moved that Bill C-473, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (balanced representation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, the government recently prorogued, so here we are once again, debating my bill, Bill C-473. I am pleased to speak to this bill today and to speak on behalf of the thousands of Canadian women who aspire to a high-level career.
I would like to begin by saying that I would have preferred to see this issue settled sooner. I would have preferred that its legislative course had not been interrupted by prorogation. That way, today we would be taking action, not still debating.
The issue of equality between women and men in a fair and equitable Canadian society was always at the heart of my previous professional life and now, today, as a politician, I am truly proud to be able to contribute to this cause.
As introduced in the House last February, Bill C-473 proposes a simple but effective improvement to the current legislation governing our public financial administration.
Specifically, the bill would give Canadians balanced representation on the boards of directors of crown corporations. It is a corrective measure to help us reach our goal of parity on the boards of directors of Canadian crown corporations.
The question of gender equity in the management of our crown corporations is not unknown to Canada's Parliament. In the House, the Senate and committees, the fact that still too few women are involved in the management of our political institutions and Canadian businesses remains an important problem that we must consider if we want to be able to say we live in a society with equal rights.
I remind members that this bill has to do with equality of representation and affects only crown corporations, not private companies. Since Canadian women are taxpayers just like men, it is as though they are shareholders of crown corporations, just like men.
Their taxes go towards crown corporations, so it makes since that, as shareholders, they should have the right to be heard, considered and represented in proportion to their demographic weight in society.
In spite of this, and while Canadian society has made many strides toward women's rights in recent decades, the figures show that the government lacks the vision and will to make this issue a priority.
The most recent data show that over 2,000 Canadians occupy positions in more than 200 crown corporations, organizations, boards of directors and commissions across the country.
Of all the positions available on the boards of directors of these organizations, only 27% of senior management positions are occupied by women. The situation is even worse for presidents of boards of directors. The most recent figures show that only 16 of the 84 presidents are women.
Sadly, we are a long way from the equal representation that would reflect Canada's demographic makeup and offer professional growth and development opportunities to our talented women.
With women as 27% of directors of crown corporations, we are far behind the 40% reached in most Scandinavian countries. Other countries such as Spain, France and the Netherlands have introduced incentives for other kinds of institutions.
As our country has evolved, it has established a robust democratic process for appointments to fill available positions on the boards of our crown corporations.
Ministers manage the appointments within their own portfolios, and submit their nominations to the Governor in Council.
As part of the selection process, criteria are established to define the essential qualifications for a given position. A number of mechanisms are used to attract a large number of potential candidates, such as the Governor-in-Council appointments website, executive recruiting agencies, newspapers and specialized publications. Canadians who express an interest are evaluated according to the requirements of the position they apply for.
In regard to the balanced representation issue, one of the problems our society had to address was that, in the past, there were not enough women with the necessary qualifications to meet the requirements of the position. This problem disappeared over the years, with mass education for Canadians and women's access to post-secondary studies.
These days, according to a number of experts who have looked at the issue, one stubborn problem that persists is that we are still looking for candidates in traditional recruitment pools, where men are still in the majority. Two factors we thought had almost disappeared from contemporary society are still very much in place: the “old boys' club”—the traditional recruiting network for executive positions—and the familiar “glass ceiling”, which, unfortunately, is still hard to crack for women aspiring to professional careers at the highest levels.
My bill proposes an indirect approach to eliminating these two stereotypes. Once the boards of our crown corporations have to comply with gradual gender representation quotas, those responsible for recommending appointments will have to show their creativity and willingness to expand the limits of their recruiting methods and broaden their search for candidates with the required skills to non-traditional recruitment pools.
Canada has a highly qualified female workforce, and we can be proud of that. Our working women include more than 60,000 professional accountants, 20,000 lawyers, over 16,000 engineers, thousands of university professors and hundreds of actuaries. There are therefore plenty of women with the talents and skills required to fill these positions. All we need is to be given the resources, as a society, to go out and recruit them.
Now, the question is why the government would create quotas rather than voluntary incentives. It must be said that some groups and organizations have come out against this kind of mandatory reinforcement measure. The justification that is usually given is the fact that the government should not become involved in the choices of outside organizations, like businesses.
First, let us remember that my bill does not affect any organizations other than crown corporations. I would like to remind hon. members of this again because, unfortunately, the Conservatives tend to want to discredit my bill based on the fact that they took action by setting up an advisory committee in 2012 in order to find ways of increasing the number of women on company boards of directors.
However, my bill has nothing to do with corporate governance. What is more, the committee was supposed to provide the government with clear recommendations in the fall of 2013 and still has not done so.
In short, I would like to point out that the problem of unbalanced representation on the boards of crown corporations will not be resolved through proposed solutions that deal with corporate governance. Let us not confuse the two subjects. Let us work together to find appropriate solutions that will show the government's real desire to change things by taking action to achieve more balanced representation, meaning more women, on boards of crown corporations.
Members should also understand that the proposed choice of quotas is based on the results of careful reflection by experts, published studies and consultations with professional organizations. That reflection also took place in the light of results observed in other countries, where the problem of balanced representation has been addressed in one way or another.
On this point, I would like to share with my colleagues some more enlightening remarks by Anne Golden, chair of the Conference Board of Canada from 2001 to 2012, who noted that at the current pace, [the way things are going,] it will take 151 years to achieve equity at the top of the organizational ladder if the government does not step in with a mandatory measure.
Another clear example that justifies the establishment of quotas rather than voluntary measures is Norway's failure in this area. In 2003, Norway was the first country to pass legislation providing for gender equality on the board of directors of public limited companies. The legislation extended to crown corporations and came into force in January 2004.
To get to this point, it is important to know that the government had originally tried to negotiate voluntary quotas with the private sector to reach 40% representation of women on boards, with an ultimatum that restrictive legislative measures would be introduced should the desired gender representation not be attained by July 2005. A survey by Statistics Norway showed that by the deadline, only 13% of companies complied with the voluntary quotas, with women representing only 16% of board members.
As a result, legislation was applied to public limited companies. That legislation came into force in January 2006. This example shows that voluntary measures simply do not work.
Quebec, an example from our own backyard, is worth mentioning, since it has been very successful. Quebec is the only province to have passed legislation aimed at achieving gender equality on crown corporation board of directors since 2006. Efforts in this regard have proven successful, to say the least.
In December 2011, the deadline by which crown corporations were to have achieved gender equality within the five-year period, 141 women and 128 men held positions on the board of directors of 22 Quebec crown corporations. Women made up the majority, or 52.4%, of directors appointed. Unfortunately, balanced representation in the number of women and men appointed to the board of each crown corporation subject to the act still needs to be achieved.
In the case of both Norway and Quebec, the legislation did not cause any problems or result in any additional paperwork. Needless to say, crown corporations are obviously very well managed.
Imposing quotas, which could be temporary, could prove to be an effective tool in making our public institutions more democratic. Given how hard it is to achieve gender equality without corrective action, it is the government's duty to bring in effective methods to correct this injustice. Things will not simply change over time.
I would like to share with my colleagues some other important things I have thought about. I hope that they will consider this when we vote in the next few weeks. A 50/50 quota is the most neutral gender-based measure. It avoids all discrimination. Quotas do not discriminate. They compensate for the current barriers that prevent women from exercising their fair share of representation.
Women, as citizens, have the right to balanced representation, especially when the taxes they pay are used to finance the crown corporations. Women who sit on boards of directors add different points of view, diverse knowledge and a change in the dynamic. It is good for business.
These days, Canadian women are just as qualified as Canadian men. It is very important that the government hire outside of traditional, male-dominated recruitment circles. Imposing quotas has not caused any confusion, injustice or problem whatsoever in the jurisdictions where they have been applied. That is why I think using quotas is the best solution for the boards of directors at crown corporations, when we have such a success story in our own backyard.
I may have focused till now on the legislative measure proposed in my bill, but I would now like to discuss the time it is taking to achieve equality between the sexes when it comes to our financial administration. Various approaches have been adopted by countries that have implemented similar measures and, in the case of Quebec, the provincial government gave itself a five-year timeframe.
In light of the examples we are familiar with and in order to maximize the chances of success, Bill C-473 proposes a realistic six-year timeframe. The current figures have female representation hovering around 27%, so it would be realistic to put in place the tools necessary to reach 30% in the next two years, 40% in four years and, ultimately, parity in six years.
Obviously, if a board of directors were composed of an uneven number of members, it would stand to reason that there would be an imbalance in the female-male representation.
Before concluding my speech and moving on to questions and comments, I would like to take the few minutes remaining to invite my colleagues from all parties to take advantage of this unique opportunity to showcase the skills and aptitudes of female professionals across Canada.
It is my profound belief that, with this bill, Canada has an opportunity to emerge from the stone age, position itself as a global leader in gender equality, and catch up with many other G20 countries.
Giving competent women an opportunity to realize their full potential and contribute to the development of their community is a question of fairness, rights, democracy and economic prosperity. Everyone wins, and I do hope my colleagues here today will come to the same conclusions as I have on the matter.