This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #236 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-64.

Topics

Oceans ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

Pursuant to Standing Order 45(5)( a ), the recorded division on the question now before the House stands deferred until 5 p.m., this day, at which time the bells to call in the members will be sounded for not more than 15 minutes.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-64, an act respecting employment equity, as reported by the Standing Committee on Human Rights and the Status of Disabled Persons with amendments.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

October 3rd, 1995 / 11:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

There are 17 motions in amendment in the Notice Paper concerning the report stage of Bill C-64, an act respecting employment equity.

Motions Nos. 2 and 12 are the same as the amendments presented and negatived in committee. Accordingly, pursuant to Standing Order 76(5), they have not been selected.

Motion No. 3 cannot be considered today pursuant to Standing Order 76(2).

Motions Nos. 1, 6, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17 will be grouped for debate. A vote on Motion No. 1 applies to all the others.

Motion No. 4 will be debated and voted on separately.

Motion No. 5 will be debated and voted on separately.

Motion No. 7 will be debated and voted on separately.

Motion No. 11 will be debated and voted on separately.

Motions Nos. 13 and 14 will be grouped for debate and voted on as follows: an affirmative vote on Motion No. 13 obviates the necessity for the question being put on Motion No. 14. However, a negative vote on Motion No. 13 necessitates the question being put on Motion No. 14.

I shall now propose the motions in Group No. 1 to the House.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-64, in Clause 3, be amended by deleting lines 33 to 44, on page 2 and lines 1 to 6, on page 3.

Motion No. 6

That Bill C-64 be amended by deleting Clause 7.

Motion No. 8

That Bill C-64 be amended by deleting Clause 18.

Motion No. 9

That Bill C-64 be amended by deleting Clause 19.

Motion No. 10

That Bill C-64 be amended by deleting Clause 20.

Motion No. 15

That Bill C-64 be amended by deleting Clause 38.

Motion No. 16

That Bill C-64 be amended by deleting Clause 39.

Motion No. 17

That Bill C-64 be amended by deleting Clause 40.

Madam Speaker, for the benefit of members present who may not be entirely familiar with this bill and for the benefit of those thousands of Canadians earnestly watching this on television wondering what on earth this is all about, we are talking about the affirmative action bill of this Parliament. It is officially entitled employment equity.

What this bill purports to do is primarily to the public service, but any private companies of 100 employees or more doing business with the federal government are going to be going through substantially more hoops than they have in the past in meeting quotas for employment.

The amendments the Speaker has mentioned all have to do with three separate and distinct criteria. They are to remove the effects of this bill from application to the private sector.

If it is the Liberal government's intent to foist employment equity or affirmative action on the operations of the Government of Canada there is little the opposition can do because the government is going to do what it wants to do. However this should be carefully considered as it applies to the private sector. Private sector employers have enough trouble these days without adding one more hurdle for them to overcome.

I would also point out that the private sector by and large is light years ahead of the government in its relationship with minority groups. Much of what is done by the private sector is done in enlightened self-interest. There is nothing wrong with enlightened self-interest. A company will hire from those available the very best people it can get. They should not be acquired by a quota system, no matter how that quota system is comfortably or carefully disguised as employment equity. It is still affirmative action. It is still reverse discrimination. It still purports to set out that people are able to get jobs, advancement or opportunities based on human characteristics rather than merit.

The other amendments I have proposed that we will be discussing, and we would ask the government to consider carefully, are that the sole criteria for advancement or employment be merit. It should be understood that although there are items in the bill that purport to say that merit has not been taken out, we think it would be improved if we were to explicitly say that yes, the Government of Canada understands and appreciates and affirms that merit will be the sole criteria on which people will be hired, on which people will be promoted and any distinction within the employment will be based solely on merit.

The Speaker mentioned quite a number of amendments. Most of those amendments are consequential amendments that have to do with making sure that if there is an amendment, for example, to clause 3(2)(i) that those amendments follow through. Most of them really do not have any consequence. We are talking about just three major philosophical ideas in all of these amendments.

The third is that there is quite a convoluted procedure whereby people must identify themselves to the responsible officer to make sure that the employment equity or affirmative action targets or quotas are met. The person from the government comes in and says: "Hi, I am from the government. I am here to help you", snicker, snicker. The person comes in and says: "I am from the government, I am your employment equity or affirmative action officer and I am checking to see if you are in compliance".

Suppose this person goes into a room and everybody working in the room is black. There are 20 people working in the room. The person from the government looks at a piece of paper and notes that everyone has identified themselves as Canadians. They have not said that they are black; they have not said that they are yellow, white or green or whatever colour they might be. They have said: "We are Canadians". Technically they would not be in compliance.

This gives the compliance officer the chance to use some common sense and say: "Wait a minute, these people are definitely in compliance with the spirit of the law, if not with the letter of the law". It gives the compliance officer a little bit of flexibility.

These are the three major thrusts of the amendments we would ask the House to carefully consider before automatically saying: "We are not going to consider any of these amendments".

That concludes my short remarks on Bill C-64 at this time. We will have a lot more to say on this subject when it is debated at third reading.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

York North Ontario

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Madam Speaker, I am often shocked by the simple analysis of how our society works and sometimes does not work for the people.

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank you for this chance to demonstrate the merits of the Liberal approach to employment equity and to expose the destructive nature of the proposed amendment.

The effect of Motion No. 1 would be to exclude the private sector altogether from the act. This would be tantamount to repealing the existing Employment Equity Act. It is not acceptable to the government.

The motion begs a very important question because it speaks to the type of work that members of Parliament do in committees and whether they are or are not listening to what people have to say.

Did hon. members opposite hear what the business community had to say about employment equity during the hearings of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development? Perhaps I can use this occasion to refresh their memories. The strongest proponents of the legislation were also those organizations representing some of Canada's largest employers, including the Canadian Bankers Association, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and Canadian National.

Banks alone employ nearly one-third of all federally regulated private sector employees. W.J. Lomax of the Canadian Bankers Association, like many others who testified, stated at the hearings that employment equity "has stimulated fundamental reviews and enhancements in the bank's human resources policies and practices which have benefited everyone. It has helped us lay the foundation for managing an increasingly diverse workforce, something every employer of choice in the 1990s wants to do well".

The friends of business are speaking out against business. I have heard hon. members across the way offer their curious understanding of life in the Canadian workplace and employment equity. Here we have a party that tells the world that it is in favour of equality. It claims it is in favour of hiring on merit. It tells us to seed opportunity for all and yet attacks a piece of legislation that has helped employers clear away impediments for all Canadians.

I am going to take this opportunity to dispel some of the myths the Reform Party has been stating. The first speaker on its behalf said certain things that are not quite accurate. What does the bill not do? The bill specifically states that it does not require employers to hire unqualified people. That is what the bill says.

It also says that it does not require the federal public service to set aside merit principles. That is what this bill says. It exempts employers with less than 100 employees. The hon. member should listen to this: It does not create a rigid quota system and it makes clear this program must never cause undue hardship on an employer.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

That's Liberal arrogance.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Reform

Herb Grubel Reform Capilano—Howe Sound, BC

Very Orwellian.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal York North, ON

Madam Speaker, I hear some heckling on the other side. Obviously the Reform Party has a great deal of difficulty dealing with the facts when they are presented as clearly and concisely as they have been this morning.

Canadians understand. The Reform Party couches its intentions in elegant language but the people of Canada, the visible minorities, the average Canadian, young people understand what the Reform Party is all about. Its members may think they are pulling the wool over people's eyes. However, the fact is that everyone is waking up to the reality and the type of mean spirited outlook the Reform Party day in and day out demonstrates in the House.

Madam Speaker, let me continue to enlighten the members opposite on the key issues of why employment equity builds a fairer and more just society for everyone. The Reform Party's position implies that people from designated groups choose greater unemployment, they choose lower wages, they look for more uncertainty as employees. They invite it. That is what visible minorities, aboriginal Canadians and women want. They want to make less than everybody else. That is what the Reform Party would like Canadians to believe.

Canadians are more reasonable. They understand that employment equity is not about favouring one group. It is the realization that in our society there is something called systemic discrimination, that people sometimes have to overcome insurmountable barriers to find work and move ahead.

The thoughts I have expressed today arise from rational discussion in every single part of the country. When people look at the statistics and at the fact that women make less than men in comparable positions and that aboriginals are being shut out of employment opportunities, they tell the government that employment equity makes sense.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Reform

Herb Grubel Reform Capilano—Howe Sound, BC

Indian affairs is doing it.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal York North, ON

I am somewhat surprised that the Reform Party would stoop this low-

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Reform

Herb Grubel Reform Capilano—Howe Sound, BC

Equal opportunity.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal York North, ON

-and not allow Canadians from the designated groups their right to a job and to prosper like every other Canadian.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

I wonder why Ontario cancelled?

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Reform

Herb Grubel Reform Capilano—Howe Sound, BC

It is because we do not like racism.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal York North, ON

Madam Speaker, I am one member who is going to expose the Reform Party for exactly what it is-

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Reform

Herb Grubel Reform Capilano—Howe Sound, BC

You are racist.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal York North, ON

-a backward party.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

I would ask the hon. member to withdraw his comments, please.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Reform

Herb Grubel Reform Capilano—Howe Sound, BC

Madam Speaker, I am sorry. I was carried away in the heat of debate. I withdraw the remark. Is the hon. member going to identify the groups on the basis of colour?

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal York North, ON

Madam Speaker, this type of behaviour in the House which has become synonymous with Reform Party members is quite shocking. In my six or seven years as a member of Parliament-

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

I guess we do not like social engineering, do we?

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal York North, ON

-nobody has ever used that term to describe me. While I accept the apology, I think Canadians will understand that the term used by the hon. member was unparliamentary and unbecoming of a parliamentarian.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Reform

Herb Grubel Reform Capilano—Howe Sound, BC

Are you going to identify the minorities on the basis of their colour?

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, as this is the first time I have an opportunity to rise in this House, I wish to welcome you back. You can, of course, appreciate that we have no intention of supporting the motions and amendments put forward by the Reform Party, and certainly not those aimed at exempting the private sector from the application of the Employment Equity Act.

With your permission, I would like to say that if we find ourselves with such amendments, it is undoubtedly because the Reform Party does not understand what employment equity is. What is being proposed through this bill and through various amendments is something that has been requested by a number of Canadians, especially those who submitted briefs to the Abella Commission and asked us to ensure not only that the Employment Equity Act has a greater impact on the private sector but also that it applies to the public service in general, which is what Bill C-64 will achieve.

We found it difficult to understand the position put forward by the Reform Party. How can they say on the one hand that the new jobs in Canada are created by the private sector, especially by small business, and claim on the other hand that the private sector should be exempted from employment equity?

Tabling a motion like the one put forward by our friends from the Reform Party is to consciously deny that greater equality in Canada and Quebec can be achieved through the private sector.

I would be tempted to say that it takes a whole lot of nerve to rise in this place and make this kind of remark.

What is most disturbing about such a position is the line we were given-and will keep hearing throughout the debate today I guess-about white people-those the Reform calls the silent majority-being discriminated against.

It will come as no surprise to you, Madam Speaker, to learn that the committee met with officials of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, who told us that 55 per cent of available jobs were being held by people with the traditional white, able-bodied and non native profile, while only 45 per cent of the workforce actually fits this description. This results in a situation where individuals who belong to what the Reform Party calls the silent majority are holding 55 per cent of the jobs, when in fact they represent 45 per cent of the workforce. And they would have us believe that there is reverse discrimination?

The truth of the matter is that, deep down, the Reform Party does not believe in employment equity. It does not believe that, on the job market as we know it today, certain people find it particularly difficult to find a place for themselves, and these are women, people with disabilities, native people and members of a visible minority. I think that the Reform Party should have the courage to say that it does not believe that these people are subject to any particular form of discrimination and that it is our duty to ensure that the four classes of persons referred to in this bill can find a place not available to them at present.

When we look at statistics, there is cause for rejoicing but also cause for concern. On the bright side-and I am sure this will please the Hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health-the labour force attachment of women did increase. You can see for yourself, statistics all say the same thing.

This is also true, to a lesser extent, of people with disabilities, who probably account for seven or eight per cent of the workforce, while making up 15 per cent of the overall population.

If you look at the situation of aboriginal peoples and members of visible minorities, you see that very little progress was made since 1986, when the act was first implemented. There are still enormous problems which, it must be recognized, are often related to culture. However, the fact remains that there are groups which are significantly under-represented in the workforce, particularly aboriginal and disabled people, as well as members of visible minorities.

We know, of course, what the Reform Party thinks of aboriginal peoples, and we will get back to that issue later on during the debate.

The Bloc supports this bill and is particularly pleased that it also applies to the public service. Indeed, it was somewhat of a paradox to ask private sector employers to make efforts and produce annual reports, to meet objectives and related deadlines, without asking the public service to meet the same objectives and expectations. That approach was rather questionable. So, we are pleased to see that the government will impose the same employment equity objective to 300 crown corporations and to all the departments, through Treasury Board.

We are not saying that the bill cannot be improved; in fact, we will discuss that issue when we look at the motions proposed by the Bloc. We have a number of concerns, particularly as regards the establishment of employment equity review tribunals.

We were hoping that the bill would include provisions providing for the establishment of an employment equity review tribunal on the basis of the actual representation of the designated groups.

As regards this issue, it must be said that the government was particularly narrow minded and stubborn in its approach, from the very beginning.

Members have an opportunity to participate in the debate today, and I hope that Reform members will display the dignity and open mindedness that should guide every parliamentarian.

Employment Equity ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to address Motions Nos. 8, 9 and 10.

It is interesting that in speaking for the first time on this bill at report stage I have just come from a meeting of the human rights committee. The committee is reviewing the process of the national strategy for the integration of persons with disabilities.

One of the key statistics presented at that meeting was that over 70 per cent of people with disabilities are not even in the labour force, that employment is a major factor in keeping close to 50 per cent of persons with disabilities below $10,000 in incomes in a year. These are people who happen to have a disability. It does not mean they have no ability.

Employment equity goes to the very heart of why people in our country with substantial ability have not had an equal opportunity to participate in the labour force, in the economy and to be considered full, equal citizens in the matter of employment.

One only needs to look at the recent edition of Canadian Social Trends at an article on the employment of people with disabilities. More than half of young people with disabilities were unemployed.

If we look at any of the designated groups, we know that as a society we have not been colour blind. We have not been blind to disabilities. We have not been blind to race and ethnic origins. We have not been blind to gender when it comes to employment.

Bill C-64 is about getting rid of all those blinders that have somehow made us incapable of seeing the abilities of these people to contribute through employment, to earn and to be self-sufficient through employment.

Let me speak to Motions Nos. 8, 9 and 10. They go to the heart of how we as a society monitor and how employers monitor how well they are doing in taking their blinders off when it comes to employment, promotion and training opportunities and being fully equal opportunity employers.

I have great concern over these motions. I do not understand how members of the House and the public should no longer receive an annual report from the minister consolidating information that employers have already collected as required by the Employment Equity Act. It is not only the reception of that information by the minister, it is the public awareness of that information and the awareness of that information by Parliament that allows us to make good public policies.

The impact of the amendments in Motions Nos. 8, 9 and 10 would be extremely damaging to Bill C-64. If implemented they would remove the most effective tools we have to monitor employment equity performance of individual private sector employers. More to the point, they would eliminate the means for Parliament to chart progress in achieving workplace equality and to ensure accountability.

The annual reporting requirement is as much about motivation as it is monitoring. We heard from numerous witnesses before the human rights committee about their experience over the last seven years with the Employment Equity Act. They said the Employment Equity Act had led them to take a look at their hiring practices, to improve their hiring practices and to eliminate discriminatory practices of which they had not been aware. Many of them said to us it had substantially improved their human resources management and the quality of their workforce.

The reporting which the Reform Party seeks to eliminate allows employers the chance to see how they measure up against other employers. The information forms part of the criteria for targeting the advice and assistance to employers that human resources development will offer in strengthening those employers' employment equity programs. Far from being heavy handed, the reports are an invaluable instrument to help government work more co-operatively, effectively and constructively with the private sector.

Furthermore, the annual reports improve the functioning of our labour market by providing detailed information to organizations whose purpose is to place members of designated groups and other Canadians and improve their opportunity to participate in the workforce. These organizations use the information to assist their clients in targeting their job search and training programs.

Equally critical, they have been of paramount importance in enabling legislators to assess the appropriateness of provisions of the act and the practical operation of employment equity legislation in the real working world. Many of the changes the bill before us makes to the Employment Equity Act, which has been in place since 1987, are the result of the experience over those seven to eight years and of the information received not only by the minister but by Parliament and by the public as to how the previous legislation was working.

The yearly reports are our window into the workplace, providing data for research and evaluation of employment equity principles and methods. The insights we gain from this annual procedure are as useful to us as they are to Canadian employers, to labour and to members of designated groups. The major change in the bill is to include the Public Service of Canada. I hesitate to say that most segments of the private sector are doing better than the Government of Canada in their employment of people who have traditionally been disadvantaged in their employment advancement and training. We as a government have a great deal to learn from the private sector and we learn it largely through reports from the private sector.

They serve another useful function. The minister's annual employment equity report is a major tool for public education on the principles and progress of employment equity in Canada, a major tool for keeping us accountable for our progress in allowing all Canadians to participate fully in all segments of society.

Annual reports on measures taken and results achieved have been crucial as monitoring and motivational, dare I say self-motivational, measures in the private sector since 1986. They have recorded the steady progress the private sector has made in achieving a more equitable and representative Canadian workforce.

They have however also focused our attention on areas of weakness, reinforcing the need for the new employment equity legislation we have before us today. Anyone who questions the need for these provisions in Bill C-64 need look no further than the latest statistics. Annual reports indicate that despite significant progress for some individuals in the designated groups much more remains to be done. I referred to some of those statistics this

morning. I expect fully to refer to more for the other designated groups as this debate proceeds.

The reports show that even for those members of the designated groups that were employed, most did not see the same wage gains and promotion opportunities of other Canadians. Women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities continue to find themselves on the bottom rung of the economic and social ladder.

Until we see parity in the workplace there will be an ongoing need for reporting to measure progress and to further progress. I therefore urge the House to reject the amendments put forward. Perhaps we sometimes do not like what we see when we report on ourselves, but it is important that we look in the mirror and improve the situation.