Mr. Speaker, I notice there is a group who might be very enthusiastic about this New Democrat private member's bill. I hope that is the case for their comments.
The bill seeks to improve the representation of women on the boards of crown corporations. It does not, at this point, seek to change any representation of companies, corporate entities, financial institutions, or publicly trade companies, but we do believe that this is one important step toward gender parity in our public institutions.
Why is that important? It is important because more than half of our population is women, and these are public institutions that are paid for with our tax dollars and deserve to have the input and the representation in a balanced fashion.
My colleagues opposite may say they do not want anything that interferes with the merit principle, but I would argue that the current lack of representation of women on our boards of crown corporations, which is less than 30% today, is ignoring the merit of more than half of the population, which is women and ought to be represented in these public institutions. That is what the bill is seeking to do.
Diversity on boards of directors is vital to the good governance of organizations. It allows a more holistic view of the environment and better representation of those who are clients, shareholders, and so on. The bill aims to achieve balanced representation among women and men in the management of public finances over a reasonable time horizon and to position Canada as a world leader in gender representation on boards and boards of directors of crown corporations.
Women are still underrepresented within our country's decision-making authorities, and the NDP is the only party suggesting concrete action to promote the equality of women and men, which includes equal representation in managing our public affairs. That may well be because we are the first party to achieve 40% representation among our members of caucus here in the House.
Diversity within corporate boards enables organizations to seek out women with exceptional expertise or specific skills. Boards of directors can gain access to vital, complementary competencies, allowing women to contribute to their full potential.
As the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, I live in a riding in Toronto where we have an incredible diversity of talent, women and men. I note that there are many artists, professionals, and leaders of community organizations. Of the two city councillors, one MP, one MPP, and one school trustee in our community, all but one are women; so we have an incredibly talented base of people in our riding. The fact that they are not equally represented in our public institutions, in the House, nor in our crown corporations, is an incredible waste of talent.
At the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, the participants concluded that only equal participation of women and men at all levels of the decision-making process could allow us to achieve the balance needed for democracy to work and grow stronger. The most recent data indicate that there are 2,000 Canadians who hold positions in more than 200 crown corporations, agencies, boards of directors and commissions across the country, but women are under-represented on boards of directors, where they currently hold only 27% of positions. According to the list of heads of crown corporations drawn up by the Library of Parliament, in Canada's 84 crown corporations, 6 of the 84 presidents are women, which translates to only 19%.
Quebec is the only province to have passed legislation aimed at achieving gender parity. In 2006, Quebec passed Bill 53, An Act respecting the governance of state-owned enterprises and amending various legislative provisions, with a view to achieving gender parity on boards of directors of crown corporations by 2011. That legislation required that the boards of directors of all such corporations include an equal number of women and men as of December 14, 2011.
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 20 Quebec crown corporations. Women therefore made up the majority, or 52.4%. What a success.
I know my time is rapidly winding up, but I just want to affirm that countries that have legislative quotas have made tremendous progress. Even those that only require mandatory reporting and transparency have shown tremendous progress; they are well in front of Canada. It shows the talent is there. If we want to use it, we need to allow women to fully participate in our crown corporations.
I want to close with a rather, I think, indicative statement from the former head of the Conference Board of Canada, Anne Golden. At a 2010 Senate committee she said that, at the current rate of women's representation on boards and agencies, it would take 151 years before women are represented on boards to the same degree as men. This is unacceptable. That is why I am urging all my colleagues to support the bill today.