House of Commons Hansard #271 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was civilization.


The House resumed from April 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-473, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (balanced representation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta


Michelle Rempel ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to speak to this bill, for several reasons. I would like to start by supporting the notion behind this bill, which is that we need to see an increase in the participation of women on corporate boards in this country. Certainly there is a lack of women on corporate boards. Women are not equally represented on corporate boards now, and that is worthy of debate in this House. Our government has looked at different ways to address this issue, one of which I will speak to a bit in my speech.

As far as the functionality of this particular bill, I do have some concerns with regard to the prescriptive nature of the mechanisms included therein. I have always questioned the notion of prescribed quotas for any type of legislation or mechanism. As a woman, and as someone who has worked my way through life, I have to raise in this House today the argument of merit over tokenism. I will give a bit of my story to give some context to why I have this feeling.

When I was 18 years old, I started to put myself through school full time. I worked full time in a professional job, and gradually increased my responsibility. I remember working full time, taking evening classes, doing my homework at 12 a.m., doing housework at 3 a.m. and then going back to work at 7 a.m. I also put my husband through school during this time. It was tough. It was a real learning experience. However, progressively I increased my responsibility in my job. During this, I took a lot of time to volunteer in my community. I became politically active and started to run political campaigns. I participated in my party's policy development process. I took professional training opportunities. I asked for increased opportunity in my job, and here I am today.

I am not saying that is a path that most women can or should follow because everybody has their own unique experience. One issue that faces women in the development of their career is the reality that women are the primary caregivers. This is a role that should be celebrated within our society. Women who choose to raise a family, or to forego the advancement of career opportunities that may otherwise be afforded them but for the time they would put into their families, are to be celebrated. This is an issue we have to look at when it comes to women's participation in the workforce, and certainly in politics as well.

My story is from the perspective of one who has foregone having a family in order to achieve my career. That said, any type of advancement that I achieve in my career, I want to be measured on merit and not on gender. If one were to talk to many of my colleagues in this place, this could be fundamentally described as the next wave of feminism in this country. Equality means equality in performance and merit. That is why I have an issue with this bill. I think it suggests that women cannot get there on their own. Rather than prescribing quotas as to how many women should be or need to be on a board legally, we are doing the women in this country a disservice if we do not first ask why women are not on corporate boards right now.

To mirror this policy, our government announced, in budget 2012, that we would launch an advisory council on women on corporate boards. My colleague, the Minister for Status of Women, chaired the first meeting of this group last week. This is a positive step in the right direction. This group is on a very tight timeline. It expects to table recommendations after a fulsome review, but in due course because it is such an important topic.

However, the fundamental question we have to ask is why. I have sat on round tables across the country on this particular issue. If there is one thing I have heard from colleagues who are both my contemporaries and mentors is that simplifying the issue of women's participation on corporate boards down to the issue of quota does a disservice to women. We need to talk about things like how women balance the reality of being a primary caregiver as well as obtaining the necessary skills and networks needed for a corporate directorship position.

I heard one colleague of mine make a comment that I thought was quite interesting. She is the CEO for a major corporation, and when her corporation looks at the skill set for a board of directors position, it looks at whether a person has led an operational division in a major company, been required to make senior level decisions with regard to projects or consolidation of services, or led a company through a major business decision.

Many of the professions in which woman participate may or may not offer them the opportunity to make those types of operating decisions. A discussion of how we can get women those skills so they are considered for corporate directorship positions is very important. I certainly hope the advisory committee I just spoke about would look at that issue.

The other thing is that we need to make women aware of positions that become open. Quite frankly, in this debate in the House we have addressed the white elephant in the room. Traditionally the selection of corporate directors has been a very closed circle of people making decisions. Where there is a closed circle of folks who may have had opportunities given to them, how do we break that open? How do we make sure, when there are qualified women to take these positions, that they are connected with them? Finally, how do we overcome the notion, which is so inherent in the bill, that women cannot overcome these two obstacles and need to have quotas?

I know that is an esoteric argument to some extent, but it is very important. As women, and men, in this House, debate this type of legislation, it is one we have to be very cognizant about. I do fundamentally believe that if we are to have true equality in this country, we need to be measured on merit, not simply on our gender.

Some of the technical aspects of the bill, which I find a bit troubling, are regarding the quotas therein. It could potentially elevate the consideration of one designated employment equity group, women, above others, such as aboriginal persons or persons with disabilities. It could ultimately fetter the discretion of the Governor in Council in appointing qualified candidates to boards of directors.

The other problem with quotas is that sometimes we encounter the law of unintended consequences. This is one issue that I have not heard adequately discussed in debate. Currently the Governor in Council selection and appointment process needs to be flexible enough to ensure the attraction and appointment of a diverse pool of individuals possessing the right skills, expertise and experience needed by crown corporation boards of directors to effectively fulfill their new stewardship role.

What does this mean? It goes back to what I originally spoke about. Rather than simply legislating in quotas, we need to, as legislators, as people who are concerned with this very legitimate issue, ask how we empower women. How do we enable them to get the skills they need to participate in corporate boards? How do we develop less qualified women, and how do we connect people in positions who are making these decisions for corporate boards?

These are the questions this House should be seized with. I am very encouraged by what the Minister for Status of Women has done with the advisory board on this particular issue. The people she has drawn from to sit on this board are very qualified. There are some women on that board whom I particularly look up to.

I certainly hope my colleague opposite will understand that I cannot support the bill because I believe it is fundamentally flawed. However, I certainly hope she will support the ongoing dialogue that is taking place with the advisory board.

Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Lise St-Denis Liberal Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the member's speech. She is making some interesting proposals, but there is one I do not understand.

How would prescribing quotas for women be doing them a disservice? My question does not go against her suggestions, but I really do not understand how that could be doing women a disservice.

Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

There is actually no time allocated for questions and comments right now. That time is allocated only for the first speech during private members' business.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte.

Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and speak to Bill C-473. It is clear to the House that the intention of the proposed act is to amend the Financial Administration Act to provide some method of balance. It is a laudable goal of a Canadian just society to ensure that gender equity is not a slogan but a commonplace action within our society.

The fundamental goal, recognition of equality and respect of everyone, is very commendable, and so I am pleased to speak to some of the strengths of the bill. There are some issues that need to be addressed, obviously. The bill does not prescribe any method of attaining the gender equity it attempts to achieve. There is no method laid out as to exactly how this statutory provision would be enacted, controlled and monitored.

That said, I will speak to the general parameters of the bill.

It has been a long-standing and well-established practice that we move, wherever reasonable and possible, to bridge the gap, to prevent an unjust or unfair and disproportionate imbalance in gender within our own federal jurisdiction. We have long moved toward gender equity with pay equity issues. We have seen the value of ensuring that there is gender equity and the recognition of gender equity within hiring in the federal public civil service. Therefore, it only stands to reason that we would also incorporate gender equity within the governance of our major Crown corporations, which are governed by the government and accountable to this House through various ministers.

Primarily, Bill C-473 proposes to require that the composition of the boards of directors of a parent Crown corporation shall be such that the proportion of directors of each gender is not less than 30% the second year following the coming into force of this proposed section, not less than 40% the fourth year and not less than 50% the sixth year following the coming into force of this section. The proposed bill clearly outlines these requirements and stipulates that the aforementioned numbers may vary when the board of directors of a parent Crown corporation consist of no more than eight members, and so there is latitude and flexibility built into the bill.

For example, in such instances, it is proposed that the difference between the number of directors of each gender may not be greater than two. For small governed boards, obviously it is a little more difficult at times, such as in the immediate aftermath of the coming into force of the proposed legislation, to be able to reconstruct the board, and the bill does provide that flexibility. However, there are no specific requirements or criteria as to how this would get done exactly. We would like to see a little more detail on that.

It is worth noting that Bill C-473 is premised on Bill C-407, but this new legislative proposal seeks to elevate the percentage to 50% from the current of approximately 30% non-legislated average commencing in the sixth year.

Prior to endorsing Bill C-473, we would like to better understand whether or not the breakdown of gender numbers cited in the legislative preamble are indeed accurate and if there is an appropriate reason for the current levels. However, these issues would come out if the bill were to be passed at second reading and sent to committee.

We would like to know what the real-world impact would be on business if mandated quotas of this nature were established within the timeline suggested, 30%, 40% and 50% within two, four and six years respectively.

We would also like to know what specific penalties would be imposed upon non-compliant boards and agencies. Legislation that is absolutely toothless just merits a public rebuking and does not go beyond that, with no scope of arbitration, no scope of determination of whether or not proper compliance requirements are being met and if not, what the consequences are of such decisions.

It becomes a bit of a fool's errand in the sense that we actually institutionalize non-compliance, even though we could enact laws to prevent this. If it is absolutely baseless and there is no consequence whatsoever except for a public rebuking, which may or may not be scoffed off by those who have been cited, the legislation becomes somewhat worthless. It speaks to a platitude but not to an action. That is really not where we necessarily need to be.

If concrete proposals could be brought forward as to how this could be done and what the consequences of this being done would be, greater comfort would be provided to all of us, I am sure. We should be prepared to say here and now that the concept is not only valid but that it is necessary. It is necessary to work toward gender equity at the highest echelons, in the most prominent and largest profile of organizations within the federal jurisdiction.

We have not had very much feedback from stakeholders at this point in time; in fact, very little. One of the opportunities at second reading is to be able to receive input from stakeholders as to how exactly they feel about this, what they would offer in terms of strengthening and criticizing and in terms of impacts, and receive their other views about the nature of this legislation and what it would do. That would be extremely helpful.

There also has not been a huge amount of feedback in terms of the real-world analysis of the consequences of this. There are many organizations that can offer that. We look forward to hearing from them so that we have a better idea of exactly what the legislation could present to us.

Finally, it would be helpful at this point in time for the parties within the House to pronounce where they stand on the general principles of the bill. I have pointed to the fact that there are obviously some inherent issues, some concerns, some information that is not contained within the bill, which may be necessary for the enactment of legislation, in the opinion of some. If we are going to pose a statutory requirement on somebody to do something, that statute should also lay out a process as to how that would be done and what the consequences of not adhering to it would be.

While we can all recognize that there are some issues surrounding this, it would be helpful if we could understand a bit better whether or not the parties within the House support the concept of gender equity within the governance structure of our Crown corporations, boards and their directorships, instead of just simply saying this is not a piece of legislation that can be supported. That would be very helpful.

I appreciate the work done by the mover of this particular piece of legislation. I look forward to hearing the debate. I also look forward to, hopefully, having this piece of legislation before committee, so some of these questions can be given proper answers.

Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about Bill C-473 to help achieve gender parity on the boards of directors of crown corporations.

I would like to start by congratulating my colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles for her efforts on this file. I know that this issue is important to her and she works very hard to promote gender equality.

Despite the progress women have made over the past few decades to take their place in the workforce, in certain settings they are still grappling with a glass ceiling that prevents them from reaching the highest levels in some organizations. In spite of their progress, women continue to be under-represented in the executive ranks and earn 70% less for every dollar men earn.

For this situation to improve, we must act by using tangible measures such as those proposed in the bill. This bill provides a logically sound and effective mechanism to help increase the number of women in the executive ranks of Canada's crown corporations. This proposal should be relatively simple to implement and has the potential to help improve the situation of women across the country.

I would like to give a few examples that really illustrate the scope of the problem related to the under-representation of women in decision-making roles. At this time, over 2,000 Canadians occupy executive positions in more than 200 crown corporations, organizations, boards of directors and commissions across the country; yet women occupy only 27% of senior management positions. In addition, only 16 of the 84 presidents of crown corporations are women. That is only 19%.

Canadian women are also under-represented on the boards of directors of private corporations. According to the Catalyst 2010 study, women occupied only 16.9% of senior management positions in Fortune 500 companies. Worse still, over 30% of those companies counted no women among their senior officers.

In December 2010, Anne Golden, chair of the Conference Board of Canada, appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce and noted that, “At that rate, it will take approximately 151 years before the proportion of men and women at the management level is equal”.

In light of these troubling statistics, clearly, we need to take action to promote fair gender representation in the business world. Bill C-473 aims to achieve gender equality on the board of directors of crown corporations within six years by establishing criteria to ensure that women occupy 30% of positions within two years of the bill's coming into force, 40% within four years, and 50% within six years of its coming into force. Implementing these requirements will guarantee gender parity.

In addition, this legislative measure will indirectly force crown corporations to expand their search for qualified, effective candidates and to target non-traditional recruitment pools.

It is important to note that, compared to other countries, Canada is falling behind. According to the World Economic Forum report on the global gender gap, Canada has fallen seven places since the first report was published in 2006, currently ranking 21st. Catalyst Canada noted that the proportion of women on the boards of companies listed on the stock exchange had increased by only 0.1% between 2007 and 2011, rising from 10.2% to 10.3%.

Unlike the Conservative government and previous Liberal and Conservative governments, numerous countries have introduced legislative measures to address the fact that women are under-represented in the boardrooms of various types of organizations. For example, Norway, Spain, France, Iceland and the Netherlands introduced legislated quotas to increase the number of women on various boards of directors, while Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Finland have implemented mandatory disclosure and transparency initiatives.

In some countries such as Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom, corporations have been urged to close the gender gaps on their boards under the threat that quotas could be introduced if voluntary measures are seen to be ineffective.

In that same vein, I would like to dispel a perverse myth that exists within the Conservative government. The government is proposing a voluntary approach to ensure increased representation of women on boards. I am thinking, in particular, about the member for Mississauga South who, on April 23, stated in the House that legislating a quota system to increase the proportion of women on crown corporation boards “is not acceptable”. She said that legislated quotas are rigid and arbitrary thresholds that would adversely affect the appointment process for board members. The member for Winnipeg South Centre said that efforts to promote qualified candidates in the business community and to recognize and encourage business leaders are more effective than legislative measures.

Basically, the Conservatives believe that we can attain parity by using a laissez-faire approach. However, Norway provides us with a case study that puts an end to the far-fetched myth of voluntary parity. Norway was the first country to legislate gender balance on the boards of public limited companies.

The legislation applying to state-owned companies came into force in January 2004. 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. This voluntary measure did not achieve the desired effect.

A survey by Statistics Norway showed that by the July 2005 date, 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. The legislation came into force in January 2006, giving the companies in question two years to comply with the targets. To illustrate how effective a legislative measure can be, in Norway, the representation of women on the boards in question has been more than 40% since 2008.

For progress on similar gender equality measures, we can look at our own successes here in Canada. In 2006, the Government of Quebec introduced Bill 53 in order to set criteria for state-owned enterprises so:

(1) that the boards of directors of the enterprises as a group [would] be composed of members whose cultural identity reflects the various segments of Québec society; and

(2) that the boards of directors of the enterprises as a group [would] include an equal number of women and men as of 14 December 2011.

Although this legislation still has not fully achieved its objective, the numbers are impressive. In December 2011, which marked the end of the five-year period by which crown corporations were to have achieved gender equality, 141 women and 128 men held positions on the boards of directors of 22 Quebec crown corporations. 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.

The Conservatives' unwillingness to achieve gender parity in the public service is symptomatic of their general attitude toward promoting gender equality. Let us not forget that in addition to deleting the words “gender equality” from Status of Women Canada's mandate, the Conservatives closed 12 of the 16 offices of the only federal agency devoted to promoting gender equality.

Hon. members will also recall that the Conservative government cut funding for the court challenges program, which was created to defend equality rights cases guaranteed under the Constitution of Canada.

The Conservative government's dismal record on gender equality is attested to by the fact that Canada ranks 21st in the World Economic Forum's gender gap index, after countries such as the Philippines, Latvia, Cuba and even Nicaragua.

It is obvious that, in reality, Canadian women cannot count on the Conservative government to promote gender equality.

Therefore, I want to reiterate my support for Bill C-473, and I urge my colleagues in all parties to vote for it.

Finally, this bill clearly shows that the NDP has real measures to achieve balanced gender representation when it comes to the management of public finances and thus to better reflect the Canadian population.

Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-473, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (balanced representation), introduced by my colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.

Gender equality is still an issue for Canadian society today. Progress has been made, but we need only look at the membership of the House to see that we still have work to do.

This bill seeks to achieve balanced representation of men and women serving as directors on boards of crown corporations within six years. It should be noted that it applies only to crown corporations and not private businesses.

First, we must understand that gender equality, in my opinion, is the responsibility of a proactive government. If government sets an example, hopefully others will follow.

Women are still under-represented on boards of directors of crown corporations in Canada. Most of these corporations have more men than women on their boards, and it is estimated that women make up approximately 27% of these boards.

Many Canadian women have the skills and experience needed to serve on these boards of directors. I think that women should have the same opportunities as men to be appointed to these boards of directors.

Equality in how our crown corporations are managed is an important issue, since these corporations offer a window into our country and how it manages gender equality. The fact that there are still too few women leading our political institutions, businesses and crown corporations is a problem that we should be looking at if we want to set an example as a society with equal rights in terms of gender representation.

Of over 200 crown corporations, agencies, boards of directors and commissions, only 27% of all available positions are held by women. Furthermore, fewer than 20% of chairs of these boards of directors are women.

Many people tend to celebrate the achievements made in recent years regarding women's rights. However, I do not think we should fall into the trap of taking gender equality for granted. We must continue to work. A lot of work remains to be done to make more progress and to protect what some may want to take away.

To those who say that appointments to senior government positions must be based on merit, I agree. I do not think this bill will change the fact that people are appointed based on merit. However, we must not forget that there are highly skilled female workers in Canada. There are enough women with the skills required to fill these positions and who deserve to be there. What we primarily need to change are the mindsets and the stereotypes that are perpetuated.

As the member for Mississauga South said, research shows that businesses with more women on their boards are more profitable. These businesses generally outperform other businesses with fewer women.

According to the bill's proposed roadmap, the implementation will be gradual. We are talking about 30% women after two years, 40% after four years and 50% after six years.

The bill also stipulates that:

105.2 Any appointment of a director of a parent Crown corporation in violation of section 105.1 [in other words, the percentages I just gave] is invalid and the vacant position shall be filled without delay by the appropriate Minister, with the approval of the Governor in Council


105.4 (1) Five years after the coming into force of sections 105.1 to 105.3 and every five years after that, a comprehensive review of these sections and of their operation shall be undertaken by such committee of the House of Commons or of both Houses of Parliament as may be designated or established by Parliament for that purpose.

Therefore, there will be a review after this bill is implemented to ensure that we stay on track. This is quite important. According to the Conference Board of Canada, without a quota, gender parity will take over 150 years to achieve. Even I will not be able to live that long. It will take 150 years to reach parity in important positions. I am not sure that waiting one and a half centuries is really the best solution in this case.

Moreover, when a gradual gender representation quota is imposed on the boards of crown corporations, people in charge of recruitment and appointment recommendations will be compelled to expand their recruitment efforts and extend their search to candidates with the required skills in non-traditional or less traditional recruitment pools.

In addition to seeking more women, organizations will also look for women who may have different backgrounds, more varied experience and different visions, which can only help enrich the boards of our crown corporations. Studies have shown that a higher percentage of women in senior management can generate tangible benefits for businesses. This will then foster economic growth and help develop our country to its full potential.

Of course we want peak performance from our crown corporations. We have known for some time now that female members of corporate boards offer Canadian companies a different and valuable perspective.

We can work with crown corporations to institute change and raise the bar for corporations that belong to Canadians and play a leading role. This is our opportunity to ask crown corporations to show leadership and say that women should play as great a role as men in managing them.

Drawing from a wide talent pool instead of accessing the assets of only a portion of Canadian society, as we are doing now, would be logical and beneficial. Gender parity will truly benefit Canadians both socially and economically. Bill C-473 can take us one step forward in that direction.

I sincerely believe that those who see impediments to this bill are mistaken because we have seen over and over that there are plenty of competent women. Maybe they are just shyer.

Recently, several people have written about female representation on boards of directors and in companies, suggesting that they might be shyer. They might not stand out as much or express their interest, but they are still there. Some of them need a little encouragement, a few compliments on their work. Maybe they need to hear that people have been admiring the quality of their work since they have joined a particular company or crown corporation and that they would make an excellent board member. Recruiting such women and helping them reach their potential would be good for both our image and for our crown corporations.

Canada should have high-performing crown corporations. Consider Canada Post, which is dealing with some major challenges at the moment. I think that such a corporation would benefit from having more women on the board. We must enable women to progress. If we do, we will all win.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak to this issue in the House and to highlight, once again, how women can help enrich Canadian society. I sincerely hope that all members of Parliament will agree and will enable our crown corporations to move forward because it is clear that we cannot afford to wait 150 years. I would really like to see this happen in my lifetime. Fortunately, I am pretty young, so that gives us a lot of room to manoeuvre.

We cannot stand back and let things happen or merely encourage women. We have to be more aggressive if we want to achieve this goal.

Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am truly pleased to speak for five minutes today to Bill C-473, which would amend the Financial Administration Act in order to improve the representation of women on boards of directors of crown corporations.

I would like to reiterate that gender equality must be a priority for Canadians. In its Constitution, Canada recognizes that men and women are equal under the laws of Canada. However, when it comes to economic independence, equality in decision-making, violence against women, pay equity and other issues, there remains a great deal of work to be done in order for men and women to be equal in economic, social and political terms in Canada.

In the last hour of debate, my colleague from York West raised a number of points that should be clarified for the benefit of all members of the House.

First, I would like to speak about the percentage mentioned in the bill's preamble. The data were provided by the Library of Parliament and indicate that women represent a mere 27% of directors on boards of Canada's crown corporations.

It is the responsibility of parliamentarians to enact legislation on this matter. This morning, the member for Calgary Centre-North spoke about private enterprises, whereas I am referring only to crown corporations. They are two completely different matters, and we must not mix them up.

She also spoke about aboriginal peoples. I would remind the House that when we are discussing women, fairness and representation on boards of directors, the appointment of aboriginal women will also be welcomed.

There were also questions about how to go about this. It is so simple that we could provide ministers with a basic guide on how to appoint women to boards of directors. I would humbly remind members that the minister has people from the crown corporations managed by his or her department make these appointments.

Competency must remain the basis for recruitment. As I explained earlier, it is merely a question of ensuring that male and female candidates are presented for each position. There are enough talented, competent and experienced women in the areas of management, finance, law and engineering to ensure that 50% of the positions are filled by women.

I would remind the House that many appointments are made based on the “old boys' club” model. We all know or have worked with someone who approached us to do some lobbying, for instance. Then, when the time comes to appoint representatives, we think of that individual.

People often go as far as relaxing the qualification criteria, in order to appoint a male candidate rather than a woman who has the required skills. I would also remind the House that, since the late 1980s, more women than men have been graduating with degrees in public administration.

I want to reiterate once again that Bill C-473 deals only with crown corporations. It imposes absolutely no restrictions on private corporations, which is why it is so important for the government, as an employer, to set an example and hold itself to higher standards of female representation among executive ranks.

There is absolutely no downside to this. In Quebec, women make up over 50% of boards of directors of crown corporations. This has no negative impact. Quebec crown corporations have not been altered because they have appointed women as leaders.

Lastly, Bill C-473 aims to achieve gender parity in six years. Why six years? Simply because Quebec managed to achieve it in five years. We therefore believe that the federal government can achieve it in six years.

The NDP has always been a strong advocate for women's rights and always will be. We have an opportunity here to make a significant gesture in support of Canadian women and to allow them to take their rightful place in the decision-making processes that govern our democracy.

In closing, let us not wait 150 years.

Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The time provided for debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members



Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to an order made on Wednesday, May 22, 2013, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 19, 2013, at the expiry of the time provided for oral questions.

Suspension of SittingPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In accordance with the Standing Orders, the House will stand suspended until 12 noon.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:50 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 noon)

The House resumed from June 14 consideration of the motion that Bill S-6, An Act respecting the election and term of office of chiefs and councillors of certain First Nations and the composition of council of those First Nations, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders



Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to add my voice in support of this very worthy legislation, which would see the federal government stop meddling in first nations' electoral affairs, which rightly rest with those communities.

As some of my hon. colleagues have explained, current provisions in the Indian Act have created a democratic anomaly within Canada. Instead of empowering first nations community members to exercise their democratic rights and hold their own governments to account, the Indian Act places the responsibility in the hands of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. This is completely backwards. That is why our government has introduced the first nations elections act. It would provide an alternative to the paternalistic Indian Act and would put the accountability squarely back with first nations members where it belongs.

The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development plays a disproportionately large role in first nations elections, one that he would gladly give up.

Sections 74 and 79 of the Indian Act set out the rules and regulations governing the current electoral system. Under section 74, the minister may declare by order that a first nation hold elections under the act and the Indian Band Election Regulations. Since 1951, approximately 350 first nations in Canada have been ordered to hold their elections under this system. Over time, 100 first nations have been removed from the system and now hold their elections under the community elections system instead.

All first nations that hold their elections under the Indian Act are subject to the same rules and eligibility requirements. The Indian Act sets out the size of a band council based on a first nation's population, generally called “the one per 100 rule”. It stipulates that a band council shall be made up of a chief and one councillor for every 100 members a first nation has. Although the act allows a first nation to reduce this complement of councillors, any such change requires the approval of a minister.

A typical election under the Indian Act includes the appointment of an electoral officer charged with managing the overall election process and all related activities. This appointment must be approved by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada provides training support to electoral officers throughout the election to ensure compliance with the election rules under the Indian Act. Once elected, the chief and councillors hold office for two-year terms.

One of the most serious complaints about the Indian Act system arises when election results are disputed and a lengthy appeals process begins. At the moment, election appeals are received, reviewed, and, if necessary, investigated and decided upon by the department and the minister. The minister has the authority to remove elected officials and to recommend the setting aside of elections. Most appeals relate to election results. The minister can declare that a specific elected official was guilty of corrupt practices in connection with an election. Such a declaration causes the council position to become vacant. The minister may also declare any individuals removed from the office to be ineligible to be candidates for up to six years.

If it is determined that corrupt practices took place or that there was a violation of the Indian Act or the regulations that might have affected the results of the election, the minister reports to the Governor in Council. Only the Governor in Council has the power to set aside an election. If the election of a band council is set aside in its entirety, another election is held under the accelerated process.

It is no secret that first nations are critical of the electoral process under the Indian Act. They complain, with justification, that it sets out an electoral regime that is antiquated and paternalistic. That is not surprising when we consider that the minister even has the power to remove someone for missing band council meetings.

First nations members believe that the minister and his department are far too involved in elections on reserves, especially in handling appeals. The framework for an election appeal under the legislation is one of the most criticized components of the election system. In this day and age, approving changes to the number of councillor positions on a band council, approving a first nation's choices of electoral officer, investigating election appeals, removing elected officials for whatever reason and banning them from running in future elections, and setting aside elections in their entirety are simply roles the government and the minister should not be playing.

I cannot stress enough how paternalistic this is and how it goes completely against the view that first nations band councils are governments and should be treated as such.

Our government agrees entirely that first nations have good grounds for these criticisms. We understand that they want a better alternative. Members on both sides of the House believe that sticking with the status quo makes no sense and is just plain wrong. This simply will not wash with the growing number of first nations that are fed up and frustrated with the current system.

It is long past time for us to fix these structural flaws and it is time to implement the many recommendations brought forward by first nations, which form the foundation of this proposed legislation. They, and we, want to bring the system into line with the way other jurisdictions work.

This modernization is consistent with other first nations legislation, from first nations lands management and financial management to local by-laws. Doing so would strip away some of the electoral system powers that rest with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, a situation that is simply unacceptable in the 21st century.

First nations electors wishing to challenge the results of their election based on violations to the rules and alleged corruption practices would no longer appeal to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Neither would the minister be involved in removing a chief or councillors from office before the end of their term. Instead, election appeals would be addressed by the courts, just as they are in elections in all other jurisdictions.

The courts already offer an independent and transparent appeal mechanism open to public scrutiny. They already have the power to determine wrongdoing in federal, provincial and municipal elections, so they are well positioned to address issues in first nations elections.

As an added benefit, this approach would discourage frivolous complaints, which are prominent under the Indian Act election system. Such complaints create uncertainty over the band council's legitimacy, hurting the community's day-to-day business activities and discouraging economic development, often for a long period of time. An appeal can take anywhere from six to 18 months to be resolved, and in the end little may change.

About 30% of all band council elections under the Indian Act are appealed, which amounts to about 40 elections per year. Of these, usually no more than five appeals result in an election being overturned. Given that applications to the courts require that grounds be clearly presented and supported, it is likely that fewer frivolous appeals would be launched.

We would be hard pressed to find anyone who believes that the minister must continue to hold the powers he does vis-à-vis first nations elections. We certainly would not find first nation leaders saying this, and I doubt Canadians at large would take this position either.

Bill S-6 is what first nations have been asking for. It is what their members want and need. First nations recognize that a sound, open, transparent election process in an important part of a strong, stable and effective first nations governments, effective governments that respect their citizens' democratic right to be informed and to be heard, governments that respond to the priorities of their residents.

Equally essential is that with stable and legitimate first nations governments in place, first nations, businesses and municipal and provincial governments can pursue mutually beneficial projects. First nations would be able to use the income flowing from these investments to build their economies and improve the lives and livelihoods of their members. That is something that people living in first nations most definitely want.

It is now up to parliamentarians to unleash this tremendous potential by passing this worthy legislation. As we do, we will build a better future not only for first nations, but for all Canadians.

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the member's speech and it was interesting to hear him talk about sound, open and transparent election processes. Although this is not my question to the member, it would be interesting to see when the government is going to bring forward its changes to the Canada Elections Act, since there were such difficulties in the last federal election.

My question to the minister is with regard to the testimony of representatives of the national aboriginal law section of the Canadian Bar Association before the Senate. When they testified before the Senate, they indicated that it was unfortunate that clause 33 states that everything will go to the Federal Court. They said that there are many recommendations for either a first nations electoral commission or a first nations tribunal to settle any election disputes and that the federal government and all provinces already have this as a regular part of democracy. They questioned why, if it is good enough for the feds and the provinces, it is not good enough for first nations.

I wonder if the member could comment on why there was not a similar kind of process recommended in the bill, instead of only a court process.

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12:10 p.m.


Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, having lived and worked in first nations communities and witnessed first nations elections, what I have seen throughout the process, specifically under the outdated Indian Act, which goes back to 1876, is that there is a lot of corruption. I have seen first nations chiefs, past and present, campaign during their elections and provide funding or, if I could put it more bluntly, bribes of $50 to $100. There has to be some mechanism that looks at that problem.

That is why the framework for election appeals under the Indian Act is one of the most criticized components of that election system, particularly because it involves a paternalistic role for the minister in making decisions to remove elected officials and recommending the setting aside of elections.

One of the key criticisms of this process is simply that the minister should not play a role. In addressing appeals under Bill S-6, the creation of an independent first nations electoral appeals commission was reviewed, and there are a number of reasons that the commission was not deemed the appropriate strategy. One is that this option would require a significant amount of resources, which would be difficult to justify for an optional legislative framework. Second, the role such a commission would play in electoral appeals is questionable, particularly given that the offences and penalties provisions of Bill S-6 would be responded to and addressed by law enforcement, crown attorneys and the courts. That is what first nations are asking for: the same privileges that every other Canadian has provincially and municipally.

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12:10 p.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, would the member please outline the more important aspects of the opt-in and opt-out provisions?

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12:10 p.m.


Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, under the Indian Act electoral system, election appeals are received and reviewed by departmental officials based on evidence gathered. If it is determined that there was a corrupt practice in connection with an election or that there was a violation of the rules that might have affected the results of the election, the minister may recommend that the Governor in Council set aside the election. In the event of a finding of a corrupt practice, the minister may also remove elected officials and prevent them from being candidates in future elections for a period of up to five years.

I have seen this countless times. I am hearing from my constituents on first nations reserves, and currently from Ahtahkakoop First Nation, that they are having problems under the old Indian Act in trying to address this current election process. That is why Bill S-6 is pivotal in trying to reform elections for first nations under the current Indian Act.

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12:10 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his previous answer to my question. What I heard him say was that it was too expensive to set up an electoral commission for first nations, but he said nothing about whether resources would be made available to first nations that then end up having to go to court to get this resolved. We all know that most first nations are cash-strapped.

I wonder if he could comment on the fact that this is going to be an expensive undertaking for first nations and that the Conservatives are downloading this on first nations once again.

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12:15 p.m.


Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, under the current system and the current Indian Act, we see how first nations have to appeal the process. There are numerous funding mechanisms being utilized to address those corrupt or misleading elections.

We have heard from the Manitoba first nations about how they want the system to be. They have gone across Manitoba. Chief Evans has been paramount in trying to address all elections that first nations face across Canada. For one thing, if a mechanism is in place, there would be fewer corrupt practices or fewer first nations appealing the current election system. That is where money will be saved, because under Bill S-6, for first nations to participate and opt in, there will be cost savings.

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12:15 p.m.


Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, in an ideal world, there would be no need for debate on this bill. The outdated and paternalistic elements of the Indian Act governing first nations elections would no longer have any effect, because first nations would be universally self-governing. That is the goal we are all working toward.

Unfortunately, however, this is not yet the case for the majority of first nations across the country. Some communities on their way to self-government have employed different strategies, such as adopting community election codes that help them get around holding their elections under the Indian Act, but not every community has the capacity to take that on either. Others have chosen to focus their energies and resources on the many other high-priority issues that they face.

We want to meet first nations like these halfway, by providing an alternative to the current Indian Act election system. It is an out-of-date system that has remained largely unchanged since the 1950s. It is riddled with weaknesses and problems that destabilize first nations governments. It is a system that is not only frustrating but also, in many cases, undemocratic.

It is little wonder that so many first nations have demanded another option in addition to the systems currently on offer. That is exactly what Bill S-6 would provide. It would provide another way for first nations to hold elections that is outside of the outdated election system set out in the Indian Act.

Before exploring the many benefits of this legislation, it would be helpful if I first explained a little bit about the various electoral systems currently available to first nations.

Different communities exercise different approaches to elections. At the moment, 238 first nations hold their elections under the Indian Act system. This represents about 40% of all communities. The many problems, and even abuses, under this system have been well documented in numerous reports and reinforced by various speakers during this debate.

The majority, 343 first nations, or 55% of the total across Canada, select their leadership under a community-based system. Most of these first nations develop their own community election codes to elect their leaders. For many, this system offers the essential elements of good governance: open and transparent elections and effective mechanisms for redress when necessary.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. A small percentage of first nations with community election codes experience recurring disputes, some of which have led to breakdowns in governance, the imposition of third party management and lengthy and costly court actions between community members.

These disputes are usually based on a lack of community consensus on the actual election rules and procedures, exacerbated by the absence of a viable redress mechanism. There have been occasions when two separate election processes have been held in parallel in the same community, with those elected in each case claiming to be the legitimate and duly elected leaders. Needless to say, all of this negatively impacts community well-being and discourages economic development.

The remaining 36 first nations, or about 5%, have leadership election systems based on their community constitutions under self-government arrangements. As I mentioned earlier, this is the ultimate goal to which most first nations aspire.

As I also noted, many communities still caught with the Indian Act system may not be ready to take on self-government or even go so far as to develop community election codes. However, that does not diminish their desire to have an alternative: a fairer, more transparent and more accountable way of conducting elections on reserve.

I want to be clear that I am not talking about every first nation in the country. There is no question that there are some that seem satisfied with the status quo, while others may accept nothing less than self-government. I can assure the House that Bill S-6 would provide a robust election system for those who may choose it.

John Paul, executive director of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs, testified on these issues before the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.

This legislation is precisely what many communities want. People in first nations communities all across the country have told us that they want change that leads to self-government, but they want it to be built on a solid foundation. They want certainty and stability, which they do not now have.

What many of these first nations are looking for is what Jody Wilson-Raybould of the Assembly of First Nations described in her appearance before the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples when it examined Bill S-6. She said, “...“stepping stone” legislation, such as Bill S-6...fits into and supports a vision of moving along the continuum of governance....” That is who this legislation is for. At their request, our government has been working in collaboration with first nations partners to develop an optional legislative framework for the election of band councils that covers this middle ground.

We have followed the lead of our first nations partners, the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. They have done the necessary research and conducted consultations in their own regions as well as across the country to come up with the viable new option outlined in Bill S-6. Bill S-6 would provide an optional electoral system that would ensure transparent and accountable governments, while providing first nations with the flexibility to choose the elections system that best suits them.

Our government simply wants to create the conditions for strong, stable and effective first nations governments that are transparent and accountable to their membership. A free and fair leadership selection process promotes accountability of leaders back to their band members rather than to the Government of Canada. It is a cornerstone of greater self-government and better outcomes. Bill S-6 is a concrete step forward in that direction. It is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all remedy for all that is wrong in the existing election system under the Indian Act.

The legislation would help those first nations that choose to opt in to overcome the numerous limitations of the Indian Act election system. It is designed to address the several weaknesses identified in the AFN study on election reform in 2008, the Senate committee's 2009 study and the thorough work of the APC and the AMC, problems that are holding back too many first nations communities at a great cost to their economies and to the well-being of their citizens.

Ideally, we would do away with the outdated Indian Act altogether. However, it cannot be replaced overnight. That would only create more problems than it solves. As the Prime Minister observed at the historic gathering, after 136 years that tree has deep roots. Blowing up the stump would just leave a big hole. We certainly do not want to do more harm than good.

The alternative is to modernize the most damaging provisions of the Indian Act. This could be achieved not by updating the Indian Act itself but by equipping first nations with new tools and mechanisms to manage their affairs. That is how we could creation conditions that enable sustainable and successful first nations. As they build capacity and create the certainty necessary for investments they can unlock the untapped wealth on their lands, creating employment and improving social services for their citizens.

That is exactly what our government has been doing. We are taking important incremental steps forward to achieve the results first nations desire and that our government is determined to deliver. For example, we support Bill C-428, the Indian Act amendment and replacement act. It proposes a series of modifications to the Indian Act, some of which eliminate paternalistic sections such as those dealing with residential schools and bylaws. Other parts of the bill propose amendments that help contribute to healthier, more self-sufficient first nations communities. They dovetail with aspects of Bill S-6, which reduce ministerial involvement in community businesses. Bill C-428 would provide greater accountability and responsibility of first nations governments to their members and improve their capacity to meet the needs of their communities. This would be achieved by diminishing the role played by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the day-to-day lives of first nations.

The numerous proposed amendments to the Indian Act contained in Bill C-428 are our government's larger objective of providing first nations with the tools, resources and authorities they need to eventually transition completely out of the Indian Act.

This same objective and philosophy are at play in the First Nations Land Management Act. Prior to the enactment of the First Nations Land Management Act, first nations were hamstrung by the cumbersome land management provisions of the Indian Act. Instead of moving at the speed of business, the Indian Act slows the system to the pace of internal approval processes within the federal government. Needless to say, this often stands in the way of time-sensitive economic opportunities. Both first nations and their private sector partners complained loudly about the challenges of delayed decision-making.

The first nations land management regime enables first nations to opt out of the land resource and environmental management sections of the Indian Act. It removes many of the impediments of the outdated Indian Act, allowing for the creation of greater economic development opportunities and allowing communities to seize business development opportunities.

The legislation gives first nations that opt into the program the freedom to manage reserve lands under their own land codes. They can also negotiate contracts and enter into joint ventures with other communities, governments and with the private sector without ministerial approval.

Chief Ann Louie of the Williams Lake Indian Band in B.C., one of the first nations that opted in to the First Nations Land Management Act, is on record as saying, “It represents almost freedom, getting into self-governance away from the Indian Act so that we can manage our own lands so that our people can become prosperous and develop economically.” Her enthusiasm is backed by studies of the regime by KPMG. It has concluded that in addition to increased job creation on reserves in communities that utilize it, the First Nations Land Management Act option is proving to be a practical step toward self-government.

The First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act is another example of legislation that diminishes the minister's role for communities seeking greater control over their financial affairs. The legislation provides an alternative avenue to the Indian Act for first nations determined to achieve self-sufficiency. It allows first nations to develop a sophisticated, transparent and responsive property tax system on reserve. It also creates a securitized first nations bond regime that gives them access to municipal-style financing to invest in infrastructure on reserve. And it supports first nations' capacity in financial management, all of which support economic development.

Communities that choose to utilize its provisions can draw on the services and supports of the first nations institutions created under the act. As they do, outside investors can proceed with confidence and first nations can negotiate from positions of strength because the act provides the type of certainty that is lacking under the Indian Act.

The improvements contained in the acts I have talked about today have come about at the request of first nations that want greater control over their communities' day-to-day activities. We have been listening, and we are acting.

Bill S-6 is yet another piece to join the family of legislation to support first nations by offering a legislative alternative to first nations elections that would not involve the minister. It would provide the foundations for more stable and effective first nations governments through longer terms of office. With four years between elections, first nations governments would be able to work with potential partners for longer term development opportunities that would bring prosperity.

Bill S-6 fits with what other legislative initiatives have done, which is to provide alternatives to the Indian Act for willing first nations on important subject matters. These acts lay the groundwork and provide the frameworks for first nations to be successful, and successful first nations means a better quality of life for their members.

Bill S-6 is opt-in legislation. First nations could choose to adopt it or not to adopt it as they see fit.

From Bill S-6 to Bill C-428, these examples of modern legislation that empower first nations send a strong signal. We are focusing the federal role to that of an enabler rather than that of an impediment to progress. Our government is committed to putting an end to the historic isolation of first nation communities that has marginalized these members of our society for far too long.

Step-by-step, bill-by-bill, we are responding to first nations calls for greater decision-making powers and less ministerial involvement. In the process, we are creating the conditions for strong, effective and accountable governments for first nation communities. We are providing first nations with the tools they need to become more self-sufficient as they work their way toward self-government.

It is now up to us, as parliamentarians, to take the next step forward on this path of steady progress. We must support first nations, which are demanding change. We are calling for all-party support to unleash the tremendous potential of Bill S-6, the latest in a series of legislative reforms that remove the shackles of the Indian Act for those first nations that opt to take advantage of its new authorities.

I am asking all members to join us in our efforts to help first nation communities achieve their goals, for the benefit of their residents and our country as a whole.