Mr. Speaker, I feel very privileged to be able to stand in the House to enter in this important debate.
When I was first elected as a member of Parliament in 1993 I came here with very high ideals. I have grown to like this place. We have here, for the most part, freedom to debate ideas and concepts which profoundly affect society and have a huge impact on our well-being as a country.
I begin my intervention by clearly stating that I do not question or judge the high motives of some hon. members opposite. Those who have spoken favourably with respect to Bill C-64 for the most part are sincere. I accept that. I also invite them to consider that I believe sincerely in the views I will put forward in the next while.
It is important not to reduce ourselves to name calling but rather very honestly and openly question the bills before us. We should have the freedom to amend bills so that the end product is the absolute best for the people of Canada.
I believe very strongly that I am not only fulfilling a role as a member of the opposition by being against these things. Certainly there are elements in all bills which bear reason for support. I say as a member of Parliament-and I think I would do this if I were a government member-that if I identified a flaw in a bill I would as forcefully as possible bring it to the attention of the House and urge the House to amend the bill or defeat it. Unfortunately in the way Parliament works that is not an option. I regret that. It is unfortunate that government members opposed to the bill lack the freedom to effectively influence change.
I agree with the premise that people ought to be treated equally. Members opposite have said quite often that this is a bill about equality. The word equity comes from the same root word meaning equal or equality. We cannot tell a book by its cover. In this instance the bill labelled a bill about employment equity, implying employment equality, just does not deliver. It so happens that while the bill speaks of equality it actually entrenches inequality. I say that with all due respect.
Members opposite are correct when they say that we have a history in which some people have been discriminated against on invalid grounds: grounds of race and grounds of gender. When I was a young man we were discouraged from entering the nursing profession because it was a job largely filled by females. There was a prior bias in the different ways of hiring.
Every time there is a position to be filled certain discriminatory principles will be applied. I was for a long time in charge of hiring in the place where I worked. It is true. Sometimes we had 200 applications for three positions. We had to apply criteria to decide who would get the jobs. I believe I did this with honesty and integrity throughout. I always asked the question who is best able to do the job?
I did not ask the gender of the person. I did not ask what was their racial background. I did not look at the colour of their skin. My records will show, if anyone would like to check, that as a private businessman and a supervisor in a technical institute there was no evidence of discrimination. All I asked was that this person be the best qualified to do the job. That is to me an overriding principle.
The intrusion of these various elements into evaluating a candidate for a position is totally unrelated to the ability to do the job. They are entrenchments of inequity and inequality. I urge members of the government to think very carefully about this. Do not pass it off. Do not get emotional about a bill that you have come to love, but ask yourself whether it really does the job.
At the beginning of this bill it states that the purpose of the act is to correct disadvantages in employment experienced by women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.
I would be the first one to get up and scream if someone were denied a position because she was a woman and for that reason only, or because he or she was native and for that reason only. I would object strenuously. As I said before, my policies in my past and even as a member of the House of Commons are that I do not look at those things, I look past and beyond.
We have heard quite a bit of talk, especially from the member for Greenwood, about the fact that this bill does not require quotas, that there are exemptions for employers. The bill says "where there is undue hardship to the employer". I beg to ask what is the definition of undue? It is so loose it does not mean anything. There is no reason for people to obey this bill if it means that they would have to hire or promote unqualified persons.
This is a good reason to vote against this bill in its entirety. It gives two conflicting messages. One says that you must hire these people based on their numbers in these groups. On the other hand, it says that you do not have to because you should test them based on their abilities. You should not have to hire unqualified persons.
In that case, the bill presents a real conundrum. There is no solution to this problem because you have two conflicting sets of criteria.
I also challenge the member's statement that this is not about quotas. Liberal members talk over and over again about the fact that business practice is going to be enhanced by this bill. I beg to differ and I differ strongly because right now, to my knowledge, no legislation in Canada says you cannot hire the best people if they are in one of these groups. The absence of this bill does not present any difficulty to business at all.
We have had examples mentioned of different businesses that are working toward providing more equality in the hiring place and eliminating barriers. They have done it because it is good practice.
If they are doing it because it is good business practice, then the legislation is redundant. The only thing that this legislation is going to do is develop a huge bog of bureaucracy that will once again slow down the efficiency of business and of our economic well-being. What am I talking about? I am talking about what the employer is required to do because of this act. "Every employer shall collect information and conduct analysis of the workforce. With respect to whether or not there is a degree of under-representation of persons in these designated groups, he or she is to conduct a review to identify employment barriers. Only those employees who identify themselves are to be counted".
I digress for a moment but there is a flaw in this bill right there that gives me a reason to vote against it. I beg the members on the government side to consider what they are voting for when they follow their party leadership later today and all dutifully, one after the other, stand up and say, yes, we are in favour of this bill. Listen to what it says: "if employees choose to identify themselves they are to be counted". Otherwise they are not counted.
Let us say one of the groups in the area represents 20 per cent of the population. Let us say a business actually has 20 per cent in this group. Let us say they exercise their constitutional right not to identify themselves. The reason the disclaimer is in the bill is because it is so close to being unconstitutional, it requires identification of oneself.
Let us say that the 20 per cent of people working for this business exercise that right and do not identify themselves. They cannot be counted. Though in truth they occupy one-fifth of the positions in this business, they are not counted. When a position becomes open, they are under-represented according to the books. Therefore there is an obligation to hire another one of them.
They could by simply not identifying themselves keep that ball rolling until that workplace is entirely filled with people in that group, discriminating against everyone who is not in the group. That is a major flaw in this bill.
We tried to amend it. Reformers moved amendments in committee and the Liberals dutifully voted them down. I guess they did not want to think for themselves. The people who were telling them how to vote were not thinking very clearly either. That is what happened.
I urge all Canadians to ask themselves if this is such a wonderful bill and if it reflects what Canadians are truly about and if the members of the government truly believe this-I ask again in this context, why is the bill necessary if that is really true-why these draconian enforcement measures?
Why do we have enforcement that says that every employer shall make all reasonable efforts to implement its employment equity plan and to monitor it? Why is it that the government requires that employers maintain these employment equity records and that they file with the government, annually, a report respecting how they are fulfilling their quota.
Government members do not like to use the word quota because quota unfortunately is a word that means force. It means big government. While they want to do the same thing, they do not like to use the word quota.
They will say that nowhere in the bill is the word quota mentioned. Proportions are mentioned. The numbers are there. If that is the case and each business has to report, it has to report the salary ranges of people in these different groups. It has to report the number of employees hired in each group. After it has reported and only those employees, by the way, who have agreed to identify themselves are counted, in fact the employer could be doing it and it does not even hit the record.
In all instances we find it is just big brother. In the end-