Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to rise and speak in strong support of Bill C-473, an act to amend the Financial Administration Act (balanced representation). I commend my colleague, the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, for her hard work on this important initiative.
I first want to discuss what this bill is designed to accomplish. Then I want to address some of the arguments that may be aligned against it.
At the outset I want to say that I am deeply indebted to my constituent Ms. Nancy Singh, who has been a tireless researcher and passionate advocate for this very issue. Her analysis has been helpful to the presentation I will make today.
Bill C-473 aims to achieve gender parity in representation on the boards of directors of crown corporations over a period of six years. It is a gradual, phased-in initiative. It would also have the effect of indirectly forcing crown corporations to widen their search for qualified high-calibre applicants and target non-traditional recruitment pools.
What the bill would not do is in any way legislate measures for companies, private sector corporate entities, financial institutions, or the like. As an NDP opposition, we believe that taking steps to gender equity on government corporations would set an example desperately needed in the private sector to achieve balanced representation in the management of our important industries, and it would mirror the demographic makeup of our very country.
Canada is one of the few western countries with no policy or legislation on women's representation on corporate boards. Therefore, we are depriving ourselves of the talent women would provide to decision making. Most experts who have studied corporate governance have concluded that this is a positive contribution that should be made.
There are obviously enough women qualified to serve in these capacities. For many years I taught at a law school. Year after year women were in the majority of applicants. Also, that composition has been or is being achieved in many of our provincial superior courts. However, as I will discuss in a moment, that has not been the case on corporate boards or in the crown corporations of Canada.
In March the Toronto Star reported on a report entitled “Get on Board Corporate Canada”, written by Ms. Beata Caranci, the deputy chief economist of the TD Bank. She stated that nearly half the companies listed on the TSX composite index have only one female board member and just over a quarter have no women on their boards.
This is why an example must be set. She said that based on a widely accepted international measure, termed the GMI index, just 13.1% of corporate board seats in Canada were held by women in 2011, a figure that actually dropped from sixth to ninth place among industrialized nations over a three-year period. In other words, it is getting worse, not better.
There is no strategy at all, no cohesive government policy to address this issue.
Many have talked about a policy whereby, if a corporation cannot comply, it must explain why not. That has been the latest option in some of the private sector. As has been pointed out by no less than the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, this voluntary measure is having little or no impact. That is why it recently asked the Ontario Securities Commission to require all public companies to have at least three women on their boards. It is not tokenism. Rather, it is a requirement that it recognizes to achieve better decisions on boards reflecting the diversity of this country, so we have a more holistic view of the environment in which these corporations act. It is no different in crown corporations.
Since 2008, we have had at least nine countries around the world—Norway, Spain, France, and Italy—that have some sort of quota representation requiring diversity on corporate boards. Other countries have set targets. What has Canada done? Canada has done nothing.
In 2012, the EU justice commissioner announced that European countries would be forced to hire a female candidate over an equally qualified male or face sanctions, unless women occupy at least 40% of board seats in Europe by 2020. Other countries are getting serious about this problem. What is Canada doing? Canada is doing nothing.
So what about crown corporations? Most recent data show that among the 2,000 Canadians who hold positions in more than 200 crown corporations, agencies, and commissions across this country, women are currently under-represented. They hold only 27% of senior management positions. The Library of Parliament tells us that according to the list of directors of crown corporations, out of 84 crown corporations in Canada, only 16 of those 84 presidents are women, or 19%. Women are over 50% of our population.
Quebec has done something. Quebec is the only province that has passed legislation to attain gender parity on the boards of their crown corporations. The goal was to do so by 2011. What has happened in that period? The results have been impressive. In December 2011, the deadline to have achieved parity, 141 women and 128 men held positions on the boards of 22 state-owned enterprises in Quebec. Therefore, women have become a majority of board members. The task now is to balance representation in each board of state-owned enterprises covered by the legislation. It can be done. It has been done in other European countries; it has been done in Quebec; it can be done at the federal level.
That said, what is the problem? Why would people be opposed to this, if indeed there are any people opposed? Let me suggest that there are probably three arguments.
The first might be that appointments to a board must be based solely on merit. We agree. However, there are so many women with the very credentials and skills needed who are not being brought forward that we have a problem. There are qualified people, and that has of course been proven elsewhere.
The second argument is that there somehow is a quota system, even a temporary one, and it imposes a rigid straitjacket on the appointment process. I too find the word “quota” an ugly word, and in Canada it has an ugly connotation and an ugly history. However, we must work to ensure that there are opportunities for women and girls coming forward. The government has to show leadership. I believe that introducing a quota is a last resort, but the status quo is simply not working. This must be a function of what is termed “effects discrimination”. We cannot look at the statistics I have quoted without coming to a different conclusion.
For example, a woman named Guylaine Saucier has been a very prominent director on Canadian corporate boards. She was on the board of the French food giant, Danone. When France announced it was creating a quota requiring corporate boards to have at least 40% women directors, she was initially an opponent. However, Ms. Saucier has come around to an entirely different view. The Globe and Mail reported:
“I’m beginning to evolve,” she confesses. “Yes, they appointed some token women, no doubt about that. But at the same time, I do see coming on board women that really were not known and are really good… And I’m sure I can bet you that they would never have been invited to boards without this legislation… I am more pleasantly surprised than I thought I would be”.
The third argument, I presume, is that the law is not necessary. It is necessary. The Quebec example obviously demonstrates that the opposite is true. A selection process can remain very simple, and a corrective measure like imposing quotas balances the representation on boards within a realistic timeframe. Women are willing to participate in the administration of large corporations, and certainly are more than ready to participate in large Canadian crown corporations.
It is proven that the simple passage of time does not translate into a significant increase of women on boards. We have tried, but nothing meaningful has occurred. It is time for action. It is time for Canada to join with its European counterparts, to join with the Province of Quebec, and to get into the 21st century, to show the kind of diversity that we desperately need in our boards.
I strongly support this initiative and hope my fellow members of Parliament will do so as well.