Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to show how Canada is a leader when it comes to employment equity.
Bill C-64 is a made in Canada legislative measure which meets the specific needs of the workplace in our country.
I am proud to say that our government does not follow the American trend of criticizing employment equity. We should not be overly influenced by what goes on south of the border, since many problems arising American law do not occur in Canada.
Given our history, our constitution and our social context, we do not do things the way the Americans do. I should add that the progress made so far tells us that we often make the right decisions.
Let me offer this brief overview of the Employment Equity Act, an act that is unique in the world. It is distinctly Canadian.
Our legislation is firmly grounded in this country's Constitution. In Canada every individual has the right to equality before and under the law, and equal protection and benefit of the law.
As we have said in the red book, the Liberal Party plan for Canada, we want a country where we all see ourselves as contributors and participants, not liabilities and dependants. We are committed to a Canada characterized by integrity, compassion and competence.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes that special consideration and the accommodation of differences are necessary to realize true equality under the law. Different treatment is not a departure from equality. It is essential however to achieve it.
The Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Ovide Mercredi, explained it well when he told the Standing Committee on Human Rights and Status of Disabled Persons: "I think sometimes people, white people in particular, forget that this is their society and it is not easy for others to get into it".
This legislation is designed precisely to build bridges between potential and opportunity.
In Canada, employment equity is proactive and positive. It is intended to prevent discrimination. It is designed to eliminate obstacles to employment for disadvantaged Canadians, through intelligent management of human resources making it easier for the new labour force of the 21st century to enter the job market.
Our legislation encourages consultation between employers and workers to find solutions for problems arising at the workplace.
Our approach is based on conciliation rather than use of the courts, because this is the Canadian approach. The aim of the federal government is to educate and help employers by creating
employment opportunities enjoyed by all members of the labour force for members of designated groups.
Another central feature of our system is our firm belief in flexible targets businesses can reasonably achieve. In both our original Employment Equity Act and in the current bill to replace it we have purposely sought the views of employers, unions and members of the designated groups.
We have listened and learned, recognizing we must strike the right balance, ensuring the law will not solve one set of problems for employees by creating another problem for employers.
That is why Bill C-64 has been specifically designed to minimize the regulatory burden. It also makes programs more cost effective and enforcement measures much more efficient.
The bonus for Canadian companies is when everyone's best interests are served there is a direct improvement to the bottom line.
In fact, employment equity is not hard to sell. According to the Business Council of British Columbia in its testimony before the standing committee studying Bill C-64, the four designated groups make up 60 per cent of Canada's population. As employment equity programs are implemented, it went on to say, the labour force will better reflect the diversity of the Canadian people with all the social and economic advantages this comprises. Our experience with employment equity proves that, when a solution is practical for business and protects human dignity, everyone benefits.
Employment equity helps fill the gaps in our economic development and therefore it strengthens our economy as a whole.
The newspapers are full of stories about business executives extolling the virtues of employment equity. For example, Dan Branda, chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Canada told a Globe and Mail reporter that diversity:
-is an absolute business imperative because it gives us the edge in attracting the best and the brightest people. It positions us as an employer of choice and will help us in competing in a market that is becoming increasing diverse and global.
The chief executive officer of the Canadian Occidental Petroleum, Bernard Isautier said:
Diversity is a source of competitive advantage. Canada is a country with a respect for differences, for different cultures, for different opinions and respect in general for the individual. That makes Canadians particularly well received when they deal with foreign countries. I think Canada should capitalize more on these capacities.
No one would agree more than the young woman who is able to pursue a career in the trades, the young aboriginal student who sees his post-secondary studies lead to full employment in industry, the Asian engineer who is able to use her skills to improve production processes to make a firm more competitive or the disabled adult who gains financial and social independence, enjoying the dignity and security that comes with a salary.
This legislation is a recommitment of the government to equality for all Canadians. With Bill C-64 we are continuing our tradition of international leadership in the area of employment equity, while choosing to lead rather than be led. In these changing times, assuming our responsibility is making the most of the opportunities that change represents. In the process, we are creating a more united nation and building a more innovative economy.
Most of all, we are putting into practice the very values that make each of us so proud to be a Canadian: fairness, justice and equality for all.