Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-24, an act to amend the Salaries Act, also known as the “Seinfeld act”, as it is a bill basically about nothing.
Let us go back to the origin of the bill.
It is 2015, and the Prime Minister announces with great fanfare that the new cabinet will be gender equal, but it turns out the Prime Minister has reserved the five minister of state slots, the junior ministries basically operating inside other full ministries, toward women. However, no fear, the government quickly says that it is an error and they are made full ministers. Perhaps this was the very first recorded example of the early administrative confusion excuse the finance minister rolled out for his issues in missing out on announcing his villa in France. While I will note that it is gender equal, it had the highest percentage of women in the junior minister roles since Trudeau senior was in power.
Now I have no issue with the makeup of the cabinet being gender equal in number. However, I am disappointed the Liberals went with a quota system that excluded so many qualified women MPs in order to find roles for what was shown to be poorly chosen male ministers.
Think where we would be if the Liberal quota system had not foisted upon us the current finance minister, no ethical skulduggery, no conflict of interest by having the finance minister make policy decisions that just happened to enrich his family fortune while hurting average Canadians.
The government would not have had to appoint the member for Vancouver South as Minister of Defence, where he repeatedly claimed the glory of other battles of soldiers who risked their lives for Operation Medusa. We certainly would not have had the ongoing bungling of the sole-source Super Hornet debacle either.
However, when it comes to gender equality scandals and broken promises, like using taxpayer dollars to rent limos from party supporters, the Phoenix pay fiasco, and electoral reform, the Liberals have it nailed. Let us go back to Bill C-24.
I call Bill C-24 the Seinfeld bill because it is a bill about nothing. However, at least with Seinfeld, we got to have fun with Festivus, the Soup Nazi, and Kramer. With Bill C-24, it is basically a waste of time, a whole-of-government approach to a waste of time. Everything the bill would accomplish can be or already has been done. Equal money for ministers and ministers of state has been happening for the past two years: ministers of state through appropriations, and regular ministers, as before, from the general consolidated revenue fund.
The government House leader told us that all 30 members already “receive the same salary” and that this had been the case since the first day in office and would not change with the bill. So why the need for Bill C-24? Why take up time in committee and the House when there are so many other pressing matters?
We are told that the five junior minister of state titles need to be changed in order to have a voice at the cabinet table. How does this make sense? Are we to believe a minister of state with a groundbreaking idea or policy would be ignored at the cabinet table just because he or she had a different title? Surely the Prime Minister does not differentiate between opinions coming from ministers and ministers of state based on title alone. Gerry Butts seems to be heard loud and clear at the cabinet table, and he does not have a minister's title.
On second reading of Bill C-24, the Liberals spoke to the virtues of the bill, saying things like “we're committed to pay equity in our cabinet”. The Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board said, “This government is also committed to ensuring that pay equity extends to the cabinet table.” A Liberal colleague on the operations committee said, “we have chosen is to say that women deserve equal pay for an equal voice at the cabinet table.”
It was abundantly clear that Liberal after Liberal stood up and spoke to Bill C-24 with the intent of framing it in terms of gender equality, which was the message they wanted to send. The Liberal members of the government operations committee must have been just giddy with delight when the NDP requested a professor of law from UBC, who is an expert on gender studies, to appear to testify on Bill C-24. However, I was a first hand witness to their meltdown and disappointment when the witness tore into the government's legislation and communications regarding the framing of Bill C-24 in gender terms.
The expert witness said:
...this particular piece of legislation really doesn't...have much to do with gender equality...to claim that it is about gender equality is dangerous...because...we cut off the really important, substantial, and tough conversations about gender equality by claiming that we've already dealt with it
She went on to say that:
...women need these positions of leadership, not because of the actual amount of dollars, but because of the responsibility, the profile...the authority that those positions command.
It is very much like a CEO and a branch director being paid the same wage. They receive equal pay, but they are not equal. The CEO has to manage the company. The branch director manages one portfolio. While they receive the same pay, they are not equitable because the scope and responsibilities are not the same.
That is what the Prime Minister has done, and his party, dangerously, claims it is about gender equality. We heard in committee that to frame it as legislation that speaks substantially to the issues of gender equality and cabinet composition was wrong and dangerous.
In response to a question about whether the Prime Minister's claim of gender equal cabinet was cynical, the witness expert replied that it was dishonest on behalf of the government.
The Liberals immediately attempted to walk back the previous statements made by dozens of Liberal MPs in this very place that Bill C-24 was about gender equality. The member for Newmarket—Aurora said, “I don't think anyone was proposing that this was a gender equity bill.” The member for Châteauguay—Lacolle tried to simultaneously claim that Bill C-24 was a good first step, which the witness rejected, and then tried to reframe the question by asking if the junior ministries were more emerging ministries. Yes, all ministers are equal but some are more emerging than others.