Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this particular issue today. It is especially nice to see you in the chair, someone with whom I spent many hours at airports having discussions on a variety of issues, and this is a good chance to get to know each other.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to a very important motion put forward by one of the hon. members on the opposite side of the House urging the federal government to tackle the wage gap between men and women in Canada. My colleague spoke a moment ago about how important that issue is to her in particular. In work that the two of us have done on the Status of Women committee in a previous Parliament, these issues about balancing this House were raised many times.
This issue, which is so fundamental to human justice and fairness, clearly merits the attention of a government that came to power on the promise of building a better country. That promise has excited all of us here and all of us as Canadians. It is to advance a better, more fair country for everyone, not just one side. That means visible minorities, it means women, and it means all Canadians.
The fact is that Canadian women have fought too long and too hard for equality with men in every respect to be denied pay equity in the year 2016.
Consider the milestones that have been achieved in the struggle for women's rights since Confederation. In 1872, for example, the Ontario legislature passed the Married Women's Property Act. This act gave a married woman the right to her own wage earnings, free from her husband's control, something we would be absolutely astonished by in 2016, but in those days, it was perfectly acceptable.
Then in 1909, the Canadian suffrage organization, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and many others organized a delegation of over 1,000 people to the Ontario legislature on March 14. A petition of 100,000 names of people supporting suffrage was presented.
Then in 1971, amendments were made to the Canadian Labour Code that also included a prohibition against discrimination on the grounds of sex and marital status, the provision of 17 weeks of maternity leave, and a strong reinforcement of the principle of equal pay for equal work. It sounds so simple: equal pay for equal work. We would hope that equal pay and equal respect would be there.
The people who stood up for women's rights and fought for these victories, were they not fighting for human dignity and basic human rights at the same time? I think they were.
Last week in the House we talked about the Manitoba legislature and the things that were done there to advance women's rights. Today we have a chance here in the House, with unanimous consent, to pass a bill that I think we all believe in, that we all would like to see happen. We can only hope to get unanimous consent to move it forward faster so that we can start trying to get this to happen. Clearly that fight is not over. We must continue their cause in this century and push for pay equity across this great land of ours.
We know that the situation concerning pay equity in the federal public service needs reform. We have known that for many years. Unfortunately, the previous government did not believe it and did not move it forward. The Liberals have always believed in this.
Canada's federal public service has the proud reputation of serving Canadians with excellence, and we have to extend that tradition of excellence by working diligently to move toward pay equity.
Federal employees work in more than 200 federal organizations in dozens of different occupations. Many of those occupations are occupations that women would not normally be working in, but they certainly are every bit as capable as any man of doing them. It was often their choice to choose a different career path, for many other reasons, but now, from border guards to food inspectors, from public health specialists to diplomats, we are seeing women doing the same jobs as men, every bit as good, sometimes better, as any other person is doing them. They deserve to be recognized and given the pay equal to that and the level of respect for that.
As a result, the public service of Canada attracts men and women with competitive salaries and a full range of family-friendly benefits, something that I think we should be talking about more in this House, about how we can make this environment of ours friendly to families.
On all sides of the House, we have many younger members who have small children, who are trying to balance all the things that life puts in front of them. It is very difficult. If we can build on the pay equity, and the good feeling in the House today on this particular motion, we could actually put it into motion in other areas, like making this place much friendly to families.
The federal public service has also made strides toward greater gender balance, especially within the senior ranks with many more women being deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers. Our federal public service also reflects the diversity of our great country. In the federal public service, women, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minority groups are fully represented in the core federal public service, and have been for some time.
In fact, all four employment equity groups that I just mentioned, women, visible minorities, indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities, continue to exceed workforce availability. Today, in the federal public service, women and men have equal access to all positions and identical wages within the same groups and levels. I think that sets a very good example for the rest of the country and for the rest of the world.
However, we cannot grow complacent, because the situation, as we all know, is still very far from perfect. The wage gap still exists in Canada, even in the public service, where women still earn about 10% less on average for work of equal value. We cannot be content with the situation today, and we cannot point to progress in the past in a way that absolves us of the hard work that remains to be done.
The work will not be finished until pay equity is a reality across our land. We understand that Canada is stronger and our government is better when decision-makers reflect Canada's diversity. We also understand that in 2016, women expect to be full participants in the economic, social, and democratic life of Canada.
That is why one of the first actions of our Prime Minister was to appoint an equal number of men and women to his cabinet, and why this cabinet will ensure that there is pay equity in the cabinet and elsewhere.
This government will work to ensure that the struggle for justice and fairness in whatever form it takes in Canada in 2016 will not be rolled back. It was far too hard to get it to where it is today, and we are looking forward to advancing it, not having it go back.
I can see that I have run out of time and that you, Madam Speaker, are giving me the signal.
I do hope that we get this passed very quickly so that we move on it and get busy working on it.