Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the bill today. I noted that the previous speakers referred to the fact that pay equity was initially begun in Manitoba. It was the first province in Canada to bring in pay equity in 1986. I was lucky enough to be elected in 1986 and be part of the government of Howard Pawley that brought in legislation, eventually to be followed by Ontario and Quebec.
At that time, in some ways we were the vanguard of this type of legislation, but not only pay equity legislation. That government dealt with some very controversial areas. We were the first to bring in daycare proposals. Myrna Phillips, speaker of the legislature in Manitoba for awhile, was the legislative assistant who worked on the daycare issue. Pharmacare was brought in by the NDP in 1970-71, under the Ed Schreyer government.
To this day, even though we talk about having a national pharmacare program, and the Liberals will promise it occasionally before elections when they are in red book mode, when they become government, and when the Conservatives become government, we do not see actions taken in the areas of pharmacare. We do not see actions taken in the area of daycare. We certainly do not see actions taken in the area of pay equity.
Another issue we dealt with in 1986 was the inclusion of gay rights in the human rights code. That was when I was first elected. Even our own caucus was having difficulties with this issue. I know I was one of a group of four people who stood our ground. We fought the issue and over time we turned the government around on it and it agreed to bring it forth. To his credit, Premier Pawley to this day says that the action he took to introduce the legislation was one of his proudest moments during his six and a half years as premier.
We in the NDP in Manitoba, like the Bloc in Quebec, have been at the vanguard of a lot of very progressive legislation.
When I see Bill C-471 introduced by the Liberal leader, I wondered why it would be introduced in 2010. When we looked into the issue a little further, we found that it was a case where the Liberals and Leader of the Opposition essentially got themselves into a problem. Last year, on March 4, 2009, the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore instructed his party to vote with the government on the budget bill. Like this year's budget implementation bill, last year's was very similar, with a omnibus approach in which the government took a number of issues that it knew would be controversial in a minority Parliament and threw them in the budget.
There were environmental issues and there was this issue. The government decided to take the whole area of pay equity out under the purview of the human rights jurisdiction legislation and put it under the area of labour negotiations.
The members of the Bloc and the NDP understood what was going on with the government, regardless of its protestations, and members of the Liberal Party understood it as well. However, they were caught in this cat and mouse game, which the government has played with them over the last two year period. The government feels it can throw items like this into an omnibus bill and serve it up to the Liberals. The Liberals are so afraid to go to an election over it that they simply fall in line and vote the way they have. To try to recover and save some face in the matter and some credibility, the member has decided to come up with this approach. That is what we are dealing with right now.
The current Prime Minister has a pretty spotty record in this area as well. We have some issues and quotes from him. I believe the Bloc member dealt with it a few minutes ago, but the Prime Minister has made all sorts of very incendiary comments over the years. I recall him talking about the maritime provinces being overly dependent on government incentives and that got himself into a lot of trouble. He talked about building firewalls around Alberta and that got into a lot of trouble.
In 1998 the Prime Minister described our current pay equity laws in the following words. He said:
For taxpayers, however, it’s a rip-off. And it has nothing to do with gender. Both men and women taxpayers will pay additional money to both men and women in the civil service. That’s why the federal government should scrap its ridiculous pay equity law.
I do not believe the leopard changes its spots that easily. He knows he is close to a majority government and has to make some changes, so perhaps he will moderate his views a little to gain some short-term political advantage. At the end of the day, I do not really think he will have changed his views all that much.
He also pointed out specific flaws in the current legislation. He said:
Now 'pay equity' has everything to do with pay and nothing to do with equity. It’s based on the vague notion of 'equal pay for work of equal value,' which is not the same as equal pay for the same job.
Just to be clear, we recognize we will not count on the government any time soon to support women's issues in our country. In fact, Conservatives constantly come up with the negative on any of these issues. They can be pretty much guaranteed to be pulling out the cost factors on progressive social initiatives. If we want to establish pay equity, they will be the first to say that they cannot do this because it will cost too much, that it will slow the economy down, that it will bankrupt businesses, that it will bankrupt the government. They will put as regressive a face on it as possible.
We have the issue of the court challenges program, another program that the government eliminated, which is hardly a friendly move as far as women are concerned.
On the whole issue of affordable child care, both Conservative and Liberal governments over the years have failed to create affordable child care in our country. I recognize Quebec has had the best affordable child care system in the country for a number of years now. However, people can look back to 1986 and the work Myrna Phillips and Muriel Smith did in the area of daycare, and the member for Saint Boniface knows the people to whom I refer. It was before she became the speaker of the legislature. We brought in that daycare program in Manitoba.
The fact is successive Conservative governments have never dared to tamper or change those programs, and that is the fundamental fact. The Conservatives rarely propose innovative social programs. We will never see that happening. They are more concerned about corporate taxes. They cannot offend the big corporations. They have to reduce the corporate taxes to attract more business to the country. Then they will be able to afford proper daycare and pay equity 200 or 300 years into the future.
The Conservatives' priority is driving corporate taxes down to zero, if it can get it there, which is the difference between the Conservative approach and the approach of the NDP. I think the women in this country know very well that they are far better off supporting the NDP than they ever have been or will be supporting governments like the Conservatives.