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, I am pleased to present Bill C-473 to the House today.
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.
Bill C-473 proposes a simple but effective improvement in the current legislation governing our public financial administration. Specifically, the bill wishes to offer balanced representation to Canadian men and women on the boards of directors of 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 Canadians 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 would like to thank all the pioneering women who worked so hard to advance women's rights, especially in the sectors that traditionally were the preserve of men, such as politics and management.
Among others, I think of the phenomenal work done by the hon. member for London—Fanshawe, on which the spirit of my bill is based, and of my colleague from Churchill, who has been so lively in her defence of the issues affecting the status of women, and of the Senator from Bedford who has been trying for many years to make the infamous glass ceiling vanish.
Despite all their hard work, and while Canadian society has made many strides toward women's rights in recent decades, the numbers speak clearly: there is still a lot of work to do. That is why I decided to introduce Bill C-473.
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 current figures show that only 16 of the 84 presidents are women.
Sadly, we are a long way from equal representation that would reflect Canada's demographic makeup and would offer professional growth and development opportunities to our talented women.
With women as 27% of boards 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 measures to encourage more equity in their institutions.
Canada even lags behind the 30% quotas imposed by South Africa and Israel—quotas that have been exceeded for a number of years.
As our country has evolved, it has established a robust democratic process for nominations and appointments to fill the positions on the boards of our crown corporations.
Ministers manage the appointments within their own portfolios, and present their nominations to the Governor in Council.
In the selection process, criteria are established to define the essential qualifications for a given position. In order to attract a large number of potential candidates, a number of mechanisms are used, such as the Governor-in-Council appointments website, executive recruiting agencies, newspapers and specialized publications. Candidates who express an interest are evaluated on the basis of the requirements of the position they apply for.
With regard to the issue of balanced representation, one of the problems—not to say prejudices—our society has had to deal with was that 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 access for women to post-secondary studies.
These days, and this is the opinion of a number of experts who have looked at the issue, one problem that persists is that we are still using the traditional recruitment pools to find candidates, where men are still in the majority.
Yet 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 is unfortunately difficult to break through for women aspiring to professional careers at the highest level.
My bill proposes an indirect approach to getting rid of these two stereotypes. Through the imposition of a gradual quota for representation of both sexes on the boards of our crown corporations, those responsible for suggesting appointments will be compelled to extend the boundaries of their recruiting methods, and open up the search for candidates with the necessary skills to include a non-traditional recruitment pool.
Canada can rely on a highly qualified female workforce. We can be proud of that. Its ranks include more than 60,000 women who are professional accountants, 20,000 women lawyers, more than 16,000 women engineers, thousands of women university professors and hundreds of women actuaries. There are thus plenty of women with the talents and skills to fill these positions. As a society, all we need do is give ourselves the resources to go out and recruit them.
Another point I would like to address concerns the proposed choice of 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 usually given is the fact that the government should not become involved in the choices of outside organizations, like businesses.
Let us not fret. Let us remember, first, that my bill in no way affects organizations of a completely different nature from crown corporations.
It is also important to 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, it would take 150 years to achieve equity at the top of the organizational ladder if the government did not step in with a mandatory measure.
One other blatant example justifies the establishment of quotas rather than voluntary measures. I am referring to Norway’s failure when it took its first steps 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. However, in getting to this point, the government had first attempted to negotiate with the private sector so-called voluntary quotas calling for 40% of seats on boards of directors to be held by women, warning that restrictive legislative measures would be brought in should the desired representation not be achieved by July 2005.
A survey of businesses conducted by Statistics Norway revealed that only 13% of businesses had established voluntary quotas and that women held only 16% of the positions on boards of directors as of the 2005 deadline.
That is why this kind of legislation is needed.
Norway went on to extend the scope of the legislation to public limited companies effective January 2006.
This proves that basic measures must be taken and that voluntary quotas do not work.
Another noteworthy example is Quebec. In this instance, theirs is a success story. Quebec is the only province to have adopted legislation aimed at achieving gender equality on crown corporation board of directors since 2006. Efforts in this regard have, to say the least, proved successful. 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. All that remains is to ensure balanced representation in the number of women and men appointed to the board of each crown corporation subject to the act.
In the case of both Norway and Quebec, the legislation did not cause any problems or result in any additional paperwork. And needless to say, crown corporations are obviously very well managed.
Summing up, I would like to use my speaking time to mention the government’s proposal to set up an advisory committee to look into ways of increasing the proportion of women appointed to company boards of directors, while working with the private sector to come up with concrete solutions.
This is a positive step forward and I can only agree with my colleagues opposite when they say that improving women’s prospects of serving on the board of directors of companies is beneficial for Canadian women as well as for the country’s economy. I assume their logic also extends to the board of directors of crown corporations.
However, in the case of the latter, I think the government needs to set the example and send a strong message about balanced representation in the management of our public finances. Such a message would open the door to many women with latent potential and could inspire companies to do likewise.
That is why I believe quotas are the most appropriate solution for crown corporation boards of directors. We are seeing a real success story in our own backyard. I am referring, of course, to Quebec.
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 dark ages and position itself as one of the global leaders in gender equality, thereby catching up with many other G20 countries.
Giving competent women an opportunity to realize their full potential and contribute to the development of our community is a question of fairness, rights, democracy and economic prosperity. Everyone wins.
The NDP has always been, and will always be, the staunchest advocate of policies that enable women to fully participate in the stewardship of public finances, and we believe that women should have the same opportunities as men when it comes to serving on boards of directors.
Moreover, in light of the evidence, the NDP strongly believes that diversity among boards of directors is crucial for the good governance of organizations, and that it benefits everyone concerned.
As a woman, fairness and justice are among the fundamental values at the heart of my philosophy and my engagement. In my opinion, this bill is a concrete measure that will help to strike a balance in gender representation when it comes to the management of public finances, while at the same time better reflecting Canadian demographics. I hope, therefore, that my colleagues will come to the same conclusion, and that they will listen to the demands of thousands of women who wish to bring down the glass ceiling and contribute fully to Canadian society.