Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-471 regarding pay equity, just a few days after we celebrated International Workers' Day on May 1, even though there are not many reasons to celebrate in Canada with this current government.
I would first like to state our party's position. The Bloc Québécois fully supports the bill introduced by the Liberal leader, although, if the Liberals had taken action as soon as we received the report of the pay equity task force ordered by their own government, we would not still be stuck in this debate, which will ultimately show two things: the Liberals are progressive only when they are in the opposition, and the Conservatives are misogynistic all of the time.
When he was with the National Citizens Coalition in the fall of 1998, the current Prime Minister made his view on pay equity clear. He said that, for taxpayers, pay equity was a ripoff and had nothing to do with gender. According to him, both men and women taxpayers will pay additional money to both men and women in the civil service, and that was why the federal government should scrap its ridiculous pay equity law.
That is what the Prime Minister said, and that is what he was quick to do in the 2009 budget.
Part 11 of the 2009 budget implementation bill has to do with “equitable compensation” and it enacted the Public Service Equitable Compensation Act. The term “pay equity” is nowhere to be found in the bill, which instead refers to “equitable compensation” without ever defining it.
The act applies strictly to public sector employers: the Treasury Board, the RCMP and certain agencies and crown corporations. Businesses under federal jurisdiction are not covered, including some crown corporations, like Canada Post and CBC.
I think it is important to hear what is in the preamble:
Parliament affirms that women in the public sector of Canada should receive equal pay for work of equal value;
Whereas Parliament affirms that it is desirable to accomplish that goal through proactive means;
And whereas employers in the public sector of Canada operate in a market-driven economy;
So, what does that mean? Clause 3 states:
An employer shall, in respect of its non-unionized employees, take measures to provide them with equitable compensation in accordance with this Act. In the case of unionized employees, the employer and the bargaining agent shall take measures to provide those employees with equitable compensation in accordance with this Act.
Of course the Bloc Québécois voted against this bill, which made pay equity a negotiable right and part of a collective agreement. Instead, the Bloc Québécois asked that sectoral committees on pay equity be created, as has been done in Quebec.
We also denounced the fact that the bill created a third category of workers in Quebec consisting of those who fall under Quebec pay equity legislation, those under federal legislation on equitable compensation, and those still subjected to the ineffective complaint system under the federally regulated private sector and certain crown corporations.
So we had to ask ourselves this: If the Conservative government believes that equitable compensation is necessary in the government, why would that not also be the case for private businesses under its jurisdiction, unless it believes that this principle is costly and harmful to private enterprise?
The Liberals and their party leader have gone to the trouble of introducing Bill C-471 on pay equity in order to show women how important they are, and yet the Liberals voted in favour of the budget.
In his speech introducing the bill, the Leader of the Opposition said, “To come right to the point, hidden in the 2009 budget was a measure that undermined pay equity.” The truth is, pay equity is worth nothing more to the Liberals than a couple of seats. The truth is, they voted in favour of the budget and in favour of driving pay equity backwards, knowing very well what they were doing, and too bad for women.
The pay equity issue is all but solved in Quebec. It is not complete yet because some female workers in Quebec are under the Canada Labour Code.
It is clear that the principle of equity, which is fundamental in Quebec, is not fundamental here. The federal government announced that it will cut $1.7 billion in spending and chances are that during collective bargaining, because they will obviously have to negotiate pay equity in the future, the government's negotiators will say that it is necessary to decrease the operating budget or that a collective effort is needed. If nothing concrete happens concerning pay equity during collective bargaining, it will be blamed on the union.
People will say that I am a pessimist, a cynic. However, this is the government that rejects anti-scab legislation, this is the government that goes over the heads of federal-level unions and that even repudiates its own collective agreements. This is the government that is risking the health of workers covered by the Canadian Labour Code, as was shown in a study last week. This government is even going so far as to vote against a Bloc bill that would exclude labour disputes from the employment insurance qualifying period. The truth is, the Conservatives do not like workers and never take their side.
At the same time, this government is questioning the right to abortion. It is cutting funding to women's rights groups and it is against a preventive withdrawal program. The truth is that the Conservatives have no concern whatsoever for women.
They want nothing to do with pay equity, this “ridiculous legislation”, as the Prime Minister called it a few years ago.
The Bloc, however, cares and has always supported the creation of proactive legislation.
On May 4, 2004, the pay equity task force published a report of more than 500 pages titled Pay Equity: A New Approach to a Fundamental Right. It recommended that the federal government put in place proactive pay equity legislation, and it presented a detailed plan outlining the best way to undertake this.
During the Pay Equity Task Force's consultations, stakeholders agreed on several key issues. Among other things, they agreed that they were committed to the principle of pay equity; that pay equity was a human rights issue; that employers had a positive duty to take steps to eliminate wage discrimination; that any new system must be available to unionized as well as non-unionized workers; that the new system must provide additional guidelines on how to comply with pay equity standards; that a neutral body responsible for providing information and support and ensuring compliance with pay equity standards should be set up; and that an independent agency with the power to settle pay equity disputes should be set up.
That all seems reasonable to me, and it is hard to see how anyone could be against this, yet the Conservatives are. They plan to silence anyone who speaks out against their equitable compensation scheme. They claim that they are making things better for women in the public service. They know that is not true. We all know that is not true, but the truth holds little sway with the Conservatives.
The theme for this year's workers' day was “For a fair Quebec”. This bill can help make both Quebec and Canada more equitable places.
Successive federal governments have done a poor job of defending Quebec's values of fairness and equity, so I believe, as always, that sovereignty is the best way for Quebec to become a fully equitable society.