House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agency.


SupplyGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to the order made on Thursday, March 12, 1998, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion and the amendment relating to the business of supply.

The question is on the amendment.

(The House divided on the amendment, which was negatived on the following division:)

Division No. 253Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the amendment negatived. The next question is on the main motion.

Division No. 253Government Orders

6:05 p.m.


Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe you would find consent to apply the results of the vote just taken to the main motion.

Division No. 253Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there agreement to proceed in such a fashion?

Division No. 253Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

An hon. member


(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Division No. 254Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion negatived.

I want to congratulate one of our members, Michelle Dockrill, who not only had a baby but brought her son Kenzie to the House so we could meet him.

Division No. 254Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Merit PrinciplePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Dale Johnston Reform Wetaskiwin, AB


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should support the right of all job applicants to be evaluated solely on the basis of merit.

Madam Speaker, the motion before us today calls on the government to support the right of all job applicants to be evaluated solely on the basis of merit.

The subject matter of Motion No. 7 was debated in the House on May 2, 1996. It was not selected as a votable item at that time and it is unfortunate that Liberals on the committee decided not to give members an opportunity to vote for fairness in this parliament either.

This motion goes right to the heart of equality. It asks that all job applicants be evaluated solely on the basis of merit, which means how well they can do the job, how qualified they are to do the job.

I hearken back to a headline from a recent news release from the office of the Minister of Labour which stated the minister supports equal opportunity at employment equity council meeting. Great, I thought. This minister sees the need to treat people equally. According to the news release the main goal of this council is to work with all levels of government in removing barriers to employment of members of visible minorities.

I believe that is a goal to which we can all subscribe. Members of the Reform Party want to ensure that visible minorities have an equal opportunity to compete for jobs. What we object to are the quotas and segregation of visible minorities. Canadians who wish to pursue a particular career path should not be face barriers of discrimination and those with the ability and discipline deserve the rewards of their hard work.

If the Minister of Labour is truly concerned about equality he will introduce legislation in this House to repeal the 1996 Employment Equity Act. While the legislation does not specify quotas it establishes a mechanism whereby the inspectors, auditors and those administering the law can force companies to comply with numerical goals that are nothing more than quotas in disguise.

We know all too well that this government is always looking for ways to intrude into the activities of the provinces and the private sector. The Employment Equity Act enables the government to cast its net even farther, not only in those industries are under federal jurisdiction but in private, public and crown corporations. They are forced to comply but now the quota law extends to provincially regulated private sector businesses with more than 100 employees who undertake contract work for the Government of Canada valued at $200,000 or more.

To qualify for federal government contracts employers must sign a commitment to undertake the following four measures. First, they must conduct a workplace survey to determine its composition by race, sex and disability for each type of work in the organization. Second, they must also compare the results of the workplace survey with national and local averages based on the most recent census data. Third, if there is a significant discrepancy between the workplace representation and national or local averages in any of the 12 designated categories, they must determine why this discrepancy exists and develop measures to correct them. Fourth, they must establish goals and timetables for increasing the representation of the designated categories in the workplace.

This is just the sort of thing that business and industry do not need. They simply do not need more red tape, more government intervention and more expense added to the product they ultimately deliver in the workplace.

Starting last November auditors representing the Canadian Human Rights Commission began conducting proactive audits to determine compliance in those areas.

When we examine the complex set of goals demanded by the government we can see how easily the cost of compliance can escalate. Under the guise of fairness and equality this government increased its bureaucracy and added to the regulatory burden of the private sector.

How can we expect these companies to compete in today's fierce global marketplace when they are mired in red tape and paperwork? If businesses are forced to comply with this sort of thing it naturally adds to the cost of their product which consumers will pay for in higher product prices, whether it is the Government of Canada or whomever.

At a human resources development committee meeting last year the member for Mississauga East said that the additional costs to individual employers in her riding for outside consultants and accountants amounted to approximately $1,000 per employee. Instead of hiring workers to increase productivity, these companies are forced to hire consultants and accountants to fill out their government forms. This demonstrates how misguided enforced equity really is.

For some reason the government subscribes to the misguided theory that it can solve the problem by regulating. As a result, it ends up with a lot of regulations and no solutions. The firearms registry is a prime example of that. Instead of dealing with the misuse and criminal use of firearms by dealing with criminals, it set up an expensive registry to tax law abiding gun owners. Instead of helping visible minorities compete in the job market it has imposed a set of complex staffing rules and quotas on employers.

The reality is that equity programs do not remove sexual, racial or other biases from the workplace. They institutionalize it. Employers should be free to hire the best person for the job regardless of their race, sex or disability. Employees want to compete fairly and be recognized for their expertise.

Hiring quotas place unnecessary obstacles in the career path of Canadian workers. They tie employer's hands and are another contributing factor in the migration of skilled workers to the United States.

Much has been said and written about the brain drain that we are suffering at the moment. At a time when the flow of skilled workers to the United States is a national concern, the government should remove the equity quota of all employers to hire and promote the best qualified people for the job.

The role of government is not to set the terms and conditions under which private companies hire employees. A diverse workforce is a plus for any business. The market will dictate the diversity of the staff. Employers will do it on their own because they cannot afford to ignore valuable resources. The last thing they need is hassle and government red tape.

The Ontario policy director of the Canadian Federation of Business said it is better not to have a regulatory scheme because these things tend to discourage job creation. It is exactly the opposite of what the government has intended it to do.

If the government is really serious about helping visible minorities it should work with employers to create an environment that encourages diversity and raises awareness about the special needs of the disabled and minorities.

Canada has skilled and competent workers. Let us remove the shackles of excessive government regulation and give them an opportunity to compete on a level playing field. I think it is time that common sense prevailed in this area.

Merit PrinciplePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, I read the motion by the member for Wetaskiwin, which reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should support the right of all job applicants to be evaluated solely on the basis of merit.

That is asking a lot from a government that, as late as yesterday—as I am the public works critic on contracts awarded or the section of the department that oversees a lot of big companies—sent my office a list of recent appointments.

For instance, Vivian G. Albot of Winnipeg, Manitoba, was appointed to the position of office manager for the board of directors of Canada Post. Ms. Albot was a contributor to the Liberal Party of Canada's campaign fund, I even have the amount here.

I have other examples, including the appointment of Gérald Préfontaine of Ottawa, Ontario, as a member of the board of Canada Post. Janis Cochrane was appointed a director of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

What these people have in common is the fact that they contributed to a political party, specifically, the one handing out the jobs.

Another example is Cecil Mervin Ozirny of Melville, Saskatchewan, who contributed to the Liberals' election fund and who was given a position with the National Energy Board.

Is the prime requisite for such appointments the fact of having contributed something to the Liberal Party election fund or do these people really have skills not easily found or at least the same level as those of individuals who might apply or contribute to the management of the organizations I have just named?

Allow me to express my doubts, because I have a newspaper article here.

I remember the 1993 election campaign that brought the Liberals and the current Prime Minister to power, on October 25, 1993, to be precise. This election also produced the official opposition of which I was a member, with its then leader, Lucien Bouchard, who has since moved on to another stage. He has proved to the Prime Minister that he is a good manager and that he can practice in Quebec what he was preaching here, as he has brilliantly demonstrated. What he used to preach here, he put in practice in Quebec.

In their red book, the Liberals vilified the former Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Mulroney, who, just before he left and handed power over to the newly elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, appointed 500 people to positions all over Canada. For instance, he appointed the manager of Montreal's Ritz-Carlton Hotel to the Senate, along with his wife's hairdresser, and he was roundly criticized by the Liberals.

In the red book, the Liberals were very critical of this kind of appointment. But who was recently appointed to the Canada Post Corporation? Pierrette Ringuette-Maltais, who used to sit in this place, who unfortunately—for her, of course—was defeated in the Edmunston region in New Brunswick. There have been others. There was Ross Fitzpatrick, a gentleman who had the bright idea of helping the Prime Minister to a capital gain of $45,000 by giving him shares in his company, which the Prime Minister sold at a profit of $45,000. He was another Liberal appointment.

Just to name a few members I have known in the House, André Ouellet was appointed to the Canada Post Corporation, David Berger was made Canada's ambassador to Israel, Ron Irwin was appointed to an important post, Canada's ambassador to Ireland, I believe.

They are thanking the friends of the Liberal Party. When the current Prime Minister returned to political life, he needed a safe riding. He had to win a seat somewhere to be able to sit in this House as the Leader of the Opposition.

A member by the name of Robichaud, a nice fellow from Beauséjour, in the maritimes, was kind enough to give up his seat so that the Prime Minister could get elected in a safe riding. It worked. Mr. Robichaud had to wait a few months for a national general election to be called and for Mr. Chrétien to win back his traditional riding, Shawinigan, and give him back his seat as the member for Beauséjour, which had become vacant.

Mr. Robichaud was elected in Beauséjour. He sat with us here during the 35th Parliament. Then came a young Liberal star and the Liberals said “The son of the governor general, now that is somebody”. They told him he would run in Beauséjour and asked Mr. Robichaud to step aside and let Mr. LeBlanc, the governor general's son, run for the Liberal Party in Beauséjour.

Unfortunately, it does not always work and, this time, it did not, but Mr. Robichaud was not blamed for the Liberal loss in Beauséjour. Mr. Robichaud, for whom a seat had been set aside in the Senate, soon replaced a good friend of the party who had been appointed to the Senate barely 14 months short of the compulsory retirement age in the Senate. He was obviously appointed to keep the seat warm until Mr. Robichaud was ready to make the move.

Sad to say, the good turns Mr. Robichaud did the Prime Minister were not done out of generosity. He did them because he knew that the payoff would be substantial.

It is no big deal if, in order to get some job, one must be a member of the Liberal Party and give $200, $250, $300 or $400. Many people in my riding would be quite willing to pay $400 to get a job in the Senate or with the Canada Post Corporation, or to sit on the board of directors of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

I can think, among others, of my friend Michel St-Laurent, a carpenter who does all sorts of jobs for me and someone whom I really admire. I am convinced that he too would give $200, $300, $400 or $500 for such an appointment, but he never had that chance. He was never informed of any vacancies. They do not want him because he is not a Liberal, and being a Liberal is the first condition, the prerequisite for such an appointment.

When the Reform Party member, for whom I have a lot of respect, tables his bill on what he calls quotas, but what I would rather call employment allocation equity, we should also discuss the type of jobs given to friends of the party, who get huge salaries or fees—whatever you want to call it—and who often do no work at all, killing time at taxpayers' expense while, in some cases, pocketing millions of dollars.

Consider the case of the friend of the government who was appointed ambassador to the OECD. This gentleman is paid $255,000 per year and he is barely 52 or 53 years old. If he retires at age 75, he will have had an annual salary of $255,000 for 23 years. This amounts to quite a bit of money. It pays to be a Liberal.

Merit PrinciplePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Trinity—Spadina Ontario


Tony Ianno LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board

Madam Speaker, I welcome the chance to add my voice to this discussion and to demonstrate to the House that the motion is unnecessary and unwarranted. After having heard the comments across the aisle I can see why this issue is as I stated.

Canada's employment equity legislation supports hiring based on merit. Employment equity aims to reinforce the merit principle by ensuring that members of groups that were underrepresented in the past and continue to be underrepresented now have an opportunity to compete on a level playing field. Its objectives are to open up the workplace and to ensure that employment policies and practices are free of any subtle biases.

However a myth has been created that employment equity contradicts the merit principle. Yet one only has to read sections 6 and 33(1) of the Employment Equity Act to see that this is not the case. These sections make it very clear that no employer can be required under any circumstance to hire or promote unqualified individuals.

Let me remind my hon. colleagues exactly what the Employment Equity Act actually does. The act requires the implementation of employment equity in the public service as well as in the wider public sector and federally regulated private sector. The act seeks to remove barriers that restrict the employment of qualified individuals in four employment equity designated groups: women, aboriginal people, members of visible minorities and persons with disabilities. Hon. members cannot deny that a fair and barrier free workplace means a better working environment for all employees.

The act gives substance to the guarantees of equality under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of Canada. It calls for broadening the recruitment pool so deserving Canadians from all groups receive due consideration for employment. Utilizing the full potential of our diverse workforce is essential to Canada's future success and prosperity.

In the case of the public service these sections also make it clear that there is no conflict with the Public Service Employment Act which governs selection according to merit. The law also clearly stipulates that employment equity will not cause undue hardship for an employer. It does not force firms to hire and promote unqualified people or to create new positions in the workforce to satisfy some arbitrary numerical goals.

I assure the member for Wetaskiwin that the government is fully committed to merit. We vigorously support and promote excellence in the workplace. We are also committed to improving conditions for members of the four designated groups who have faced disadvantage in the labour market. This is not a myth.

There is ample evidence to indicate that certain groups have been and continue to be disadvantaged in employment for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability to do the job. They have faced unfair barriers to employment because of personal characteristics totally unrelated to merit. One of the core values of Canadian society is a profound belief in the equality of our citizens.

Canadians are proud of Canada's linguistic and multicultural diversity. We actively promote tolerance and acceptance of differences. We have a global reputation as a caring and equitable society. The spirit of employment equity further enriches that reputation. A number of countries are using our Employment Equity Act as a template for their legislation. They include Australia, Holland and most recently South Africa.

Striving for fairness and equality for all citizens not only enriches our national character but generates significant economic advantages. A highly qualified, highly motivated workforce that reflects the richness of our diversity is essential if Canada is to remain competitive in the expanding global marketplace.

Employers and labour organizations recognize the benefits of employment equity. This was evident in their support of a more comprehensive Employment Equity Act when it was considered in 1995. They recognize that as unfair barriers to employment are eliminated the pool of qualified applicants is expanded. This leads to the full utilization of the skills, talents and abilities of all Canadians.

Clearly we already support hiring and promotion based on merit which is why I am convinced that we need not entertain this motion any longer. Instead, I encourage the member for Wetaskiwin to support the millions of Canadians who benefit from employment equity. By doing so, we can all contribute to a better future and a better Canada for all of us.

Merit PrinciplePrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Mark Muise Progressive Conservative West Nova, NS

Madam Speaker, the member for Wetaskiwin moved that in the opinion of this House the government should support the rights of all job applicants to be evaluated solely on the basis of merit.

If we lived in a perfect world, there would most likely be unanimous support for the motion but unfortunately we do not. If all persons regardless of their sex, ethnic origins or disabilities were treated equally, there would not be a need for employment equity programs. But unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world.

The realities faced by women, visible minorities, natives and the disabled are not the same as those faced by able-bodied white males. I speak from firsthand experience as I have a daughter who was born with cerebral palsy. I know firsthand the reactions some people have toward those of us in society who might not be or seem not to be as able-bodied as others. The discrimination these people face is real. It still occurs today. It is not a thing of the past.

Look at the current response of the Liberal government with regard to the issue of pay equity for women in the federal civil service. Even though the human rights commission has ordered the Liberal government to pay the salaries it owes to these women, the government has refused to do so.

When people say that employment equity is to solve problems of the past, they are wrong. Discrimination is still very much a reality in the workplace and in the hiring process.

The Reform Party says that employment equity is itself a form of discrimination, that it prevents able-bodied white males from getting jobs, that there are barriers. When the Reform Party says this, it is turning the issue of employment equity on its head. Employment equity does not prevent white males from getting jobs. What it does is it creates a level playing field so that everyone who applies for a job is considered equally and on the basis of merit.

The Employment Equity Act instituted by the Conservative government in 1986 is designed to ensure that women, natives, the handicapped and members of visible minorities are evaluated on the basis of merit when they apply for a job in federally regulated institutions or in crown corporations. In other words, the act is designed to eliminate the discriminatory barriers to employment that these four groups face. It ensures that employers focus on an objective assessment of the applicant's knowledge, skills, experience and personality.

The Conservative Party fails to see how such an act can be discriminatory. In fact this act represents an important step toward making merit in the true sense of the word the basic tool in evaluating job applications.

The Reform Party says to let the competitive forces of the workplace take over and discrimination will be eliminated. It should be pointed out that for hundreds of years market forces did regulate the hiring process and it is because of the inappropriate way in which the market regulated itself that the Employment Equity Act became a necessity.

We should not and cannot return to the ways of the past, at least not until discrimination itself is a thing of the past. That is why the Progressive Conservative Party cannot support this motion.

Merit PrinciplePrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—Assiniboine, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to say off the top that I am at a loss to understand why we are even having this debate.

This government fully agrees with the member for Wetaskiwin that Canadians should be hired on the basis of merit. It is precisely because we believe profoundly that all qualified individuals should be given an equal chance to gain employment that we supported amendments to the Employment Equity Act in 1995, amendments I might add that enjoy widespread public support.

Employment equity simply means that everyone is treated fairly, not preferentially. It means that all qualified job candidates regardless of gender, race or physical and intellectual capacity will be given equal consideration for recruitment and will be retained and promoted on the basis of merit. Employment equity ensures that all individuals are given a fair chance to prove their merit and are not penalized because of their physical appearance or gender.

As we all know, women, aboriginal people, members of visible minorities and persons with disabilities do not always receive a fair shake when applying for a job. Excluding qualified people from employment opportunities results in enormous economic waste and social disintegration. Employment equity is about human decency, fairness and equality, the cornerstones of a true democracy. Equality regardless of race, gender, disability, creed, marital status or family conditions is a right which is guaranteed by the constitution of this great county.

The economic arguments for employment equity are equally compelling. The many private sector employers who appeared as witnesses before the parliamentary committee that reviewed Bill C-64 said repeatedly that promoting employment equity gives them a competitive advantage. These employers said that effective employment equity policies and programs help them attract and retain employees from all backgrounds. This in turn facilitates their entry into more diverse domestic and international markets. Far from being a burden to business, employment equity enlarges the pool of qualified workers from which businesses can draw while increasing their access to new markets.

Improving the lives and opportunities of Canadians also enhances this country's economic performance. Employment equity removes barriers to full participation in Canadian society, barriers that have been insurmountable for far too long.

Let me remind the member for Wetaskiwin that the act clearly stipulates that no employer can be required under any circumstances to hire or promote unqualified individuals, nor are employers required to create new positions in order to satisfy some arbitrary equity targets. What the act does do is it vigorously supports and promotes excellence in the workplace by ensuring that all Canadians have an equal opportunity to make a contribution to our economy and society.

This progressive approach helps Canada keep pace with changing times, changing demographics and a changing economy. It enables us to ensure both the spirit and practice of legal and social equality. Other countries have recognized the benefits of employment equity and have used our act as a model. We should be proud of our leadership in this area.

This motion would have us turn back the clock, no doubt about it. The motion would have us return to a time when there was little guarantee of respect for diversity in the workforce. If adopted, there is a very real danger this motion could result in an increase of the very inequities and unfairness which the Employment Equity Act seeks to eliminate. It would create an unacceptable working standard for millions of Canadians. It would condone racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination which we know already exist in the workplace.

This is clearly unacceptable to Canadians, particularly to the millions of Canadian women, persons with disabilities, members of visible minorities and aboriginal peoples who make up more than half of this country's population.

Employment equity is necessary to make equality of opportunity a reality, not just an ideal, for all Canadians. The member for Wetaskiwin I hope would agree that equality of opportunity is a basic human right, yet we are still a long way from achieving that goal.

For all these reasons, Canada cannot afford the attitude embodied in this motion. It must not stand in the way of progress.

I remind the House that we as representatives of the people of Canada have both a legal and a moral obligation to uphold the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the cornerstone of the constitution of this country. To deny the need for employment equity seriously compromises our ability to carry out this duty. I must therefore urge the member for Wetaskiwin to withdraw his motion. I encourage him instead to support the values of fairness and equality embodied in employment equity.

The strengthened Employment Equity Act has now been in effect for almost two years. We are once again among those nations that lead the world in moving toward an egalitarian society not only on paper but in practice.

I ask all members of this House to join together with us as we continue to pursue and achieve major milestones in the pursuit of fairness and equality for all.

Merit PrinciplePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Michelle Dockrill NDP Bras D'Or, NS

Madam Speaker, first may I take a few moments to thank my hon. colleagues and the Speaker for allowing me the wonderful opportunity to bring the latest addition to my family into the House this evening.

It is with some disappointment I rise to debate this motion today. It is clear from the mover's comments that he intends his motion to be an attack on employment equity. Unfortunately, the wording of his motion seems designed to obscure this fact.

If his intent is to oppose employment equity, it is a shame he did not have the courage of his convictions and spell that out in his motion. Instead he has given us a platitude which is open to a host of interpretations.

No one can disagree with the motherhood statement in his motion. Of course hiring should be based on merit. Where we start to disagree is in how we ensure people are hired based on their merit.

Employment equity was introduced because it was clear many people were not having a chance to be assessed on the basis of merit. The degree to which women, aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minority groups are under-represented in many areas of the workforce makes it obvious that the problem is more than just a lack of qualified candidates. What makes this even clearer is that in sectors where the groups designated under employment equity are well represented, they were often concentrated in lower paid occupations.

The employment equity legislation focuses on removing barriers that may prevent people from the designated groups from finding employment.

While there are targets, these are to be met by ensuring the hiring procedures and workplaces are free of discrimination. The legislation does not set out hiring quotas. There is also nothing in the legislation requiring employers to hire unqualified candidates. In fact, the reverse is true.

Section 6 of the legislation states specifically that private sector employers are not required to hire or promote unqualified persons. It also states that in the public sector there is no requirement to hire or promote persons without basing the hiring or promotion on selection according to merit in cases where the Public Service Employment Act requires that hiring or promotion be based on selection according to merit.

According to my hon. colleague, we can rely on the marketplace to solve the problem of the under-representation of women, members of visible minority groups, persons with disabilities and aboriginal Canadians. Unfortunately this has not proven to be the case.

The member is right when he says that there are many economic advantages to employers in having a workforce which reflects the community as a whole. What he ignores are the barriers that exist for people from under-represented groups when looking for work. It is these barriers employment equity seeks to eliminate.

The barriers members of designated groups face range from racist or sexist behaviour in the workplace to hiring practices which exclude many people from even having a chance to be considered for jobs. Eliminating these barriers is crucial to ensuring we have hiring based on merit.

It should also not be forgotten that we all benefit from some of the changes required by employment equity. One of the complaints I hear from people in my riding who are looking for work is that they have difficulty even hearing about vacant jobs.

For many young white males, the group the mover claims to be worried about, this is a particularly serious problem. Finding out about a large number of jobs depends on networking. In other words, who you know.

Young people just starting out are ready to work. They have the ability to work. However, they are not getting that opportunity for some of the same reasons members of groups designated under employment equity legislation are being excluded. Even getting information about job openings can require an extensive network of contacts, something most people who are just starting out do not have.

Even more disturbing is any attempt to link the high level of unemployment among young males to employment equity. Across Canada 1.4 million people are unemployed. We have this level of unemployment because the federal government has chosen to deal with the deficit by cutting and slashing instead of trying to get people back to work.

If we are genuinely concerned about the plight of unemployed young people we should be supporting measures such as reinvestment in health care, a cut in the GST or work experience programs which will put young people back to work.

In closing, I would like to touch on an aspect of the employment equity debate which the government would rather we forget. A key part of employment equity is the assumption that there should be equal pay for work of equal value: pay equity. During the 1993 election campaign members of the Liberal Party agreed with it. They promised public employees they would receive a fair settlement. Five years later public employees are still waiting.

First the federal government forced employees to go through the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to get justice. When the employees were successful at the tribunal the federal government appealed the decision. There is an old saying “justice delayed is justice denied”. The way the Liberal government has broken its word on pay equity has left many questioning its commitment to promoting fairness in the workplace.

Merit PrinciplePrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Deepak Obhrai Reform Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, today I rise to voice my support for my colleague's motion which states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should support the right of all job applicants to be evaluated solely on the basis of merit.

However, although I firmly believe in the substance of Motion M-7, I want to make it very clear that this in no way means I am not aware that prejudice and discrimination exists in Canadian society.

Merit and ability should be the only things that matter in the workplace. However, there are times when one is not evaluated solely on the basis of these attributes. Women, ethnic minorities, aboriginal people and the disabled are examples of groups that continue to face hurdles which are put in place by ignorance and lack of understanding.

When one is faced with discrimination, one must have access to the processes which allow for redress. These processes are the human rights commission and the courts of law. We must ensure that people have easy and affordable access to the instruments that can correct injustices like discrimination.

However, having said this we must also recognize that Canada is renowned throughout the world for its tolerance and compassion. We should recognize that although we are not yet a society completely free of prejudice, we have made tremendous strides over the last 40 years.

I came to Canada because I wished to be judged as an individual, not as a mere representative of some ethnic group. Twenty years later I have the honour to sit in the House of Commons, having been elected by men and women of all races, religions and creeds.

This is the type of country we live in, a land which offers opportunity and promise to all those who show determination and hard work. Every member of this House will know that and agree that every individual should be equal before and under the law. Every individual has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination based on such attributes as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

If this last statement sounds familiar to some it is because I was loosely quoting from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We should all be given the same opportunity to succeed. The role of the government is to ensure that no one is barred from employment for factors which have nothing to do with their ability. The role of the government is not to set numerical goals commonly referred to as quotas.

Allow me to comment briefly on some of my past experiences. Regardless of where I have lived, I have spent my entire life as a visible minority, first in Tanzania and then in Canada. I have faced discrimination in both of these countries on numerous occasions. In Tanzania I was denied employment on numerous occasions because of the colour of my skin. I could have given up. I could have thrown in the towel. Rather than doing that I chose to fight these injustices and I am proud to say that on numerous occasions I overcame these arbitrary barriers.

I had similar experiences during the 1970s when I came to Canada. On several occasions I was denied employment in this country because of my race. This was happening at a time when I faced the added difficulty of raising a young family. Nevertheless, I persevered and fought on and today I find myself in Canada's House of Commons, having been elected, as I said, by men and women of all backgrounds.

Let me point out that discrimination is also not always based on colour or race. I have faced discrimination within my own community, within other cultural communities and within the business sector.

With all of this experience one would think that I would be a very strong supporter of affirmative action programs. But I am not. Why? Because of the very fact that I hate discrimination. I hate it whenever anyone's dignity is robbed. Everyone should have equal rights.

I would therefore ask this question: Is affirmative action not reverse discrimination? I would venture to say yes. Somebody will lose based on factors which have nothing to do with their merit or ability.

My experiences have also taught me that affirmative action programs do little to address the systematic discrimination which exists within our society. As well, affirmative action programs do not take into account that people may gravitate toward certain professions. So it is quite possible that there could be a higher proportion of individuals from a particular group in a certain profession.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? I would venture to say no because this is their choice. If the required target is unattainable due to lack of interest on the part of the targeted group, then what? Would we force it? Would this not create an artificial correction with disastrous consequences? Affirmative action programs fail to take these factors into consideration.

If the quota systems are not the answer, then how do we address the issue of discrimination in society? In my view, we address it through education coupled with common sense legislation that ensures that Canadians are treated fairly and equitably.

Through education, companies and employers must be made aware of the consequences of discrimination in the workplace. It should be done through education, not affirmative action. Education must sensitize employers to the various groups that could be subject to discrimination.

As previously mentioned, applicants should also have the right and access to a system that will resolve their grievances. This should be the solution, not affirmative action programs.

I would hate to be the successful candidate for a job simply because of my colour, gender or physical disability. On the other hand, I would be proud to be selected based on my abilities and qualifications.

This is a simple statement. However, it carries with it a strong principle, a principle which I believe should be the foundation of our society and, henceforth, I give my wholehearted support to this motion.

Merit PrinciplePrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Dale Johnston Reform Wetaskiwin, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their participation in this debate. It is funny how sometimes we get support from quarters that we least expect.

Maybe I am reading a little more into it than the member from the Bloc actually stated, but he did talk about how he was not in favour of patronage appointments or anything that was attached to political favours making sure that a person got the job. As a matter of fact he even had some examples that he cited for Hansard .

I would have to assume from that—and I hope I am making the right assumption—that he would not think an appointment to the Senate based on patronage is the right way to go. As a matter of fact he said that, so I would have to assume he would be in favour of senatorial elections.

That reminds me that just a few weeks ago I was speaking in a constituency and made a similar statement. One of the questions in the question period afterwards was “The latest senator is a very qualified person so if you were to select a senator he is probably an excellent applicant”. I agree with that assessment. However it is not the person's qualifications that are in doubt in that case. It is how he got there. He got there because he was part of the old boys club who just happened to have qualifications.

I suggested that because he had such good qualifications he should have thrown his hat into the senatorial election race that was taking place at the time in Alberta anyway and he might have got himself elected as a senator and made history.

One of my colleagues across the way in the government was saying that the imposition of quotas was in no way any sort of a burden on the employer and that it did not impose any undue hardships. Perhaps he should have a chat with his colleague in the Liberal Party from Mississauga East who obviously does not agree with that assessment. She said in one of the HRD committee meetings that in her estimation it cost at least $1,000 per employee to qualify and to comply with all employment equity conditions.

Lest people who have spoken to this are misunderstanding what we are trying to get across today, a person should be selected, as my colleague from Calgary East has said, on the basis of how well trained he or she is to do the job. If the person is of visible minority, a woman, an aboriginal or disabled, it should have nothing whatsoever to do with it. The sole basis should be if the person has the qualifications to do a good job for their employer so that their employer can produce and compete in the global environment. It should have nothing whatsoever to do with imposed quotas by the Government of Canada.

It is unfortunate that this was not selected as a votable item. I would be most interested to see how members of the government would have voted on it.

Merit PrinciplePrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

There being no further members rising for debate and the motion not being designated as a votable item, the time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped from the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Merit PrincipleAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I believe it was last June that I rose in the House and asked the Minister of Human Resources Development to visit the Acadian peninsula to see the problems there.

I am pleased to rise tonight and again ask the minister to visit the Acadian peninsula. Last night I was at a meeting in the Restigouche region, and people wanted the Minister of Human Resources Development to visit, because they are suffering as a result of the changes to employment insurance. All the cuts are making things miserable in the region.

I have even had calls from people in the Gaspé, who want to meet and discuss the problem that arises wherever there are people who fish, who work in the forest or who work in construction.

You know, tonight, we voted on the business of small weeks. Some members still do not understand the problem that can create in the regions. I was disappointed to see the Liberals voting against. I was also disappointed to see the Reformers voting against it, because they are always on their feet in the House asking questions about employment insurance. Every day they get up and say that the government is taking money from workers and must return it to them. When the Reformers get the opportunity to vote for something good, they turn around and vote against it. I am disappointed.

I was also disappointed to see how Liberal members voted. The government opposite, which set up the pilot project in April of last year, knows full well that people with small weeks cannot get equitable EI benefits that will put bread on the table for their children.

This is why we are inviting the minister to come and visit us. What is he afraid of? Is he afraid the same thing will happen in Thetford Mines, Newfoundland or Vancouver? Is he afraid of that? I can organize meetings with people, and he would not have to be nervous about coming. He ought to come and find out right away for himself what is going on. I believe it is important.

Last week, 40 women employed by fishers lost their employment insurance. All of these work for small family businesses and all lost their employment insurance. They are concerned. They have to get through the winter. This is not the first time I have risen in this House to invite the Minister of Human Resources Development to come down to my riding.

The Minister of Human Resources Development claims that the solution is to create employment. Let him come down to visit us, sit around a table with us, and we will try to find some solutions. Until then, people must not be punished. They must not have what they are entitled to taken away from them. These are workers who have contributed to the employment insurance fund. It is theirs. There is $20 billion in the employment insurance fund. How can the Minister explain that there are people suffering today, that there are people drawing $36 a week in EI benefits because of the changes to the system?

Yesterday, that is what the people of Restigouche were asking me. They said “We want the Minister of Human Resources Development to come down here so we can talk to him and show him how the system is making people suffer”.

It is not unusual for a minister to travel around the country in order to fulfil his responsibilities and to talk with people. Once again I am asking the minister—

Merit PrincipleAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I must interrupt the hon. member, for his time is up.

Merit PrincipleAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

Oakville Ontario


Bonnie Brown LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Madam Speaker, the minister has been travelling across Canada and has been listening to all Canadians regarding their views on employment insurance.

The old employment insurance system was 25 years old and needed updating. We had to find a balance between giving workers the temporary support they need between jobs and giving the people the tools they need to get back to work.

So far we think the new program is having some success.

Over 31,000 jobs have been created in areas of high unemployment because of the new transitional jobs fund program. In New Brunswick this initiative has helped to create over 2,300 jobs.

Through the labour market development agreement we are transferring $228 million over three years to New Brunswick to deliver active employment measures tailored to the needs of the people in that province.

In addition, under the new EI system seasonal workers who work long hours in the high season get credit for all time on the job. The hour system is enabling many seasonal workers, up to 45,000, to qualify for benefits for the first time. It also helps seasonal workers to qualify for more weeks of benefits.

Take the tourism worker in Gaspé who works for 15 weeks and puts in 45 hours each week. Under the old system he or she qualified for 29 weeks of benefits. Under the new EI that worker could collect the equivalent of 31 weeks of benefits.

Because EI represents such a fundamental reform of the system we are monitoring its performance constantly. This monitoring demonstrates the government's accountability for its decisions to Canadians.

Is the hon. member advocating a return to the old system of dependency on passive income support? Surely not.

Merit PrincipleAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7.20 p.m.)