Madam Speaker, I thank you for allowing me to take part in the debate. Once the House has returned to normal, you will permit me to say what is obviously a fact and what I am proud to point out: that the Bloc Quebecois supports the bill on employment equity.
You will understand my concern that we should be dealing, in this House today, with a motion that is, in my opinion, ultraconservative. It is very backward and has a major strike against it because it fails to take into account a basic premise, which has been brought to our attention by a number of witnesses since December. The Standing Committee on Human Rights of which I am the vice-chairman has been working for almost seven months on employment equity.
I can assure you that we have had a number of people come and remind us that one would have to be completely blind and particularly obtuse not to understand that, when it comes to dealing with the labour market and finding one's niche in an organization, people are not all equal before the law.
Permit me to point out that the notion of employment equity is not new. In the early 1970s there was a movement in Canadian society and people demanded that legislators intervene to promote greater equality among individuals.
There are, in the area of employment equity, two major types of discrimination. There is discrimination, which is more at the individual level in our society, which takes the form of prejudice and stereotypes and which is found in interpersonal relationships. There is another broad type of discrimination, which is systemic. This means that the system, the labour market, left on its own, would generate inequality of itself, and we would find ourselves in a situation created by a set of practices and procedures. The most obvious example of this, which we all know, is that women do not have the same career options.
These arguments could also apply to politics. We must acknowledge that women interested in a political career face additional requirements because there is a social division of labour which takes for granted that women should be responsible for child care. The same goes for the labour force. It is much more difficult for a woman to reach management levels because of the social pressures that still exist in our society.
That is why in 1983 the Liberal government then in power asked Judge Rosalie Abella to lead a commission of inquiry and recommend what could be done to achieve greater equity in the workplace. What is interesting about this commission, which made 31 recommendations-including some that have become
law and some that are included in Bill C-64-is that the Isabella Commission defined discrimination right off the bat. The commission defined discrimination as the arbitrary barriers that deny some people the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.
This definition underlines the early link between the desire to end discrimination and the notion of ability.
What I find most appalling, most disgusting in the Reform rhetoric is that, throughout committee proceedings, they tried to establish a false link between employment equity and ability. As if public or private sector employers promoting employment equity had to hire incompetent people.
Right from the start, the Abella Commission made it clear that the two employment equity laws did not require employers in any way to hire incompetent people.
There is something very loathsome as well as some dishonest associations in the Reform Party's arguments.
What was the situation? Now that the Employment Equity Act has been in effect for nearly seven years, we see that some progress has been made. Let us look, for example, at the four designated groups. As members know, employment equity is a requirement for private sector employers with 100 or more employees. At the present time, the Employment Equity Act affects roughly 5 per cent of the labour force and 350 employers. We have not done nearly as much as we could to provide greater coverage for the labour force.
So, any employer who employs one hundred or more employees and does business under federal jurisdiction is required to develop employment equity plans indicating how he will ensure that his workforce better reflects the representation of various groups in the Canadian workforce. This is the purpose, the basis for the Employment Equity Act. Employers are asked to pay special attention to four groups which have a harder time finding a place in our society.
Which are these four groups? They are, as you know, visible minorities, members of ethnic communities; women of course, to whom you are very sensitive and who make up 52 per cent of the Canadian population; aboriginal people and people with disabilities.
Figures show that progress has been made. There are certainly more women and members of visible minorities in the workplace today than before. Let me give you some figures.
In 1987, one year after the Employment Equity Act was first passed, visible minorities represented five per cent of the labour force; in 1993, they represented 8.09 per cent of the labour force. So, there have been gains; there has been some progress. But can we reasonably assume that, without legislation to sensitize employers to visible minority integration, without influencing the labour market in any way, this would have happened anyway? I think not.
As for women, in 1987, they represented 40.93 per cent of the labour force and, a few years later, in 1993, 45 per cent. There have indeed been gains, but we must never lose sight of the fact that women make up half of the Canadian population and that it would be unacceptable for the workplace not to reflect this reality.
As for the other two designated groups, namely aboriginal people and persons with disabilities, they may well be the greatest source of concern to us parliamentarians. While the situation is relatively positive for women and for members of visible minorities, aboriginal people and persons with disabilities still have a long way to go.
In 1987, it will be remembered, aboriginal people accounted for 0.66 per cent of the workforce, compared to 1.04 per cent in 1993. This is not even a one per cent improvement. It is important to recognize the need to make room for more aboriginal people on the labour market.
Persons with disabilities account for 13 per cent of Canada's population, something which cannot be overlooked as we are about to enter the 21st century. There are more and more persons with disabilities in our society. These people want to work, and they can be part of the labour force. In 1987, persons with disabilities accounted for 1.59 per cent of the work force, compared to 2.56 per cent in 1993. This represents an increase of just under one per cent.
These figures are a reminder that, when it comes to employment equity, we can certainly not say "mission accomplished". There is still work to be done. I take exception to the comments made by the Reform Party.
Throughout the proceedings, we heard Reform members shamelessly and unacceptably claim that, in 1995, there existed what they called reverse discrimination. They said that, in our society as well as in the workplace, those who are discriminated against and for whom policies are required are in fact white men with no handicap, a group which the neoconservatives of the Reagan era called the silent majority. This is the simplistic argument used by Reform members.
Yet, we see-according to the figures released by the Canadian Human Rights Commission-that white men with no handicap hold 55 per cent of available jobs, while accounting for 45 per cent of the workforce.
Given these figures, how could we possibly agree with the simplistic views of the Reform members and their comments on reverse discrimination?
Another study, conducted by the Pearson Institute, is very enlightening. Two years ago, this institute estimated that, of the people in the top 500 positions in Canada, the movers and shakers who make the most important decisions and have
enormous influence on the government's decisions, less than 1 per cent were aboriginal people, less than 4 per cent belonged to a visible minority and less than 12 per cent were women.
And there are nevertheless still people around who say that there is no need to legislate a more even distribution of influence, power and management positions in our society, than what currently exists.
If they would only make the effort to methodically write up the profiles of the members of each designated group, they would see that there are still some extremely unsettling problems and inequalities. Of course, we are not saying that nothing good has come of the legislation in the seven years since it was passed. We realize that women and visible minorities have made advances. But we can in no way sit back and exclaim: "Mission accomplished".
Let us look a little closer at the realities of the designated groups. In 1994, even 1995, it is downright awful that the average woman working in the private sector, doing exactly the same job, reporting at exactly the same level in the management chain, and holding exactly the same responsibilities as her male counterpart earns approximately 66 per cent of what the man earns. It is statistics like that which should make us all indignant. Why should we tolerate, as parliamentarians, the fact that, as our society prepares to enter the 21st century, a woman and a man with the same responsibilities and qualifications are not paid the same salary?
It is odd that the Reform Party does not mention this reality. This is absolutely incredible, given the large-scale awareness campaigns led by Treasury Board. So, how is it that, during the course of our work the Reform Party never concerned itself with this reality? What about visible minorities? If we conducted a little experiment and put ten members of visible minorities and ten Caucasians-and I say Caucasian because this is the expression used in the Act-in the same room, we would realize that there were more university graduates among the members of visible minorities than among the Caucasians. And yet, half the time, members of visible minorities are limited to jobs that require little education, pay little and involve manual work.
Who is going to tell me that we, as parliamentarians, should not be concerned about this injustice? This is the reality. And then, what about native people? A report was recently tabled in the House on social problems among the native population. The rate of suicide is extremely high among native peoples. My colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Jean, could speak much more movingly and more expertly than I on this subject. However, the latest statistics have revealed that, in 1993,-and we are not talking about 300 B.C.-the rate of unemployment among native people was still double the national average.
Native people are concentrated in jobs requiring less knowledge and fewer skills and even more in so-called manual jobs. You would not be surprised to learn, Madam Speaker, that the annual employment income of native people is lower. If you have a job, earn a salary and are a native person you, in all likelihood, will be earning $10,000 less than your white counterpart. This is unacceptable, as you will understand.
As regards persons with disabilities, this is perhaps where the Employment Equity Act has made the least progress. This is understandable, because integrating a person with a disability requires employers to make alterations, what the courts have called reasonable adjustments.
It is because of these realities that we must support a bill like the one tabled by the government. I am not saying that, as the official opposition, we do not have a few reservations about this bill. As the committee members know, we put forward a number of amendments. I would have preferred the employment equity plan to be developed jointly by the workers' representatives and the employers, but such is not the case.
What is the Reform Party so worried about in this bill? Why must we spend our time trying to convince our Reform colleagues that a law such as the Employment Equity Act is necessary in Quebec and Canadian society?
Bill C-64 provides for something that we have been demanding for six years: it will now apply not only to 600,000 private sector workers but also to the Canadian public service. This means that, at a single stroke, 200,000 additional workers will enjoy greater protection. I see this as a positive development, since we must recognize the absurdity of asking private sector employers to promote employment equity while exempting the government. We have waited several years for this amendment.
Another positive point is that there will now be an entity in charge of enforcing the act. While employment equity was previously under the jurisdiction of the minister and the human resources branch, the Canadian Human Rights Commission will now be responsible for enforcing the act. The commission may audit reports and establish an employment equity review tribunal. From now on, when employers do not submit their reports in time or when compliance officers discover violations, a quasi-judicial tribunal will have the power to investigate. That is an achievement, a very positive development, that must be applauded.
What is also very positive, as I think we pointed out earlier, is that we used to ask employers to make a quantitative assessment of their efforts.
In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois is very much in favour of this bill, although we do have a few amendments. But I cannot understand how the Reform Party can take such a small-c conservative, reactionary and deplorable position on human rights.