that period of time, so was not able to take part, but I know from speaking to people, despite the rain, that people came out in droves.

There was also an article on September 15 in the Times Colonist that said, “Duncan: an arbiter of good taste”. The columnist, Jack Knox, talked about the fact that we had the downtown Duncan grape stomp, which was literally where people gathered in downtown Duncan. There were a number of participants. The big barrels were set up, and people got in the barrels and stomped the grapes. The columnist suggested that perhaps this was a good anger management technique, but it really highlighted the kind of involvement that the Cowichan Valley has in supporting our local grape growers.

In the same article, the Times Colonist columnist pointed out that what has happened with Canadian wineries is that they are now focusing on quality, not necessarily price, and as other speakers have rightly pointed out, in British Columbia we have some very fine wineries that have taken awards all over the world. Over the past generation, the Cowichan Valley now has more than 20 wineries operating, and they are very fine wineries.

The columnist went on to say that because of their growth in wineries:

“With that came a degree of sophistication,” says Hilary Abbott, owner of Hilary's Cheese Co. in Cowichan Bay.

There is now also a site in Victoria, Madam Speaker, which I am sure you will be very interested in. It continued:

People who like well crafted wine like well crafted food. The Cowichan Valley really caught the Go Local bug, perhaps due to the growing conditions that have already made it a Vancouver Island breadbasket. Even Barber, the Canadian guru of fresh, good food, spent the last years of his life in this valley. “He liked to say this was the Provence of Canada,” says Abbott.

Cowichan Bay was a great example of the change. Languishing a bit in the 1990s, it saw a rebirth with the arrival of True Grain Bread, the nucleus around which other boutique food shops grew. “As a cheese company, we hitchhiked on their success,” Abbott says. The transition culminated in 2009 when Cowichan Bay became North America's first CittaSlow community, making it officially hip. “We like to think we're a culinary destination.”

For listeners who do not know what CittaSlow is, it is part of the whole international slow food movement that encourages us to slow down and enjoy our local food and the preparation of it. Little Cowichan Bay has become a leader in the CittaSlow movement in British Columbia.

People from British Columbia are very familiar with food expert Don Genova. In a blog he again talks about Cowichan Bay, but he expanded on the fact that we have Hilary's Cheese and True Grain bakeries. He also talked about the Cowichan Bay Seafood and Udder Guy's Ice Cream, which makes wonderful natural ice cream. People can tour down through Cowichan Bay and have our fine wines and fine local foods. It is the kind of rich diversity that this kind of grape growing has added to our community.

It is very important to bring that kind of reality to this kind of technical piece of legislation that we are talking about right now. In March a well-known B.C. broadcaster, Terry David Mulligan, publicly lugged 12 bottles from B.C., Washington State and Ontario, as well as some B.C. beer, across the Alberta boundary to draw attention to what he says was an antiquated law. The host of the Tasting Room Radio show was ignored by B.C.

Further on in this article, one of my colleagues was quoted as saying, “...changes to the law are supported by B.C. wineries, who say they want to be able to grow their business by allowing residents other than British Columbians to directly buy from them, and by members of a national vintners group”.

I certainly am hearing some widespread support from our local wineries for this piece of legislation and I know many people in this House would benefit if I were able to bring a bottle of wine here to Ottawa and share it with my colleagues. They would be able to understand the fine wines that we produce in the Cowichan Valley. I am sure they would be ordering them online as quickly as they could.

In his speech, the member for Brossard—La Prairie quoted some stakeholders who were in support of the piece of legislation but who also raised some cautions around it. As responsible lawmakers, it is always important that we consider a bill and review the potential impacts. However, in one quote he made in a pre-budget submission, he said:

It is not possible to determine the impact of Bill C-311 on stakeholders, such as wine producers and provincial/territorial governments, in part due to differences among the provincial and territorial liquor-related statutes and exemptions contained in those statutes. In addition, prohibitions regarding the interprovincial/interterritorial importation of wine are not enforced consistently in respect of consumers and wine producers. Wine producers are unable to ship orders directly to individuals across provincial/territorial borders; however, individuals who transport wine from one province/territory to another on their person are rarely charged with an offence.

This pre-budget submission cautions us that we need to take a look at what the different provincial rules and regulations are to ensure we are not having an unintended consequence. That is always a responsible action on our part.

The other piece that some people have raised is that when we are looking at this exemption, we should consider whether the wineries are producing their wines from grapes that are all grown in Canada. There have been some issues. Some wineries have indicated their wine was made in Canada when, in fact, the grapes are imported largely from the United States and then processed here in Canada. There have been some concerns raised about that. The member for British Columbia Southern Interior, in particular, has always spoken in favour of labelling laws so that Canadians know exactly what they are getting.

I think this is a very positive move forward. I look forward to members in this House and other Canadians being able to take advantage of the fine wines in the Cowichan Valley and I urge all members to support this bill.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Private Members' Business

December 7th, 2011 / 6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-311 and support my colleague from Okanagan—Coquihalla and the other speakers throughout B.C. and across this nation who have already spoken to this bill, which is similar to Motion No. 601 that I introduced in November 2010 and that helped move this team effort to the stage that it is today. It is great that the spirit of Christmas is alive and well. The unity and camaraderie is great to see within the House of Commons. It is something that we can all embrace.

As was mentioned, we are a country of unity, a family, and this is something that has been identified as an archaic piece of legislation, the Importation of Intoxicating Liquor Act, which was initiated in 1928, post-prohibition. The federal government of the day thought it would be good to give the provinces the ability to control the distribution of wine, beer and spirits and receive a little of the tax revenue. It did not anticipate something called the Internet back then. Fast forward to 2011 and what we have is something that, as I mentioned, is an archaic piece of legislation.

We want to encourage Canadians to enjoy internationally award winning wines that are produced in all parts of this country. There are actually over 400 wineries now across the nation. Over 200 in British Columbia, many of them right in my riding of Kelowna—Lake Country, have received international awards. I had the opportunity to host the agriculture committee last year. It was quite interesting. Members tried to make me be the mule to illegally bring back some of this fine vintage that they could not find in the liquor stores here in Ontario, for example.

I applaud the initiatives some of the provinces have taken to date, some baby steps. The Ontario Liquor Board says that we can purchase from its private purchase program. The reality is that it often takes over a month or two to purchase that and at a significant markup.

Many of these wineries are boutique wineries, the mom and dads small operations that produce maybe 3,000 or 4,000 cases a year. That is not enough to supply the liquor board, so they are really captive in their own province. In order to expand their market share across Canada, we need to break down the interprovincial trade barriers. It is good for the economy. It is good for jobs. It is good for agriculture. It is good for tourism. It is a win-win for everybody.

I know there have been some concerns expressed by some of the provincial liquor boards of a loss of revenue.

I have had the opportunity to speak with the Canadian Vintners Association and consultants who have looked at this in the U.S. A number of states have analyzed this and now over 35 states have gone directly to the consumer with a minimal, they are saying 1% to 2%, loss in revenue for the liquor board. However, overall, the macro prospective, if we look at the agricultural support and at the tourism initiatives, is that it is a benefit all across the country.

I had to laugh when I was approached by Shirley-Ann George about a year and a half ago. I had met her on one of the trade committees that I had been working on for five and a half years. Our country is working on over 50 trade agreements internationally. She came to B.C. and visited one of the wineries in the Okanagan. When she came back to Ontario, she was very disappointed that she was not able to find her vintners quality assurance, VQA, that blend produced in the Okanagan. After she retired, she decided to take it upon herself to start an organization called Free My Grapes. The website is active. She has had all kinds of people contacting her saying, “What is this? This is ludicrous”.

The allowing of a personal exemption is something that we are encouraging the provinces to look at, whether it is 12 cases a year or something through a wine club or directly through vintners, something that is reasonable. We have been having discussions among all parties and we are basically in agreement here. We now have provincial parties across the country, even opposition parties, that have contacted me within the province of B.C. saying that they support this.

I think the time has come now to move forward, and bring this legislation into the 21st century. It will help, I think, demystify everything. As my hon. colleague from the Island just commented about Terry David Mulligan, I talked to him earlier today on how he had to host a tasting room show. I am not, by all means, a wine connoisseur, a sommelier. I just know a bad policy when I see one.

The fact is that this bill will take time to move through the process and many people do not understand that. We have democracy and we are working through the House. It will go through after Christmas, hopefully, and the committee will have 30 days to review the bill. It will come back to the House and then go the Senate. On May 8 Canadian vintners have their annual lobby day on the Hill. That is sort of the target date, we hope, when we can all raise our glasses and cheer the fact that we have broken this interprovincial trade barrier.

As we approach the Christmas season, I know people are engaged in festivities. I would ask that we all be responsible to one another, drink responsibly, and do not drink and drive. If people enjoy the beverages of Canada from coast to coast to coast, we can have a stronger community, a stronger agri-tourism sector and, most of all, support our small vintners by moving this bill by my colleague from Okanagan—Coquihalla through the House.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Madam Speaker, let me first thank the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla for bringing this bill forward. I would also like to thank the member for Kelowna—Lake Country, with whom I sat on the international trade committee in the last Parliament. We are in absolute agreement, except for one small discrepancy, which is that Niagara makes the best wine this country has seen.

Let me give credit to one of the vineyards. We will all hoist a glass with Niagara Grape if it gets a good VQA. It is actually 100% Niagara grapes, all grown in Niagara, and eventually put in a bottle.

Let me thank a gentleman by the name of Don Ziraldo. There was a time, unfortunately, in this country when the wine was not that good. Don Ziraldo said that it could be made better. He formed Inniskillin Wines many years ago with a partner and produced quality wines that eventually led to all of the small vintners who now make, with a vinifera grape quality, fabulous wines from coast to coast to coast. There are some now in Prince Edward County, Nova Scotia and the Okanagan Valley, which I had the great opportunity to visit last year and sampled wines up and down the valley.

I encourage folks to come to Niagara and the Welland riding. The Welland Canal is synonymous with the Welland riding. There are two fabulous wineries in my riding. Henry of Pelham and Hernder Estates are fabulous places to visit.

It is the right step to make. The bill will go to committee, where I am sure we can improve it and make it better. I would encourage folks to move this along because I want my friends to have wine made from Niagara grapes sent to the Okanagan Valley so people can have a great festive season next year.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

I recognize the hon. member for Okanagan--Coquilla for the sponsor's right of reply.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Speaker, I will begin by thanking the members of the House tonight for supporting Bill C-311. Many good questions have been asked and comments received. For me, it has been extremely heartening to hear from members from all sides of the House who also believe that having trade barriers within our own country because of an 80-year-old prohibition era law needs to come to an end.

When I set out to introduce the bill, it was out of concern for the many small family-run wineries in my riding and in the nearby ridings of Kelowna Lake Country and Southern Interior, wineries that are too small and cannot afford to sell to the large-scale liquor distribution monopolies.

I did not know then that Nova Scotia was an emerging wine region. I thank the member for Kings--Hants for his passionate and dedicated support for the wine producers of his region.

I also did not know that the province of Quebec is fast becoming a major wine producing province, with 5 wine producing regions and over 50 wineries.

I thank the member for Brossard—La Prairie for his support of this bill, and also the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for speaking in support of this bill reminding us that there are great wines in her region of British Columbia as well. Of course, special thanks goes to all my colleagues in caucus, many of whom represent the great wine producing regions of Ontario and elsewhere in Nova Scotia and British Columbia.

Before I close, I will clarify a few points on my bill. I want to make it clear that my bill only proposes to remove a federal trade barrier that currently restricts a winery's ability to sell its wine directly to customers across Canada for non-commercial purposes. While the bill would remove the federal trade barrier, it also makes it very clear that it is ultimately up to the provincial governments to set personal exemption limits as they see fit. Already, some provinces have taken a lead on this, and I commend those provinces. However, other provinces have cited the IILA legislation as a reason for not taking action.

I would also like to make it clear that my bill deals only with the inter-provincial movement of wine. My bill proposes no changes to how wine is imported into Canada, nor does it amend the Excise Act.

To summarize, my bill would make it easier for Canadian wineries to sell to Canadians.

There is much that we have disagreed on so far in this 41st session of Parliament. It gives me great pleasure to know that when it comes time to removing trade barriers that prevent Canadians from selling to fellow Canadians across this great country that our House can come together and be united on behalf of our constituents.

Again I would like to thank all members of the House for their support for Bill C-311.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

It being 5:30 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired. The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, in Canada, women have been earning only 71¢ for every $1 men earn for the past four decades. This is a serious problem. The fact that mothers— women who have children—earn approximately 50¢ for every $1 earned by men is an outrage.

The government claims to be a world leader when it comes to women's rights, but it is not taking any concrete action to remedy the systemic discrimination against women in Quebec and Canada. They need quality child care, parental leave, affordable housing and economic independence. The NDP has been saying this for years, the feminist movement has been saying it for decades and women have been saying it for generations. It is nothing new.

This is not a complicated situation. We are talking about providing women with the tools they need to overcome income inequality in Canada. The past four decades of inaction in the matter of equal pay for equal work is directly related to the Liberals' and the Conservatives' lack of political will. Pay equity ensures that Canadians with jobs of equal or comparable value receive comparable pay. Nothing could be simpler.

The undervaluation of women's work and their segregation in the work world are problems that are unfortunately deeply ingrained in employers' pay systems. We must rethink pay equity. In other words, if a job that is traditionally male-dominated is of comparable value to another job that is traditionally female-dominated, employees in both jobs should receive the same pay. It is not always easy to see that the gender-based division of work is the cause of the pay inequity that is still present today. That is why we need clear guidelines to eliminate gender-based wage discrimination.

We need comprehensive guidelines in place to safeguard against wage discrimination. In 2008, when the government had the chance to create a proactive pay equity law, it held in its hands the 571-page 2004 national pay equity task force report, which was written according to the federal review conducted over the course of four years. This report examined, extensively, federal pay equity legislation from 1977 to present. It recognized the inherent problems with the previous regime and called for proactive legislation to be enacted.

Not surprisingly, the government failed to enact proactive legislation, which has already proven to be successful in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba. Instead, what Canadian women were given is the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act which effectively takes the right to be paid equal wages for equal value work out of the Canadian Human Rights Act and makes it negotiable as a labour right.

The very notion that wage discrimination based on gender, race or age could be framed as anything less than a charter protected human right is absurd. However, my grievance with the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act is that it is impractical as well as absurd.

A complaints-based process as opposed to a proactive regime relies on the ability of an individual to bring a grievance against her employer. This system not only encourages a protracted adversarial litigation process but, in addition, the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act prohibits labour unions from assisting their members in pay equity complaints.

We know from under the old complaints-based regime that it is nearly impossible for an unassisted individual to successfully prosecute a pay equity complaint. It was reported at length by the pay equity task force in 2004 that we cannot rely on the willingness of employers to move toward equal pay for equal value work.

I reiterate my question to the government. Canada is failing to provide Canadians with the tools they need to close the gender gap. When will the government commit to a proactive pay equity regime as the first step to improving gender equity?

6:30 p.m.

North Vancouver
B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and for Western Economic Diversification

Madam Speaker, I would like to respond to the question from the member opposite about Canada's respect for women's rights and a purported pay gap that puts us behind some other countries.

Canada has an unparalleled record with respect to women's rights and making sure that the government has obligations in this area.

We are fortunate in this country. Our federal public service employees are among the best and the brightest, and their work is tied to the well-being of our country.

We expect much from our public servants. In turn, the public service offers women and men competitive salaries and a full range of family-friendly benefits.

We should be especially proud of the progress toward greater gender balance that has been made in the public service, particularly within the senior ranks.

Back in 1983, fewer than 5% of women were in senior management. Today, women make up 44% of the senior and executive ranks of the federal public service. That is almost 50%. That is almost half of the people in the senior public service. That is a significant increase.

Women are taking their rightful place in the federal public service. Their representation in many professional groups has also increased dramatically over the years. For example, women now represent nearly 56% of the economics and social science group, 55% of the law group, and about 46% of the commerce officer group.

Over the past few years, there has been a significant change in the face of Canada's public service. Women have played a big role in this change.

Today, women and men in the public service have equal access to all positions and identical wages within the same groups and levels.

The situation is not perfect, but remarkable progress has been made in addressing the wage gap between men and women in the federal public service.

Since 1999, the difference between total wages for women and total wages for men has been decreasing steadily. In fact, since 1999, this gap has closed by 6.8%.

Today, women in the core public administration make on average almost 90% of men's wages. With more young women entering the workforce in knowledge jobs, women's wages in the under 35 age category are 96.5% of the wages of men. This bodes well for the future.

My colleague opposite claims that we are doing nothing concrete. That could not be farther from the truth.

In 2009, we enacted the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act. This represents a much needed reform of the old complaint-based pay equity regime, which has proven to be a lengthy, costly and adversarial process. Our more modern collaborative approach is proactive and will ensure that the strides women have made in the federal public sector continue to be maintained without the process being unnecessarily lengthy, costly and adversarial.

Our commitment to the fundamental values of fairness and equal rights between men and women is an example to the world.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, when we are speaking about pay equity, we are speaking about poverty, and poverty is a women's issue.

According to the Global Gender Gap Index, Canadian women make up half of the labour force in this country today. Women are working as much as men, and yet we are not earning as much as men. Not only that, but we have not been earning as much as men in the same pitiful way for decades. This is indicative of systemic discrimination in the labour force and it is not going to be solved with the government closing its eyes to the problem. It will come when we institute sound proactive legislation that safeguards these rights from the moment wages are set.

Today, 1.6 million women live in poverty and it is easy to understand why. It is because the same wage gap that exists between men and women presents itself again in the wage gap between women with children and women without children. In addition, 52% of single mothers with small children live below the poverty line. More than half of single mothers with little children are in need.

Canada needs a national child care strategy. Our parental leave policies are not good enough and there is no strategy. The Conservatives have never taken the problem of the feminization of poverty seriously.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Madam Speaker, this government respects the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.

The Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act sets out a new proactive and timely approach to ensure that employees in the federal public sector receive equitable compensation each and every time their wages are set.

This new legislation replaces an adversarial complaints-based system under the old Canadian Human Rights Act with a collaborative one that ensures fair and objective recourse.

This government is committed to developing the regulations that will bring the legislation into force and will do so in consultation with employers and bargaining agents for the benefit of employers and employees.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:40 p.m.)