Evidence of meeting #98 for Status of Women in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was businesses.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michelle Rempel  Calgary Nose Hill, CPC

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

I would like to begin by welcoming everybody.

We're at the 98th meeting of the status of women committee, and today, of course, we have the Honourable Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance. He's joined by Michelle Kovacevic, assistant deputy minister, federal-provincial relations and social policy branch; and Alison McDermott, associate assistant deputy minister, economic and fiscal policy branch.

Ms. Rempel.

4:05 p.m.

Michelle Rempel Calgary Nose Hill, CPC

Madam Chair, I believe that the meeting started three minutes ago. I appreciate the minister's swanning around the room, but some of us would like to get down to business.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Yes, absolutely. I'm going to request an additional five minutes.

Good afternoon, Minister. Since we are starting five minutes late, I would ask you to remain five minutes after the hour to 5:05, so we can put in that one hour, as requested.

Minister Morneau, I pass the floor over to you for 10 minutes.

4:05 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Morneau LiberalMinister of Finance

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I understand that today marks a significant milestone. It's the first time that a finance minister has appeared before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women and, obviously, we think that's long overdue because we recognize the important work done by this committee. We know that it makes a real difference in the lives of Canada's women and girls, so I'd like to begin by thanking all committee members for inviting me here to talk about our budget and to answer any questions you might have.

As I said, when I introduced our budget in the House back at the end of February, our economy is doing quite well. Over the last two years, hard-working Canadians have created more than 600,000 new jobs, most of them full-time. Unemployment rates are among the lowest we've seen in more than 40 years. If you compare Canada to its economic peers and other G7 nations, we've been leading the pack when it comes to economic growth since 2016.

We find ourselves in an interesting position. Our strong economic fundamentals give us the opportunity to invest in the things that will keep our economy strong and growing. At the same time, we've an obligation to take a serious look at some of the deeper challenges that continue to hold back our people and our economy. That's where this year's budget comes in.

Unfortunately, obstacles will continue to prevent many women and girls from achieving their full potential in Canada and elsewhere in the world. Our government is determined to eliminate those obstacles. Budget 2018 provides support to women and girls, reduces the gender wage gap and will increase the participation of women in the labour force.

The participation of women in the workforce in Canada is the highest among G7 countries, but it's still almost 10 percentage points below the rate for Canadian men, even though Canadian women are among the best educated in the world. The gender wage gap is also an issue in Canada, as it is in many other places. In 2017, for every dollar a male worker in Canada earned, a female worker earned $0.80 per hour worked. Because women tend to work fewer hours, the gap in annual earnings is even larger, with female workers earning only $0.69 for every dollar earned by a male worker.

Canadian women are also underrepresented in positions of leadership, and in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We also know that the demands of unpaid work, caring for children, or for ill or elderly family members disproportionately fall to women, making it difficult for them to pursue opportunities, including work.

These are some of the important challenges we face. Though we know we can't solve every problem—after all, these challenges are the result of long-standing and systemic discrimination—budget 2018 does take some important steps toward providing greater equality for Canada's women and girls. From a structural perspective, it starts with the introduction of a new gender results framework. This whole-of-government tool helps define what needs to be done to achieve gender equality, and tracks our progress against stated goals.

As you know, budget 2018 also marks the first time that no budget decision was taken without being informed by gender-based analysis plus, or GBA+. To ensure that gender remains a key consideration for future governments, we'll also introduce new GBA+ legislation to make gender budgeting a permanent part of the federal budget-making process.

In terms of specific measures in budget 2018, I'd like to highlight just a few for you today.

In Budget 2018, the government proposes to legislate on the principle of equal pay for work of equal value in federally regulated sectors. This will mean that on average, women and men who work in federally regulated industries will receive the same salary for work of equal value. The regime will apply to approximately 1,200,000 wage earners.

As I said earlier, we know that child care duties and caregiving duties in general disproportionately fall to women, and so in budget 2018 we introduced a new “use it or lose it” employment insurance parental-sharing benefit to encourage both parents in two-parent families to share equally in the work of raising their children. With this new benefit, two-parent families who agree to share parental leave could receive an additional five weeks of leave, or an additional eight weeks for parents who choose the extended parental benefits option.

This will make it easier for women to return to work sooner, if they so choose, and it will also help to address some of the patterns of discrimination that many women experience in the hiring process. At the same time, it will give both parents an opportunity to spend time with young children, setting up patterns of more equal parenting that can last a lifetime.

To help Canada's women-led businesses grow, find new customers, and hire more Canadians, budget 2018 proposes to invest $1.65 billion in a new women entrepreneurship strategy. It also supports the advancement of women in their careers by publicly recognizing corporations that are committed to promoting women to senior management positions.

To make sure we're able to do this important work, budget 2018 also proposes to make additional investments in Status of Women, and finally, to make Status of Women a full department in the Government of Canada.

The budget broadens Canada's strategy to prevent and fight gender-based violence, and increases support to crisis centres for the victims of sexual assaults on university and college campuses. It contains measures aimed at mobilizing men and boys to promote gender equality.

The government is also acting to promote gender equality throughout the world. Budget 2018 will ensure that Canada welcomes more female refugees who are not only fleeing wars and persecution, but who also face greater risks because of their gender. Ensuring that all Canadians have a fair and equitable opportunity to succeed is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing.

We know that greater diversity in the workforce boosts the productivity and profitability of Canadian businesses, and, of course, the experts back us on this. RBC Economics estimates that if Canada had completely equal representation of women and men in our workforce, we could have increased the size of the economy by 4% last year. Similarly, MacKenzie Global Institute estimates that by taking steps to advance greater equality for women, such as employing more women in technology and boosting women's participation in the workforce, Canada could add $150 billion to its economy by 2026.

That's the kind of long-term growth that would benefit not just women and girls but all Canadians. It would mean more good, well-paying jobs, more money for all those Canadians who are working hard to pay their bills.

Madam Chair, as Minister of Finance, I sit around a diverse cabinet table with as many women as men, and I can tell you that the diversity of voices and perspectives around that table makes for better government, better decisions, and better outcomes. Likewise, gender equality in our economy and our society will lead to greater prosperity. It will benefit all Canadians.

Budget 2018 represents an important step toward that goal.

I'd be happy to take your questions now.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you very much.

We're going to start with Sean Fraser.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Excellent. Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for being with us today.

My first question evolves from the changes to the parental leave provisions. I am a new parent who welcomed a daughter into the world not too long after the 2015 election, but the problem is much broader than my own family's experience. There are so many families who, because of the way our society has developed over the course of the past 150 years, have put the responsibilities of child-rearing predominantly on the mother in a two-parent household. Of course, when you take time out of the workforce, this can put at risk your ability to climb the ladder in whatever your profession may be and, at the same time, shift the burden disproportionately toward women.

One of the changes you raised in your opening remarks was the “use it or lose it” five-week benefit. I'm curious how you think this change will inspire men to take on a greater share of child-rearing responsibilities and how it will allow women to rejoin the workforce more quickly so they can get back onto their career paths and participate at the same level as men.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Morneau Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Maybe I can start by just acknowledging the context of your question. Our goal, of course, is to find a way to ensure greater opportunities for women and to ensure that for people who want to be in the workforce, obstacles are not presented merely on the basis of their sex.

We looked at policy measures that we could use to improve the situation. Right now, we have about 62% participation in the workforce among women and about 70% workforce participation among men. It's improved for women, but there's still a ways for us to go. We looked at the fact that Quebec introduced a parental leave “use it or lose it” benefit, this five-week benefit that they put in place. We saw that there was a much more significant uptake among the second partner, as you say, typically men, in taking parental leave—more than 80%—whereas in the rest of the country it's about 12%.

Our goal is to create a policy that enables women to get back to work if they choose to do so by allowing their spouse, if he or their partner wants to be back in the workforce, chooses to take that parental leave, sharing the burden more fairly. We also want to know that when two people go into a hiring office, a male and a female, the person hiring them looks at them more equally, realizes that both of them are relatively likely to take time off for child rearing, and, therefore, when thinking about whom to hire, recognizes their equal potential and isn't biased against one of those people versus the other. We think it can have long-term positive benefits in multiple ways.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Thank you.

I have a second question, very quickly. This committee is finalizing a study on women's participation in the Canadian economy. One of the issues we heard about frequently was the barrier to women entrepreneurs in seeking capital. They're unable to finance their businesses the same way men are. What's the government's plan to tackle this problem to ensure that we're not missing out on the economic opportunities represented by women's entrepreneurship?

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Morneau Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

We think this challenge has multiple facets to it, obviously. There are historic issues. There's access to networks, and there's actually access to capital. We put in place some funding for our regional development agencies so they can work regionally on enabling women entrepreneurs to be more successful through accelerators and hubs, where they can develop mentorship for women entrepreneurs.

Then we put in place access to specific funding through the Business Development Bank of Canada and through Export Development Corporation for women entrepreneurs. It adds up to about $1.65 billion in new capital available for women entrepreneurs specifically, trying to address the fact that the capital access for women has been significantly less than for male entrepreneurs, and recognizing that for that success to be possible, funds need to be earmarked to do that.

Finally, some of that will be specifically around women entrepreneurs getting access to funding for international export opportunities where we see big opportunities and required assistance.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Excellent. I have about two and a half minutes remaining. If my colleague Marc Serré would like to pick up where I left off, that would be great.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you, Mr. Fraser.

Minister of Finance, I thank you for appearing here at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for the first time. I also congratulate you on your commitment to women and girls in our economy, and for your dedication in this regard.

Thank you very much for allocating additional funds to economic development agencies such as FedNor in Ontario. This has helped us a great deal.

In the 2017 budget, you had more of a gender statement. Moving forward, I just want to get your thoughts around the evolution of this, now that you're looking more at GBA+ and legislation in the 2018 budget. How will the legislation you're putting in place now with this budget affect future finance ministers' budgets and future governments. Could I have your thoughts on that?

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Morneau Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

We obviously want to make sure that any improvements we put in place and any ability for us to be more successful in enabling women to have opportunities are sustained over the long term. We started with a recognition that we needed to do analysis around every budget measure to make sure that it's actually having the desired impact, as you said, in 2017. This year we went further and also identified the fact that we want to legislate or find a way to ensure that this continues for the long term, so that this analysis that looks at the differential impacts on different subsets of the population continues.

What we're going to do next year is to publish our analysis, so we're going to give people an understanding of the analysis we've gone through. Obviously, starting at the beginning we're trying to make sure the we build our skill set to ensure that we're actually doing the proper analysis. I think what you'll see in budget 2019 is the fruits of the work we did in 2017 and 2018, and then in 2019, demonstrate that for Canadians so they can see that we've considered how we can actually ensure that today and tomorrow we're having an important impact on what we see as a challenge, namely, to ensure that there's an equal and fair chance or opportunity for girls and women in the economy.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Marc, you have six seconds.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

I'll pass it on to Rachael Harder for seven minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Minister, earlier this month you spent some time with the finance committee, and at that time you conversed with my colleague Lisa Raitt. She disagreed with part of the budget and asked you a question with regard to it. At that point, it was evident that her question had offended you. You became visibly angry with her and then proceeded to call her a neanderthal.

You might be interested to know that a recent poll by Forum Research showed that only 18% of Canadian women fully agree with your budget, which means that the rest have questions.

Minister, does that make the other 82% of Canadian women also neanderthals?

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Morneau Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Let me just say that we're of the view that we need to make sure that Canada is a successful country for all Canadians. We want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to succeed. What we've tried to do from day one as a government is to make sure that people from all regions, male or female, from different backgrounds, from different ethnicities, have the opportunity for success.

Our budget clearly identifies the fact that we see there's a lag in opportunities for women. We're going to continue to put forward measures that deal with that issue in a way that's constructive and allows us to make progress. I think most Canadians would recognize that trying to help to ensure that half the population is more successful—

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you for your time.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Morneau Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

—is the right thing to do.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

I'm going to cut you off there because you're not actually addressing my question.

There are women across this country who have significant concerns with this budget. They weren't as impressed with it as perhaps you would have thought they would be. Many women feel it's inappropriate for two middle-aged white guys with trust accounts to dictate to them what their choices in life should be.

In your budget, you outline that women aren't contributing as much to the economy as men, and therefore they should step up and get full-time work instead of part-time work. You are even so prescriptive as to say they should be entering STEM fields and trades to help contribute to the economy by way of taxation, in order to make up for the debt load your government is incurring.

Now, women don't like you to be telling them what to do, so their response is this. Only 16% of women are more likely to vote Liberal. Meanwhile, 38% are less likely to vote for your government in the next election. That's 38% who are less likely to vote for your government because they're offended by your budget.

Does that mean these women are also neanderthals in the same way that Lisa Raitt is?

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Morneau Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

What I won't do is to presume to look into the heads of any individuals, male or female, in this country. What we're trying to do instead is to ensure we have a system that allows women to have every opportunity that we believe they should have, like we want other Canadians to have.

In identifying the fact that women have less pay per hour of work, in identifying the fact that we have lower workforce participation among women—

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Minister, let me try again. Let's see if we can get it this time.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Morneau Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Am I able to finish my comment?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

It's her time. The time is to the—

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Your government is out of control with its spending. You've incurred a huge debt load. It's resulting in $840 more expense for the average Canadian household right now, meaning that families are taking home less money and are feeling crunched, which means that poverty levels increase.

Now, here's what we know. We know that when poverty increases, it disproportionately impacts women. We know that first nations women living off reserves are four times as likely to be poor. We know that visible minority women and women with disabilities are three times as likely to be poor, and we know that single mothers are two times as likely to be poor.

Women across this country recognize the harm caused by your out-of-control spending and increased deficit, which is why 53% of women across this country, coast to coast, prefer a balanced budget rather than your out-of-control spending.

Minister, my question again is this. Does that make these 53% of women who also disagree with your budget—including first nations women, visible minority women, women who live with disabilities, and single mothers—neanderthals?