Mr. Speaker, let me begin by thanking the hon. member opposite for acknowledging my positive spirit. He is extremely perspicacious, and I would remind him that yes is the response associated with positivism.
I have listened with a great deal of attention and interest to what my colleague from Dartmouth has had to say. Let me congratulate him as well on his sincere concern with this problem. I feel that efforts must be made to ensure wage equity in all areas. It is a desirable thing for there to be wage equity, no discrimination according to gender, skin colour, race, religion, or geographical location.
Because, regardless of where a job is done, I am thinking for instance of a plumber who fixes a sink, whether in Trois-Rivières or James Bay, obviously it is the same job. Where this causes certain problems, and I think that certain differentiations need to be made, the issue cannot be decided as simply as that. Serious problems crop up in trying to attain this principle of equality.
Of course, one could say: equal pay for equal work. But there are often differing incidental expenses in performing that work which need to be taken into consideration.
The hon. member himself just now said that all members of this House are paid the same because that is normal, we all do the same work. I am sure that a member from British Columbia is just as good at his job as a member from Quebec, and vice versa. Except that the member from British Columbia who comes to do his job here in the House is given points for travel time, just as I, as a Quebec member, am given points when I come to do my job in the House, but the value of these points is not the same.
We have the same salary, but when the member leaves Vancouver to do his job here in the House, his plane ticket costs a lot more than the mileage I would be allowed to come and do my job in the House. If the member had to pay this out of his own salary, he would be at a disadvantage. Today, he has the same salary, because someone else pays for incidentals and costs directly related to his job in Ottawa.
The same applies to a plumber. Suppose a company is doing work at James Bay. If the company wants to attract qualified employees to James Bay to do certain jobs, such as electricians or plumbers, the individual who agrees to go and work in a remote area where his expenses will be higher will insist that by the end of the week he should have about the same net salary as his counterpart in Montreal. The hon. member did not mention this in his speech.
I refer to remote areas, but we could also talk about isolated areas. When someone is asked to go to work in a location that is not easily reached except by plane, for instance, this individual will spend more to get to his job, in addition to suffering the inconvenience of isolation.
Working in an isolated area is worse than working in a remote area, and there should be some compensation. If the hon. member means equal pay for equal work, fine, but members will have to suggest ways to compensate for additional expenses. Perhaps we could call it a remote area or isolated area allowance, or even an occupational hazard allowance, depending on the area.
Take a firefighter, for instance. Someone who works as a firefighter in a small community of 15,000, 17,000 or 20,000 does not run the same risks on the job as a firefighter who works in a big city like Montreal or Toronto. The risks are not the same. The buildings are higher, and exposure to chemical products may be more frequent. The working conditions are quite different.
If these differences are not reflected in the salary, it will be necessary to find a way to acknowledge them by providing an allowance. If an allowance is used, we still have the same problem, which is how to determine the amount of the allowance.
The union has argued that it is not easy to judge to what extent one job location warrants a higher salary than another location, because the work is the same. If there is a problem with salaries, determining the allowance will also be a problem.
The hon. member for Dartmouth has remained silent about these issues. I am aware of union demands that everyone should be equal, but when they talk about making everyone equal, they mean raising the lowest salaries to the highest level in a given occupation. So that the hourly rate proposed for a plumber living in a small village of three or four thousand inhabitants where the cost of living is not particularly high is the same as a plumber working on a construction site in Montreal.
Obviously, no plumber is going to turn his nose up at a salary increase in such a region, without its being either remote or isolated. But these have to be taken into account.
Getting back to the remote regions, a person has to pay more to get to work and, then, on top of that he has to pay more for everything he buys in order to live in this remote place, all of which comes out of his salary. A pound of butter in James Bay does not cost the same as in Montreal, because it has to be transported by air.
So, if I pay employees the same salary for their work, the one living in James Bay will not have enough salary to live on there. It does not cost the same to build a house in James Bay or to live there or in Manicouagan as it does in Montreal or Toronto. I am in favour of equalizing by taking the best salary being paid in each place in society, but we do not want to end up with other inequities that would be just as unfair.
We have to be careful in this matter before we legislate, because we also have to allow the business, the employer, to find labour, which at times can be hard to find. If you ask me-I was in education, I was an administrator in education-most teachers from Montreal or from my riding of Joliette, a beautiful riding in the province, asked to go and teach in Port Cartier, a very remote region, would not voluntarily go and work there for equal salary. As the region of Port Cartier would not have been sufficiently self sufficient to develop its own teachers, it would have had to go without competent people to teach there.
The same thing would have happened in James Bay, Manicouagan and in other areas in other provinces. I am thinking of remote areas, in the woods, for example, areas hard to reach. Sometimes competent workers would not be hired, in order to be able to provide everyone with the public services to which they are entitled. This has been discussed with respect to certain trades but health care could have been chosen just as easily as my example of education.
When people are entitled to equal services, their wages must enable them to pay for these equal services to which they are entitled, in all fairness and independent again of their gender, age, skin colour, religion and so on. These are the sorts of things I would like to see addressed by the hon. member for Dartmouth, who seems to have a well intentioned bill here, but one that does not seem to be detailed enough to ensure it would improve the situation instead of creating other areas of inconsistency or other labour relations problems.
I would also like to see these matters discussed between employers and employees, and I think that good personnel administration means that, when disputes of this type crop up, they are discussed together, negotiated, in preference-by far-to letting the courts decide, as has been said.
I am totally in agreement with the unions on this approach when there is a problem, instead of letting grievances develop and going before the courts to have the issue decided, which takes time and runs into thousands of dollars in costs as well. What is preferable is to allow employers and employees to discuss the true nature of the problem and to look together at where solutions lie.
This motion will not be voted upon at this time, but it does show good intentions, and I hope the government will show an interest in it. I hope also, however, that the motion will be able to be translated into a bill which will do more justice to workers, to employers as well, and to the regions. Care must be taken to ensure that the regions do not end up in a situation where they will be unable to have with the services necessary for a quality of life and an environment to which they are as entitled as everyone else.
I hope therefore that the hon. member for Dartmouth will seek the assistance of his colleagues in addition to his own opinions on this, and I am anxious to hear their input.