Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak on Bill C-473, legislation that would amend the Financial Administration Act to achieve balanced representation of the number of women and men serving as directors on boards of parent crown corporations, by establishing the minimum proportion of each.
I want to commend my colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles for an initiative which builds on the work of the senator for Bedford, Quebec.
Before I discuss the merits of the legislation, I would like to note that women's rights are human rights and there are no human rights that do not include the rights of women. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each of us to give expression to this fundamental message through concrete action and to understand that the tools to promote the objectives of equality are in our own hands. That is, we must commit ourselves to this cause without delay. Canada ranks 20th among 133 countries regarding the gender gap, behind Nicaragua, Latvia, Cuba, and Lesotho. Status of Women Canada has a $29.6 million budget and only four offices. The government has yet to launch an inquiry into the 600 missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Violence drives 100,000 women and children from their homes into shelters each year. Canadian women earn 81¢ for every $1 that a man earns, and the government fails to value the enormous contribution that women make to the two-thirds of the 25 billion hours of unpaid work that Canadians perform every year.
While women make up 50.9% of the Canadian population, women hold barely one-quarter of the seats in the House. Canada ranks 42nd in terms of the gender gap in politics. This is a result of policy choices we have made and that we should change. While I will not go into the details here, we have examples from around the world, such as Norway and Sweden, that if we remove obstacles, including financial barriers, more women would run, more women would be elected, and we would improve gender parity in the House of Commons.
Beyond policy options to improve gender parity in Parliament, there are policy options with respect to equality more broadly, and that is what this bill is about. Bill C-473 is at second reading, and the question before Parliament is whether it should be sent to committee for further study. I believe the bill should indeed be referred to committee, so that witnesses can help inform the discussion and debate. I support the spirit and principle of the bill, as I believe gender parity is a goal we must pursue, and more importantly attain.
According to the research organization Catalyst, women make up 47% of the Canadian labour force, but only 14% of board seats among the 500 largest Canadian companies surveyed by the Financial Post. Women's representation on boards of publicly traded companies still stands at only 10.3%. There was new data out last night that suggests another study shows it may be 20%.
Many industrialized countries have discovered that legislation is needed to achieve balanced representation in the corporate world. Since 2008, at least nine countries, including Norway, Spain, France, and Italy, have adopted some form of quota requirements for diversity on corporate boards. Other countries do not have fixed quotas, but they have set targets for women that companies are either required to comply with or must explain publicly why they are not.
According to Deb Gillis, chief operating officer at Catalyst, “There really is a global conversation going on right now about the issue of women on boards”. Yet, in Canada, progress has been glacial. The Globe and Mail's annual “Board Games” report on corporate governance found that 41% of companies in the benchmark S&P/TSX index still have no women on their boards.
There are some questions to be addressed in committee regarding the scope and implementation of this bill. One question is whether the legislation goes far enough, in that the number of women on boards may not be an accurate indicator in and of itself of women's progress more broadly. Let me provide an example.
Just because we have gender parity on a board heading a science agency does not mean we are doing enough to encourage women to enter and remain in the sciences, or that women are equitably represented in decisions regarding science policy. We all hope that if more women are on boards, these boards and agencies will adopt policies and perspectives that are inclusive and sensitive to the need for minority representation.
However, we might wonder whether there are other metrics to be considered in this regard, such as compensation. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, the bill seems to be silent on the matter of sanctions. That is, it does not outline penalties or remedial action for failure to adhere to the objectives outlined in the bill.
It specifically states:
An act of the board of directors of a parent Crown corporation to which section 105.1 applies is not invalid on the sole ground that the composition of the board is not in compliance with that section.
In other words, any decision made by a board without the designated gender representation is not invalid if the board does not meet the appropriate gender representation requirements. This clause would seem to lessen the strength of the bill.
I think we have to investigate whether we might have some sort of mechanism whereby we do not merely say, as this bill does, that failure to meet the required parity is just business as usual and we are sorry. Ultimately, without any consequence for failure to meet the quotas, this entire initiative may become an exercise in symbolism, which I am sure the hon. member who introduced the bill did not intend to be the principal impact.
There are multiple approaches to this question. Those studying the bill at committee should perhaps question what the goal should be, and if and when sanctions should be put in place. For example, should the goal be 50% parity in the statute and that sanctions be mandated with a figure of less than 40%, or should perhaps some other number be achieved?
We need to hear expert witness testimony before the committee. While Canada has seen little improvement in women's representation on boards, other countries have seen marked improvement. For example, in France, where mandatory quotas will take effect in 2017, women comprised 16.6% of directors in 2011, up from 9.1% just 2 years earlier.
I hope we can send this bill to committee so that witnesses will provide the evidence that we as parliamentarians can then use to inform our perspectives and the subsequent debate.
Before concluding my remarks, I would be remiss if I did not note that all issues of gender parity are not solved by this bill, though it is certainly a step in the right direction. There are indeed many other concerns, both domestic and international, that time does not permit me to address, including pay equity, ending violence against women, an inquiry into the 600 missing and murdered aboriginal women, matrimonial real property, gender budgeting, women in armed conflict, etcetera, on which I would encourage the government to adopt a more progressive and inclusive approach.
Until that time, I hope more private members' bills such as this will seek to advance the equality cause that arguably the government has abandoned.