Madam Speaker, this is just about my last opportunity to try to convince my colleagues in the Liberal Party to change their minds about a fundamental human right which is at stake in this budget implementation bill.
We are at a minute to midnight. We are on the verge of losing a fundamental human right in this country, a right that is entrenched in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, that gives women the ability, the right, to seek justice when they are being denied equal pay for work of equal value. The budget implementation bill, Bill C-10, takes away that right.
I may have been very emotional at times in the debate, and I may still be emotional in this last chance to speak on the bill, or one of the last chances, but I hope with all of my heart that I can somehow convince the Liberals that this is a fundamental human rights issue that has to be stopped dead in its tracks today.
We owe it to the women who have struggled before us. This has been a part of the women's movement for 30 or 40 years. I go back to the mid-seventies, when the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, Women and the Law, advisory councils on the status of women, and women everywhere in the labour movement, at the community level, fought with everything they had to get recognized in the true meaning of equality, which is to be paid according to one's worth.
That is what equal pay for work of equal value is all about. It is about recognizing that if we really believe in equality, we have to address the issue of job ghettos, we have to recognize that men have traditionally been in job categories where they are considered invaluable to their business, to their organization, and are paid accordingly and paid very well.
Whereas women traditionally have been placed in job ghettos, and although they may be performing work of the same value as the men, as their counterparts in other organizations, they are paid far less. They are treated as second class citizens. They are still treated as second class citizens. They are not paid according to their worth, and that is what is at stake: pay equity. It is equal pay for work of equal value. It is not equal pay for equal work, which is comparing exactly the same job, which does nothing to get women out of job ghettos and does nothing to ensure that we eliminate the wage gap in this country.
We owe it to women who have fought before us for this, and I want today to pay special tribute to Michèle Demers, who was the head of the Professional Institute of the Public Service. She died tragically recently and we mourned her loss. She fought tirelessly for her movement, for professional employees in the public service. She fought for pay equity. She never let us down, ever, and today, we are about to let her down. We cannot let her death be in vain. We must find a way in this House to be true to the people like Michèle Demers who fought day in and day out for fundamental human rights, the right to contribute one's very best, be recognized for it, and not be diminished in terms of one's status in society or treated as a source of cheap labour to be moved in and out of the economy as needed.
The Conservatives talk out of both sides of their mouths. We know from the past that the Prime Minister has said that pay equity is “a rip-off”. We know that when he was involved with the National Citizens Coalition, he said that the government should scrap its ridiculous pay equity law. We know that the Conservatives, at their November convention in Winnipeg this last year, actually redefined pay equity from what it really means to the 1950s version, calling it equal pay for equal work.
We know where the Conservatives are coming from. Yet, at the same time in the House, the President of the Treasury Board defends this new move under Bill C-10 as something progressive, something that will ensure that pay equity is maintained, because the Conservatives will legislate it and people will not have to wait so long before the Human Rights Commission.
The fact that that is not true must be connected to the real agenda of the Conservatives, so we understand where they are coming from. The Liberals should know that. The Liberals should use their heads and their hearts to finally do what is right and stand up for the women of this country. We are talking about a fundamental human right.
I would like to quote a few words from Darlene Dziewit, the president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour. She said this:
I watched with great concern as the Federal Conservative government announced that it would remove women's right to pay equity from the Federal Human Rights Code. Treasury Board Minister...pronounced that such protection for women is too costly and time consuming, and as such, must be removed from the Code and into the realm of collective bargaining. He also cited the pay equity legislation that was passed in Manitoba in the mid 80s as a better alternative to Human Rights Code protection.
Darlene went on to say, “what bunk”, and I say that 100 times over; what nonsense, what bunk, what complete fabrication of the truth. She went on to say:
When a government announces its intention to remove protections accorded to any group from Human Rights legislation red flags should be raised. To use [the President of the Treasury Board's] argument, it would then follow that if any other discriminatory practice, such as discrimination based on age or ethnic origin, for example, were to prove too time consuming or costly, then that too ought to be removed from the Human Rights Code. Then, I guess there would be more time and money to pursue other, less sticky or costly discriminatory transgressions.
The question for everyone in this House, especially the Liberals, is, where do they draw the line? If they cannot stand up for pay equity, which is a fundamental human right, when will they stand up? Where is the line in the sand for the Liberals? Is it racism? Is it homophobia? Is it an attack on the rights of unions to bargain collectively? Is it an attack on people with disabilities? Is it an attack on people of colour? When do Liberals draw the line, if they will not stand up for women on a fundamental human right?
I do not know if I can find the right words today to actually impress upon members in this House, especially the Liberals, just what is at stake. We are talking about a fundamental human right, and the Conservatives are proposing to take that away completely by eliminating the right for anyone in the federal government, at any level, in any aspect of government, to take a complaint about pay equity to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. No matter what happens in society, whether one is working in the labour movement, is protected by a collective agreement, or is working in a private sector company that has none, there is no provision to go to the Canadian Human Rights Commission to pursue a fundamental human right as outlined in the charter.
There really is no legislative alternative either, because in fact this is not equal pay legislation we are talking about; this is something called equitable compensation. It does not define what that means. It does not entrench the notion of equal pay for work of equal value. The word “men” is not even mentioned anywhere in the legislation, so how in the world does one compare jobs? Is that not the essence of what we are talking about?
We are talking about comparing the value and the worth of the work that women do in our society with that which men do, and in fact trying to find ways to bridge the gap. When women are performing jobs that are at the same level of skill, education and responsibility in the workplace as jobs being performed by men, should the women not be paid the same rate as the men? Should they not be at a comparable salary range?
That is what is at stake in this bill. Gone will be the ability to pursue that kind of comparative work. Gone is the right to pursue pay equity before the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Gone is pay equity forever, unless we can convince the Liberals to get off their duffs, start to stand up for their principles, speak up for what it is right, not be compromised, do what is in the best interests of Canada and stand up for equality and human rights.